I am a reader. Walking into any bookstore or the local library physically and instantly changes me; I am suddenly intoxicated, woozy, tingling with the sight…the feel…the smell of all those gorgeous books just waiting to be swallowed up. My idea of a perfect vacation day is curling up on my sofa or sitting on the beach with a good book in hand and reading, uninterrupted, for several hours, transported to far away lands and into the challenges and psyche of other people’s lives. I am also a writer and a psychologist, so I suppose given my career and addiction choices one would think that I am a champion of summer reading for children, but I am not. I’m not because the fun loving-let it all hang out-rules to the wind-summer is here- part of me, hates it.
I quit. I don’t want to do it anymore. For ten long months I have been the homework police demanding my children sit at the table and finish their schoolwork when they would rather be outside with their friends. I work hard to get them through the mountainous amounts of school projects and homework assignments and studying for tedious tests and I am tired of it. Hell, I need a break! I don’t want to be the whip cracker anymore. I want to throw my hands up in the air and dash out the door yelling, “Last one in the pool is a rotten egg!”
Summer is only eight short weeks. Eight short weeks to shake it all off and have some fun. Eight short weeks to let loose and swing from branches into the deep waters of the lake, run through cold sprinklers and hunt for skittery crabs at the beach. Eight weeks to learn how to use a jackknife, put a worm on a hook, and build a fort from leaves and twigs. Eight weeks to take meandering bike rides, have lemonade stands and chase the ice cream man. Eight weeks to play whiffle ball, have a neighborhood game of flashlight tag, go night swimming, catch fireflies and finally fall down, exhausted on the bed, or the couch, or the floor nestled next to siblings, cousins and friends. Eight short weeks to hopefully become a bit bored, to allow minds to open up and let imaginations soar. And eight short weeks to finish required summer reading.
This short summer our school district has dictated that my middle school children must read three books.
Three books in eight weeks.
I know adults; successful, happy, seemingly normal adults, who don’t read that many books in a year.
Now, I know there are many children who, like me, love to read and these children will complete this assignment quickly, to them time spent with a book is relaxing and fun. These children will choose to use their downtime sitting on the porch swing, book in hand, reading away and kudos to them, that’s great! But, there are also many, many children who do not embrace reading and for them, summer reading is a chore, or worse, a punishment.
Believe me, I would love it if all of my children were avid readers; if on a summer day they sat quietly in the shade of our leafy maple tree and read but this is just not who they are and to try and make them embrace something they don’t want to do, well we all know how that goes. Forced summer reading does not make readers out of non-reader…although I will admit it does create some rather creative avoidance techniques.
So here’s the thing, I resent cutting into my children’s well-earned, unstructured, shortened-already vacation just so someone, somewhere, can check off a box that the school has met their summer reading requirement and to tell you the truth, I am not even really certain of the point behind this mandated assignment. Beyond a perfunctory quiz or one paragraph essay are these books even incorporated into the school’s curriculum? Rarely. Does the school actually believe that my teenagers are going to forget how to read in only eight weeks? Seems unlikely. Does the school really think that mandatory reading will make readers out of nonreaders? Highly doubtful. I have five children, some are readers and some are not. I didn’t raise them any differently, reading more to one than the other, it’s just how they are wired; one of my children will choose to read as often as he can, while another would rather not read anything beyond a short article in a sports magazine; asking this child to sit and read a novel on a sunny summer day with the sounds of the neighborhood rising through the window is akin to torture, for both of us.
Downtime for families is scarce these days; childhood is short and the precious time we spend just hanging out together; laughing, playing and enjoying one another is increasingly threatened as jobs and schools gradually place higher and extraneous demands on us. I say it’s time we reclaim summer vacation and give our families a real break. Let those who want to read, read away, and those who aren’t readers, well let them spend their time; their eight, short, sun filled weeks of vacation discovering the joy of sailing off to distant lands in their own way.
Posted on Brain-Child (7/14) and Ten To Twenty Parenting (7/15)