Lazy days and fishing holes, summer camp and cookouts. I grew up “knowing” this tradition dated back to the beginnings of our nation so kids could work the family farm. Alas, as with so many “truths” from my youth, that’s not quite it.

Midcoast resident Heather D. Martin wants to know what’s on your mind; email her at

In fact, our current school calendar is more of a hybrid compromise between the schools in farming communities and the city schools where those large buildings built long before air conditioning became far too hot for comfort. It is also a lot more recent than I had thought.

That said, it sure is nice.

Except for when it isn’t.

For families struggling to find or afford child care in the summer months, it’s a struggle, and there is mounting evidence of meaningful and impactful learning loss, the infamous “summer slide,” during the extended break.

So I ask: Are we doing it right?


Well, honestly, I don’t know. I don’t claim to have the answer. None of us do. And, in a crazy roundabout way, I would actually argue that is the answer.

I think that we, as a collective, need to get a whole lot more comfortable with not knowing and free ourselves up to try things, lots of things, without the unrealistic pressure to get it right – recognizing instead that the power is in the process itself, and when we are free to try, and fail, we are finally engaged in meaningful learning and making progress.

Me? What would I do?

Well, if I was given the magic wand, I would love to set up a series of “short-run” courses, run by fully accredited teachers, each only one or two weeks long, but backing onto each other so a student had the option of taking just one, or enrolling for the entire summer, with each course being on a separate topic – and the topics would be of high interest and nature based.

Off the top of my head? I’m thinking tree identification, rocks and minerals, river health, intertidal communities, how to read the weather signs, planting a dye garden, edible landscapes, and one I really want to teach: “Snakes! What are they good for? Absolutely everything. Say it again.” (I grant you that’s a wordy title, but it’s necessary.)

Each unit would run a full day, meals and snacks provided. The curricula would be very hands-on and would consider the subject matter from many angles – art, music, science, literature, math, history – with kids doing the majority of the learning outside, rain or shine. I feel it’s high time we return to the old truism, “there’s no such thing as bad weather, only insufficient clothing.” Rain gear would be made available.


Throughout the day, kids would be recording their observations, questions, “failures” and notes on paper, in a journal. They would experience quiet times and sharing times. They would learn how to formulate and ask inquisitive questions of each other, as well as respectfully disagree.

In short, they would be learning the discipline of engaged thinking and becoming a learner who takes ownership of the process. All while having a blast.

You might have guessed this already, but this “learning in the wild” is how I would love to see the rest of the year as well. It aligns with how kids actually learn. Well over 100 years of research into brain science confirms this, yet we keep doubling down on memorization, standardized tests and asking kids to sit still at desks.

So, if we could give this a test ride, in the “low stakes” environment of the summer break, maybe then we could try it out during the regular school year and, dare I dream, maybe we can even find a way of fundamentally changing the educational system where students and teachers alike feel supported, enriched and enlivened.

Comments are not available on this story.