Don’t Squander the Magic

I can’t wait for summer vacation. There’s no better way to phrase it. When the rain stops pouring, and I’m back home, and there are no more tests to take or papers to write, I’ll be absolutely off-the-wall elated.

For me, this summer, like all the 15 other summers I’ve experienced, will be busy to a reasonable degree. I’m sure the summers of most PA students are like that too, somewhere between being constantly gainfully employed and completely relaxed. I think many of us would consider it surprising if our parents suddenly announced that we would be doing absolutely nothing all summer. But, interestingly enough, millions of American kids do nothing all summer, their developing brains content to lie dormant for three whole months while their bodies remain sedentary.

In the U.S., summer vacation, like every single other holiday, from Valentine’s Day to Kwanza, has become completely commercialized. We have camps whose rates are through the roof, study programs that charge much the same and even day-cares or classes that spike their rates in the summertime. Financial aid for these types of programs is a lot scarcer. So it is incontestably understandable that the kids, and the parents of the kids who remain idle, do not apply for it.

However, there are still so many programs that remain accessible to the general public. For example, in my town, there is a non-profit organization called the Children’s Media Project that provides programs for youth that promote media literacy. All of their programs are free or of nominal cost. A couple of them, directed at high school students, allow kids to create television shows or a radio show and at the end of the program, the kids receive a stipend for their work. This program isn’t some kind of anomaly; there are tons of opportunities like this one scattered all across the country.

Yet somehow, kids and their parents aren’t banging down the doors of the Children’s Media Project and places like it; I just don’t understand why. When tremendous opportunities are walking distance from your house and require no extra monetary effort, why do kids still do nothing?

A large percentage of the youth population kicks their feet up all summer. When they get back to school, they barely have a chance to compete academically with kids who spent at least part of their summers activating their brains. There are plenty of kids both in public and private schools who get up and do something over the summer, and when they return to school, they have an immediate leg up. No matter how smart the kids who do nothing are, no matter if they are Andover students or not, if they spend all summer forgetting anything they might have learned, they fall automatically three months behind.

The American Academy of Pediatrics says that, “free and unstructured play is healthy and – in fact essential – for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones, as well as helping them manage stress and become resilient.” I think we all can attest to the value of leisure time. Surely, with our harried Andover lives, we need it. But I think the Academy would also agree with me in saying that continuing to pair learning with empty time is essential in order to keep a student mentally healthy.

The solution to this problem is not to attack summer vacation itself, as some scholars (such as Connor Clarke, whose 2009 essay in The Atlantic was entitled “Why We Should Get Rid of Summer Vacation”) suggest. Summer is inherently fabulous, and all my favorite memories and adventures growing up would be lost without it. Instead, we should aid the pursuers of idleness instead. Up until their kids are a certain age, say high school, parents are the ones who have sole responsibility to take the initiative, because it’s hard for younger kids to realize they need to be doing something. Once children start growing older, they should ideally begin to shoulder some of the responsibility of getting motivated. But if the families aren’t taking action on their own, perhaps elected officials and schools should more actively alert parents of the dangers of three months of indolence. Adopting a somewhat munificent spirit, they should pass out fliers and encourage students to seek the opportunities available.

I define magic to be that subtle, thrilling feeling of unadulterated joy usually roused by a very small, yet somehow momentous occasion, and in my experience magic occurs most commonly during the summer. I wouldn’t dream of squandering next three months by flopping down on the sofa until school starts again.

Raeva Kumar is a two-year Lower from Poughquag, NY.