School's Out, and We Celebrate Too Much

Be happy! School's out!

Are all these end-of-school parties teaching our kids that school’s a chore? We don’t just celebrate graduations anymore, but everything about the end of school, from the last test to the last day to the last slam of the last locker door. Everyone loves summer — but aren’t we effectively telling our children that school’s a major drag?

End-of-the-year pool parties, concerts, picnics, and dances. In the southwest, there are end-of-school desert camp-outs, in California, beach parties, in New York City, kids gather at favorite indoor hot-spots and on roof decks. These aren’t high schoolers gathering to toast themselves (with Red Bull, of course, and nothing else); they’re preschoolers and elementary-aged kids, enjoying, for the most part, the busy end-of-the-year schedules we create for them. Many younger kids don’t really welcome the change in their routine, but not only do we expect them to handle it with grace, we demand that they celebrate what they may see as ten weeks of separation from beloved teachers, friends, and circle times.

Which suggests that we don’t really expect them to love school at all. At our house, my youngest son has taken to declaring that there’s “no more school, because I hate school,” a statement that horrifies me more than I care to admit, even though I know it isn’t true. He says it, not surprisingly, at every additional festive event to mark the onslaught of summer, and I suspect that what he’s saying, really, is that he misses school, with its predictable routines and guaranteed moments with friends — far more than he’s able to admit.

There’s much to celebrate at the end of a school year: accomplishments to acknowledge, transitions to prepare for, and the sense of passing from one grade or school or classroom to the next, without putting the emphasis on the end itself. That school ends in June and begins again in September is more about tradition than anything else, and it’s a tradition that we value (and one that saves on staffing and building costs). Adults expect our kids to share our nostalgic affection for summer before they even have much reason to appreciate it. Maybe we should try marking the real passages that occur around this time and skip all the “School’s Out!” madness. Let our kids figure out what they what they want to celebrate for themselves.

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