The earth, moon, and human bodies all go through cycles. The earth has seasons, the moon has months, and all people go through hormone cycles regulating bodily functions. When the human body is balanced and healthy, physically, mentally, and spiritually, it is able to sync with the cycles of the universe. This August, for the first time in many years, I am feeling balanced and noticing that I feel connected with the cycles of nature. I am in the natural resting mode of the Summer season and realizing how important this is for my health.
After working in schools for over 10 years, immediately after attending school as a student for my entire life, I realized that this is the first August since childhood that I am having downtime. In the hustle of the achievement ladder, we have been led away from feeling connected to ourselves and the earth. For me, it took stepping away from the mainstream school system to come to this realization. When we are not in tune with our bodies and the earth we are more prone to stress, illness, and fatigue.
Summer break from school used to be June, July, and August, in line with the earth’s seasons. In the last six to seven years schools have moved away from that calendar. It is now common practice for schools to start the second or third week of August, cutting Summer short and starting Fall early. Whether we realize it or not, our bodies are not ready for this shift and it can cause us to feel off balance and affect our health. After some research and combining my own experience as the keeper of a school’s calendar, this shift to a shorter summer break happened for two main reasons. States mandating more days of school and working parents needing childcare.
Currently, the majority of states in the US mandate between 175 and 185 days of school for public institutions. This has increased from 160 days of school that was the standard in place since the late 1970’s. Adding days of school comes from the idea that more is better in terms of productivity and achievement. A longer school year was the result of well meaning educators concerned with the “summer slide”, where students take a step backward in their learning process during summer vacation. School officials also felt that teachers needed more teaching days to prepare their students for state standardized tests and Advanced Placement Exams. The problem with worrying about a summer learning gap and standardized test scores is loss of perspective. The stress of needing to do more is detrimental to both students and teachers. Physical and mental health should be more important than achievement, but in our current system, this is not the case.
In the US economy, schools are the main source of childcare for working families. Most families have two working parents, and do not have the resources to have a parent stay home. In addition, with many families trying to make ends meet, families are no longer taking a full month for vacation in the summer. To help, schools started to have shorter summer vacations to fulfill the needs of working parents, and keep the economy going. This brings up the question of how we can work with corporations so the work force and parents can also feel the benefits of a restful summer season and feel balanced as well. Everyone is worthy of rest which leads to being in tune with the cycles of the earth. In the current system people are overworked and under-producing.
Our calendars and bodies need a cultural shift to free the month of August for downtime. Summer is a time to enjoy the “fruits” of the Spring by resting, gathering with family, eating well, and spending time in the sun. When school starts early, before the Labor Day Holiday in September, we throw off the natural cycles of our bodies and are not aligned with the earth. Our bodies are not yet ready to settle into a Fall routine of preparing for winter. Aligning with nature’s cycle will help people to feel the full benefits of the summer season.
This year, my academy made the conscious decision to start on September 6th. I am feeling rested, joyful, and inspired, something I haven’t felt in the last few years going back to school so early in the Summer. I am in alignment with nature’s cycles instead of going against them. I am grateful that our decision to start our program later allowed me to slow down, think, and be introspective. It has been hard to preserve this boundary around finishing a full summer, but worth it. I wish that other teachers could experience this too. I never realized what was missing for me in my yearly routine, until I protected my time to rest.
I am advocating for rethinking calendars to free August. This would support students, teachers, parents, and everyone because much of our culture’s planning is built around school holidays. Research shows that people are more productive and feel more creative when they are rested. Students learn better when they have downtime and space to process. We need to start larger conversations about why our culture doesn’t value downtime as productive. Our society is off balance because we have created systems that are not fully in tune with nature. Through courageous conversations and decision making, we can work together to regain individual balance, feel the power of natural cycles, heal, and improve community health.
I know this topic of school calendars brings up an avenue for the discussion around year round school. The US is no longer an agrarian society that needs students home during parts of the year to help with farm work which led to the three month summer break. I am open to year round school if we do it in a compassionate way that promotes rest and isn’t telling students and teachers that they aren’t doing enough. Most year round school advocates say that more school days and less frequent breaks promotes learning progress and limits learning loss during days away from the classroom. Love of learning is more important than achievement, high test scores, and I am concerned that year round school would be used to promote student resume building instead of curiosity. If year round school can be used as a way to a more balanced lifestyle, I am in favor. Something has to change because what we are doing right now with the school calendar is pushing students too hard, jeopardizing their mental health, and it is not sustainable.