Why Do Schools Have Summer Vacation?

schools-summer-vacation Credit: Seb Oliver/Cultra/Getty Images

Many people believe that the origins of summer vacation are rooted in America's agricultural past. However, it was actually the vacation habits of city kids and their families that inspired what is now considered the traditional American academic calendar. Wealthy families would take their children out of school during the hottest months in favor of vacationing in cooler locations.

Through the mid-19th century, students in agricultural communities attended school in the summer and winter so that they could help plant crops in the spring and harvest them in the fall. Students in America's rapidly growing cities didn't have farm chores, so city schools operated year-round and students went when they could, sometimes well over 200 days a year, although attendance wasn't mandatory like it is today.

Instead of sending their kids to school in the sweltering city heat, wealthy families began taking their children out of school whenever they wanted to take a vacation. Because operating the schools with only half the student body present was ineffective, legislators and school reformers advocated for a standard summer vacation for both city and rural communities, which was in place by the late 19th century.