The Chat: Vacation? Nope, summer means work

JEN:With just two weeks to go, it's officially the countdown to summer vacation at my house. By this time each year, I'm ready to give up the school-day routine and have a couple of lazier months. But then I hear educators talking about "summer decline" — when kids lose some of those academic skills since they're not practicing them — and I think, "Well, geez, maybe we can't afford to be lazy."

MISSIE:I'm constantly conflicted about keeping up the academics in the summer, but less so now than when my kids were little. I was a workhorse during the elementary years. The kids would wake up to a pile of worksheets next to their Fruit Loops. Then, when they got to the bottom of their multiplication tables, they'd have chores.

JEN:Oh, so you're the mean mom.


JENNY R:Yikes. That is hardcore. I am, of course, the loser mom of the group. I make my kids read during the summer. That's it.


MISSIE:I don't do worksheets anymore. I feel less anxious now that my kids are older. In elementary school, there was such a push for them to learn the core knowledge basics. Plus, I'd feel guilty if we didn't do anything productive. But I'm more about life skills now — even if it's just learning how to do their own laundry. I'm hoping to tackle cooking this summer.

JENNY R:I'm all about outside and fun and fleeting warm, sunny days. Like I said, I make my kids keep up with reading during the summer; I'm an avid reader and love the getaway it provides. But worksheets? Um, nope.

MISSIE:I just want my kids to do something productive in the summer — chores or something. They have a lot of off-time on their hands for those three months.

JEN:So that "summer decline" I spoke of at the beginning of this conversation? You're not worried? A teacher friend of mine said that educators "always expect a little bit of a dip between spring and fall with NWEA test scores, but they always bounce back in the winter and spring again." So maybe the lapse isn't as great as I fear — but I like the idea of reinforcing some skills.

JENNY R:I'm much more about life lessons in the summer over schoolwork. I want my kids to understand what it actually takes to keep this family of six running on all cylinders 24/7.

JEN:I get that. During the school year, we don't have a lot of time to reinforce those skills. Or at least I don't take advantage of the time we have. In the summer, though, I take the time to write short, daily "morning letters" to my boys: "Here are the 3, 4, 5 chores you must each do. Here's what's on the calendar, if anything, for the day. Here's when I'll be home (if I go to the office that day)." My favorite part of that letter is the chore list! That's one of the great benefits of having 12- and 14-year-old kids. I hardly have to fold a piece of laundry or put away dishes all summer long. Rand, with your kids, you have four workhorses. Score!

JENNY R:When all added together, it's really only 1.5 workhorses.

MISSIE:I'm just looking forward to being off schedule. Even if we work on chores, or on learning to cook, or on academic stuff like writing, it's all on our own schedule. That's the best part of summer.


JEN:That IS the best. I've begun to loathe the rapid-fire "Do you have your instrument/backpack/sweatshirt/gym clothes/tennis racket" barrage of questions as they head out the door, as much as the evening homework sessions when they walk back in. I want a summer schedule!

MISSIE:Honestly, I feel like I've barely even thought about summer; the weather has made me forget we are almost "there." Although I DO have our end-of-year treasure hunt planned.

JEN:You have an end-of-year treasure hunt planned, and I don't even know what we're having for dinner tonight.

MISSIE:And we're having a last day of school bonfire! Mark it down — you're both invited!

JEN:I think you just invited the entire city.

MISSIE:Awesome. And then, Saturday, FREETLY BOOT CAMP starts. Alex will mow the lawn. Maddie will clean the family room. And I'll lounge on my deck with a good book and a cool drink enjoying the fact that my minions are back home with me for three whole months.

Jen Koski is a Post-Bulletin columnist and associate editor at Rochester Magazine. She and her husband, Jay, live in Rochester with their 10- and 13-year-old sons.

Missie Freetly is a stay-at-home mom who works occasionally as a substitute paraprofessional for Rochester Public Schools. She and her husband, Neil, have been married for 16 years and have a daughter, 12, and son, 13.


Jenny Rand is a wife, a sister, a daughter and a mother of four. She loves to read, cook, garden, and watch football. She lives in Oronoco with her husband, Mike, and four children, ages 6 to 17.

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