Text: Monika Pedersen
If you mention to any student or teacher the phrase, 'summer holidays', then an instant smile lights up their faces, there is a dropping of the shoulders, and the mind drifts away to all the possibilities that can occur in the extended period. To get to the summer holidays is the like reaching the summit of a mountain.
The start of the summer holidays varies from country to country as it can be as early as the end of May, June or even as late as the end of July, as in the UK. The vacation time can also vary from six weeks to eight and even as long as three months in Ireland and Turkey.
The long holiday tradition stems from times when everyone helped in the fields. These traditions are long gone, so the question remains whether there is a need for such a long holiday.
Long live summer holidays
The long period of free time allows a child and a teacher to gain much-needed rest. Everyone is on a tight schedule which needs to be followed religiously. The long holiday allows a person to 'decompress', escape the rigid regime, and recharge batteries. It is imperative to maintain good physical and, even more importantly, mental health. It takes time to break from the ingrained routines, which cannot be achieved quickly. Older students, especially, need the time to recover from the pressures of maintaining grades, exams and working towards further educational opportunities.
Learning and the curriculum
Students need time for the learnings of the year to assimilate and cement in their minds. Time is also needed for a child to mature, process the learning, and be ready to move forward. An educator clearly sees the significant growth curve from the child who departs for the long vacation to the child who returns afterwards.
A stretch of time allows a teacher to reflect on the year's teachings and consider adjustments and additions for the coming year. The essentials are covered and/or tweaked every week, but there is no time for deeper reflection and innovation.
Older students can take advantage of the time and plan for college applications, work to secure some finances for college or undertake an internship.
The great outdoors
The holidays generally occur at the warmest time of the year, when it is nicest to be outside and enjoy nature. The sun and long days build up the immune system and help release chemicals in the body that secure good health and well-being.
The extended time allows for travel. For an international, mobile student, the chance to return home, reconnect with family and friends, and maintain connections is crucial to sustaining links and an identity. There is also the opportunity to travel to discover new lands, learn about different cultures, and broaden one's horizons. All of these foster a child's character development and approach to life.
"There is also the opportunity to travel to discover new lands, learn about different cultures, and broaden one's horizons."
Pursuits and passions
A long rest period allows students to find and pursue activities outside of school. It is a time to be inspired to do new and different things. These hobbies are extremely important as they support another aspect of a child's development. The enjoyment a child or teacher derives from this has a huge impact on their well-being.
Previously, not recognised as fully as experts have now reinforced, is the enormous benefits to one's health that good quality sleep delivers. Poor sleep, an issue in a compressed week, can often lead to poor physical and mental health. Sleeping the recommended hours gives the body a great 'health boost'.
Researchers have also investigated the upside of reducing the long summer holiday and re-distributing the time throughout the year. The thought is that it brings benefits for all parties involved.
Such has been the findings that a district in Toronto, Canada, has changed its vacation schedule. The view is it prevents the slide in recall among students and the need to review knowledge and use time on it. Instead, there is better retention, which allows for more of the curriculum to be covered and reinforced, giving students a better chance to succeed along their educational pathway. The teacher can plan more effectively, as the time stretches are shorter, so predicting what the students can learn and absorb is easier.
It was also noted that those students from economically challenged or dysfunctional households benefitted as they had a safe place to go, could secure a meal, and sustain stability in their lives. The consistency of school time also increased their chances of academic success.
It was positively received by parents who did not have to deal with the stress of childcare and time off work which long summer holidays bring.
There is an argument for 'balanced holidays', but the shift to a new approach will take some time, as old habits are hard to break and opinions are still varied regarding the benefits of the change.