Ah yes, sweet summertime. Sitting on front porches drinking ice cold sweet tea or lemonade, going to swimming pools, playing at the beach, and of course, barbecues. It’s a time when kids are out of school, enabling you to go on that family vacation.
Maybe the kids are sent to camp, giving them the time of their lives (and giving parents a two month long vacation!). It’s a time that both kids and parents wait every year for.
But why do kids get off for the summer? In the United States and Europe, this was never really a thing until the mid 1800’s. So what changed?
Beating the heat
The reason that has always been stated for having summer vacation is that rural children had to go out and work the fields with their parents, so they weren’t able to be in school. However, this isn’t exactly true – especially since most work happens in spring (planting) and fall (harvest season).
However, the real reason for having summer break was because of the city slickers themselves. As cities got bigger and bigger it would get hotter and hotter. American cities experienced massive growth immediately after the civil war (and most importantly, before air conditioning). This caused cities to become hotter and hotter. School at that time, although not mandatory like today, was all year round (Mental_Floss even reports that the school year in Detroit during that time was 260 days!).
The cities would simply get too hot, forcing the parents of these children to flee to their cooler, summer country homes.
The cities themselves got hotter?
You read that correctly. Because of the urban heat island effect. As the sun shines down on brick houses and cobblestone roads, it makes the air around them hotter, just like with brick ovens! Compared to the countryside which is all fields and trees and rivers and lakes, these heat islands simply became unbearable in the summer.
Keep in mind, most of these school buildings were built with brick and had no air conditioning. They were basically ovens for kids! Parents were also feeling the heat at work, so they decided to take their kids out of school, leaving classrooms nearly completely empty.
If you can’t beat ‘em
Since the cities were emptying out of school children in the summer, and since it just so happened that the cities were where the most influential politicians were (who were experiencing the same exact thing). They saw that year after year most kids were being pulled out of classes by their parents during the hottest months of the year, so they decided to throw their hands up and institute a break for kids during the 60 hottest days of the year – typically from June until August.
Additionally, this was around the time that people started to value leisure time. Weekends were starting to become a common occurrence around this time, as were labor unions and 8 hour work days. It only made sense that kids would get the day off as well.
And all those rural kids? Well, they still had school, but after a couple years of seeing all the city kids being let out, America’s rural counties also decided to institute summer vacations as well.
A billion dollar industry
Now that summer vacation was a nation-wide event and a part of American culture, people decided, in typical American fashion, to capitalize on the event. Fairs and events for the summer started becoming big.
Leisure activities and summer camps started opening up, and with people having so much instituted free time, Americans really started traveling, helping to spread wealth from the coasts to the interior of the country. Today, the summer leisure industry is worth billions upon billions of dollars.