Making the most of the summer break
With summer holidays looming - in the northern hemisphere at least - this is often a time of year when parents put in place plans for their children for the weeks ahead. What makes for a ‘good’ summer holiday, though? What should parents consider when planning for the weeks ahead?
Based on their long experience and their observations, educators are likely to recommend the following:
Unstructured time and time to do nothing, and even experience some boredom. So much of school life is heavily structured, and while this brings certain advantages, it inhibits the ability of children to think creatively, to dream, and to let their imaginations run wild. They need time and space to develop their creative thinking ‘muscles’, so parents should aim to give this to them.
Plenty of non-screen time. Technology is a fantastic learning tool, and playing games online can develop many useful skills, so is not to be discouraged. However, online activity which means that children lose out on sleep, or do not get enough daily exercise, is too much, and parents need to place boundaries around this. Collect in phones at night if necessary, or set timers on the WiFi ... children should be using technology as part of a balanced daily diet of activities, and it should never be their principal daily activity.
Read lots of books. Talk to your children about what they want to read, or talk to a teacher or tutor to ask for recommendations. If your child really doesn’t like reading, provide incentives that you know will work for him or her ... what you want is for him or her to fall in love with reading, as it opens up the imagination, so don’t set impossible tasks, or challenges that they may find unpalatable. You may aspire to them reading classic works of literature, but if you foist this on them too early, they will lose motivation.
Plenty of new experiences. The holidays are a time when your child can do things that there isn’t time for in the school term - visits to places, holidays away, trips to see family and different people ... all of these experiences stimulate the brain and create memorable learning. Experiences should never be at the expense of unstructured time, however - it is very easy to overschedule children in the holidays, and this denies them the opportunity for protracted space and time just to develop and pursue their own interests.
Some structured learning time. This will vary very much from child to child - some children will benefit from regular catch-up sessions to keep their Maths on track; some children will benefit from learning something new, on a holiday course or with a tutor. Exposure to other adults is really important as children grow older - they need to experience different perspectives, and it is not always healthy for parents to fulfil the role of teacher as well as prime carer. Holidays need to have depth as well as breadth, and a framework of learning that permeates the holidays is often a very good thing - as long, again, as it does not squeeze out the unstructured time that is essential for children to grow and develop in ways they often can’t in term time.
The key to a successful summer holiday is, unsurprisingly, balance. If in doubt, err on the side of less structure rather than more, and certainly don’t attempt to predetermine all the learning which you child will experience. Schools are not always very good at allowing the unusual to emerge in children, and holidays provide the perfect opportunity for parents to complement the education that their children receive for most of the rest of the year.
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