The concept of a gap year is gaining momentum in the United States, and part of the reason for this may be that motivation to finish a degree seems to increase in students who have taken six months to year off to travel and work on community service projects (see the article here). Without the gap year, even in this age of high unemployment and over-qualified adults taking low-wage jobs traditionally reserved for high school and college stduents, students are not completing their college degrees, leaving and not returning at an increasing rate.
Many parents do push their students to move directly from high school to college instead of offering them the opportunity to take a year off and either work or volunteer around the globe, but why? Although the majority of four-year colleges feature two years of one-size-fits-all core classes, students are still asked to declare a major and select electives geared towards a minor - at 18 (or earlier). To what end? Very few high school seniors know what they want to do next week, and even fewer know what they want to do with the next four years (and more) of their lives. A gap year can help a student see the world and move out of the their bubble; the most common activities during a gap year do feature some type of community service, but even simply joining the work force for a year can be beneficial. With high schools eliminating financial curricula and many parents not knowing how to manage money, a working gap year can hammer home basic economic principles in a very real way - through life experience.
Why not take the gap year one step further and three years deeper - why not remove your kids from middle school for three years, or the junior high age range (7th - 9th), and homeschool or cottage school them? These are tumultuous years for everyone (student and family!), and the benefits of homeschooling, essentially allowing your student to blossom and grow at their own speed and in their own direction, can help you through them. A large study of homeschooling students in 2009 found that homeschooled students far outperform their public-school peers, regardless of income level, race or education of parents; homeschooled students school an average of 30%ile points higher on standardized testing than did public-school students. Students who take a year or two off from public school, even just to unschool (which is specifically different from homeschool - see one definition here) may help their students develop academic as well as social confidence and may be able to navigate adolescence with less drama and strife than if they remain in overcrowded, underfunded, test-driven public-schools. Homeschool can include service-learning and student-focused learning in the same way that a gap year can expose a young adult to the real world outside of textbooks, resulting in a better prepared, intellectually curious person. And isn't that what we want?