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Summer Vacation Is Actually About City Kids, Not Farm Kids

If school breaks were really scheduled around farming needs, then kids would be in the classroom during the summer months

(Photo: Sandra Seckinger/Corbis)
smithsonian.com

There's an oft-repeated justification for the long summer break from school—that it traces back to the years when many American families made their living through farming. When the days were long and warm, this thinking goes, fathers and mothers needed all the help they could get to manage things on the farm—and so kids' schedules were designed to coincide with that fact of life. 

As it turns out, however, this assumption is entirely untrue, PBS reports. Today's summer break does indeed have historic roots, but they are the exact opposite of the farming reason so often cited. Instead, summer breaks have everything to do with urban kids, and nothing to do with rural ones. 

Originally, there were a variety of school years around the country, PBS explains. Rural areas tended to have two yearly breaks: one in the spring when crops needed to be planted, and another in the fall, when those crops were harvested. "Historically," PBS writes, "many attended school in the summer when there was comparatively less need for them on the farm."

In the city, however, things were different. Sweltering temperatures during summer months often drove wealthy families out of the urban center and into the countryside to escape the heat, and summer breaks were designed around that trend. Additionally, PBS adds, schools tended to be open year-round, though families could choose which days they wanted their kids to attend. 

Eventually, this disjointed system became a problem. In the late 19th century, PBS writes, the country decided to standardize the system. Summer break prevailed over a spring and fall break, as the school year today reflects. That way, both kids and teachers around the country would get some time off, even though, as PBS writes, "the cycles of farming had nothing to do with it." 

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