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What should really worry you about year-round school — from a mom who lives it

April 26, 2019

When my children first learned that their 12-week summer break was being cut to a mere six weeks, they freaked out. The reaction was immediate. Tears. Fits. Horror. And then ... resignation.

Year-round school is the stuff of nightmares for many children who have never experienced it. Thoughts of summer months spent watching other children play games outside while they are learning fractions make most kids want to cry. But the actual experience of it is has been much better than any of us anticipated. For my own children, newly relocated from the US to England, once they realized that they had no choice, they embraced it. And now, a year in, I’d say they even love it.

How year-round school works

While year-round school is something that just 4% of American schools do, according to the National Center for Education Statistics, it is a discussion that grows in the US each year. In the early 1900s, many American schools began experimenting with year-round schedules, but in the past couple decades that number has grown exponentially. The National Association for Year-Round Education (NAYRE), an advocacy group, says some 2.3 million children attended a school using a year-round calendar as of 2017. That is up from only about 500,000 in 1990. And, if recent discussions among school boards and advocacy groups hold true, it’s a number number that’s only been growing.

Many of the schools currently experimenting with year-round school are in California. It’s already a major trend in other countries and advocates in the US (like NAYRE) claim it will increase American students test scores and academic achievements, primarily because students have the opportunity to review material throughout the school year during their breaks. Studies also suggest that frequent breaks give students and their teachers enough down time to be refreshed several times a year instead of just over the course of one long break. Also, as most parents know, 12 weeks is a long time. Multiple shorter breaks somehow just feel easier psychologically. Less time at home means less time to get in each other’s way. In Europe (where my family currently resides), the majority of schools operate on a year-round calendar.

In our case, my children have three terms of school: Fall term, Lent Term, and Summer Term. Each term has a “half-term break” after five weeks of classes. Students come back to school for another five weeks, then have a long “term break.” The half-term break in December is three weeks, as is the one in April. The term break in the summer is six weeks.

We are now in the second half of our first year doing year-round school. One of the pros, according to experts, is that students have far less “brain drain,” — that summer slide that happens when you don’t learn anything academic for the 9+ weeks off that so many American children enjoy. The cons, of course, include the obvious: A shorter summer break and a logistical headache for families in which both parents work full-time.

After six months on this new schedule, I can say that some fears have been unfounded while others are very real. Here are some common worries parents face when they think of year-round school:

Unfounded fears

They will miss summer break

My now 10-year-old son was a huge fan of the long summer break, so I thought he would have the hardest time with the new schedule. But it’s been the opposite. “I love being able to take all these mini-breaks,” he told us last week when we were in Malta for the Lent half term break. The beauty of the schedule for my children is that every time they start to get overwhelmed, they know a nice, long break is just around the corner.

We won’t be able to take vacation

It’s the opposite! We’ve been able to travel a lot around Europe and take advantages of off-season rates we could never have been able to use when we were on the same break as other children. My children go to a private school, which runs a little differently than British state schools (though all are on the year-round system) — and it works to our advantage.

Rica Saltcreek is a mom of two who lives in Germany where her children are on a similar schedule to British schools. Year-round school is actually the only reason she is able to travel at all, she says. “Summertime travel is out of our budget, so we take the benefit of cheaper flights around the Pentecost break. Also, the autumn break is nice to go somewhere sunny and make it through the winter time.”

It’s really a traveling family’s dream.

They will have too many breaks in their learning

The breaks are just long enough to feel like a break, but not so long that all learning is lost. Children return to school refreshed and excited, rather than slightly tanner and even more confused.

We aren’t the only parents who have loved it.

Julie Cunningham, mom of two from North Carolina, did year-round elementary school from Kindergarten to 5th grade with her children, now 16 and 10. Their schedule was nine weeks on and three weeks off, with a five-week break in the summer.

“I absolutely loved this schedule for my older son,” Cunningham says. “He had a break just when he started to tire of school — and went back when he got a little bored at home.”

This isn’t to say there aren’t real concerns, too. Here are a couple concerns and pitfalls that are very real for many families:

Real concerns

It will be a logistical nightmare if my kids are on different schedules

This concern has some merit, says Cunningham. “My younger son entered kindergarten when my older one was in 5th grade. They were on the same schedule that year, and that was perfect. When my oldest went to middle school, only a traditional schedule was offered. After that, I still liked the year-round elementary school for its frequents breaks and less need to review at the beginning of the year, but it is really difficult to work and keep up with two different school schedules.”

My child care budget will increase

Frequent breaks mean frequent child care needs and, in the US where it’s still an unusual schedule, a lot of difficulty finding a suitable fix. In Britain, it’s different. There are camps for every school break and plenty of other parents dealing with the same snafus. But, of course, it’s never easy and it does mean dealing with these challenges multiple times a year instead of just once over the summer holidays. The flip side of that is that the sticker shock that comes from a summer of camp is lessened when it’s spread out over the course of a year. The real answer seems to be in making most schools run on the same calendar.

For us, the cons are really a wash. The school break child care concerns and costs end up being about the same whether you’re in year-round school or not. Perhaps the most shocking thing to come from our first year of year-round school is how much my children love it. They never get bored of school because there is always a break in sight and they never complain that they are bored at home because their breaks are just short enough. It’s been a huge win and when and if we return to the US, I hope the trend continues to grow and more schools will look into making the switch.

Read next: The pros and cons of year-round school

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