Elizabeth Davies: It's not your imagination -- school has started

Elizabeth Davies

I thought I had at least two more weeks of daytime babysitters.

That’s why I was so taken aback when my 16-year-old sitter had to turn down a job, saying that school was about to start. Surely, she must be thinking of the wrong week, I thought. Perhaps her mother — normally so on top of her five children’s schedules — had gotten confused.

But indeed, just as she said, the yellow school bus ambled down my road Aug. 17.

“No,” my husband argued when I told him. “School never starts before my birthday. When I was growing up, every time someone asked if I was ready for school, I always said, ‘No, it’s not Aug. 19 yet.’”

As it turns out, the first days of school that we remember — after Labor Day, when a break in the heat seemed imminent — are long gone.

Today’s kids are launching the school year earlier each summer. They do, however, get to take off on every national holiday, anytime snow begins to fall and a few other random days that no one really explains.

So what’s the right way of doing things?

Some say that the new school schedule was designed to teach kids more, and thus boost standardized test scores. Perhaps the theory is that kids forget less if the summer is shorter, but I would be quick to assume that it’s easier to build upon lessons when a child isn’t constantly taking days off during the year.

If you hadn’t noticed, I’m particular to the way we used to do it – probably because that’s what I’m used to. It gave kids the chance to get good and sick of summer, so that we were bored silly and ready to get back to school.

For working parents, the old-fashioned way must be easier as well. Surely, it’s more difficult to find child care once every other week than it would be to simply extend summer plans through the month of August.

My babysitter’s mom – the uber-organized woman with five children – says she prefers a later start to the school year, too. Starting so early robs kids of their summers, she said. Particularly if kids are involved in sports or camps, they are busy for much of June and July, leaving only those few days in August for true summer play.

But knowing that there had to be some benefits to an early school start, I polled my teacher friends to see if anyone liked the new schedule. Indeed, one friend said she would far prefer to teach children in the heat of August, when they are used to the weather anyway, than to try to keep their attention well into June.

Of course, she also had one option that beat all the rest: A late start and an early end to the school year.

Isn’t that the best of both worlds? Now, if only we could knock Mondays and Fridays off the work week. 

Elizabeth Davies’ column appears in the Rockford Register-Star.