One of the things that has intrigued me the most, since we moved to the US, is the fact that kids here have a summer vacation of no less than three months. As a Dutchie, not only the length fascinates me, but even more the fact that working Americans only have a handful of vacation days available, and on top of this, most of them work fulltime.
So why then still give kids three months of summer vacation?
In their fairly short summer vacation of around six weeks, most of the Dutch families leave their country to go camping in, for example, France, for at least two or three weeks. American families, however, go on vacation for only a small week, since they simply don’t have more vacation days. And if they would have more days, then it’s often not done to stay away from the office that long. That’s why CNN called the US a no-vacation nation: with zero paid vacation days required by law (the only developed country in the world), and an average of 7.6 days of vacation a year. Significantly less than the 20 mandatory free days of a fulltime working Dutchman. On top of this, most of the American moms work either fulltime or not at all, compared to Dutch moms ánd dads, who often work part-time.
And yet, this never-ending summer doesn’t seem to bother most of the American parents. Why not?
Americans have a solution for everything and for this endless summer they invented the summer camp. American parents can choose from many different types of camps, especially when they have enough money to spend. From a cute arts and crafts camp, to fitness, karate or science camp. From a few mornings a week close to home, to a sleepaway camp. Golf, chess, language, religion, you name it, and it exists. And don’t forget about the academic camps: if cost is not an issue, there is a plethora of camps available to ensure kids will keep on developing their social and academic skills throughout the long summer.
Dumber after the summer
Opponents of the long summer vacation, however, mention the loss of knowledge amongst students as a huge problem. Especially kids from the lower income groups, who don’t have access to all the fancy camps and enrichment programs, or reading parents and music lessons, during the summer. The prognosis for many of these kids is, that they will start school in September dumber than they were at the moment they began their long summer vacation.
More hours in school
Unlike what you would expect from a school year, which includes three months of summer vacation, the American kids do not have less hours of education than Dutch kids. In fact, according to the OECD, American kids even spend a little more time in school than the Dutch: 967 and 940 hours in 2015, respectively. In the Netherlands, schooldays are spread out more throughout the year. This allows kids to have more short periods of vacation during the year and it doesn’t keep them out of the school too long during the summer.
However, there is a difference between quantity and quality. When looking at the PISA ranking of performance in mathematics, reading and science, it clearly shows that the Netherlands is ranked higher than the US. In 2009 the US were ranked 9th of the 65 countries on the list, in 2012 they fell to the 36th place. The Netherlands dropped on the ranking list as well, although less drastically: from the 7th to the 10th place. We shouldn’t forget, however, that the US is an enormous country, with a large diversity. It is therefore hard to really make an accurate comparison with a tiny country like the Netherlands.
Summer camp lobby
Anyway, one might suggest that the Americans have plenty of reasons to shorten their kids’ summer vacation. On the contrary, in spite of all the complaints of parents around me, I don’t expect things to change soon. There is a summer camp lobby, a teachers’ lobby (many teachers have a second job in the summer to make some extra money), which is not helping the cause. But above all the cultural aspect ensures the fact that American kids will keep on having a summer vacation of three months in a row, at least for now. In general, Americans are not very keen on their government being involved in their personal lives. President Obama bravely tried to shorten the summer vacation in 2009, but it’s clear that he failed. Perhaps the next president, whomever that may be, can try it again?