Although it is tempting to view school holidays as some sort of industrial curse on education, or as an irritating remnant of a time when one-income families dominated in society, school holidays serve a very real psychological purpose.
A school is a distinct entity unlike any other in a child's life. It is a high-pressure mixture of social interaction, cognitive stimulation and social conditioning. While families no doubt feel like this at times, the interactions between children in a school environment are very different to those within a family: there are at a very different emotional level, the variety of the interactions is extreme and the pressures on the self-image of the child are continuous.
Were schools merely disseminators of knowledge, holidays would still be justified as opportunities for reflection. However, the importance of holidays from school are recognised in child development circles as important circuit-breakers for children from the "stress" caused by the need to make continuous adjustments to their social construct of the world.
Holidays should provide opportunity for quiet, unstructured times where, through a variety of mechanisms including creative play, the exercise of personal choice, solitude, the escapism of reading fiction, and informal activity, children make sense of what happens to them at school, and of their continually changing perception of what life means and their place in it. While some reading is important to maintain skills as well as recreation, filling holidays with structured schoolwork tends to be counter-productive. Even pupils preparing for scholarship examinations need to make this a smallish part of the overall holiday.
Having said all this, can we also say that an unleavened and overloaded diet of television, videos and computer games throughout a holiday is unlikely to produce a child who is ready to face school again in a suitable condition at the end of the break. Research is showing that high exposure to TV/videao/computer does interfere with ideal development - it's a pretty intuitive really.
As in all things, a balance needs to be struck between physical activity (activity that requires sustained effort), relaxation, appropriate food (and the levels of it) and creativity.
Just to be complete, holidays are also vital for staff if they are to maintain the level of enthusiasm and commitment required for the task.
We are sometimes asked about what parents can do to ensure that pupils make the most of their holidays - activities that give a balance of learning, recreation and recovery in preparation for the term ahead. Think about the following:
- Make sure there is adequate sleep - it's not the time asleep that really counts but the regularity of good lengths of sleep, starting with a relatively early night. All night videos and computer games wreck the cumulative restorative effect of sleep.
- Setting up 'adventures' for your children to undertake: Cooking a meal over an open fire - on a beach, out the back of the house, on the farm, in the DOC campsite; Going for a day ramble - around a coastline, over the Port Hills; Riding a horse; Mountain biking in the hills or Burwood Forest or Hanmer Springs; building a tree hut and maybe sleeping out in it with a friend; camping a couple of nights - on a farm, out the back of the house.
- Having times when there is nothing to do that is organised by anyone except the child - it's their day at home.
- Setting your child up to cook a meal/cake/snack - for the family, for some friends, for him/herself....and more than just once.
- Making something - a dress, a model, a trolley, a tree hut, a device. It does not have to be beautiful, made of expensive materials or totally functional...it is the thinking and planning and execution which is formative. The end result is often irrelevant.
- A reading time, most days, when there is silent reading, and sometimes shared reading too (and time for parent reading).
When you get to the end of the holidays and add up the time spent a) outside doing active things, b) in front of a television or computer, c) reading, is there some sort of balance?
If you are fortunate to have time with your children during the holidays, make sure that you only organise some of the time...not all of it.