Thursday 23 November 2017

Making the most of the holidays -- 21st century-style

The country's 3,300 primary schools will close their doors for the summer holidays next week. For half a million children, July and August promise a break from the routine of school, uniforms and homework.

And as most parents see at this time of the year, children are ready for that break. The free time and, hopefully, better weather also give children a chance to do different things.

Unlike many teenagers who are hormonally disposed to sleep until noon, hang out and stay up half the night, primary school children want to be active, or in their terms, "doing stuff". And contrary to popular belief, primary-school children are not genetically attached to PlayStations, Nintendos or social-networking sites.

Some parents feel that a summer camp is a must or their child will lose out. Now, more than ever, financing this is a real nightmare.

But children do not need to have every minute of every day filled with organised activity. Very often what they need is space and time and their imaginations will do the rest.

Many children want to use their holiday time to further develop their hobbies, skills and talents outside of school.

This does not necessarily mean organised activity. Time spent kicking a ball around in the park or practising riffs on a guitar are just what children need to develop their own skills.

Children also need time and space just to be children and to enjoy themselves. Summer holidays give them this. But holiday time well spent is also when the children can best learn to be the adventurous, inventive, risk-taking, problem solvers we are always told the world needs.

Every generation probably looks back on their own childhood summer holidays through rose-tinted glasses. But what was wrong with spending hours building a go-cart out of scrap wood and other bits and pieces, trying it out and crashing into bushes in order to learn that a brake was not an optional extra?

Climbing trees in summer should be as natural to children as throwing snowballs in winter. Yes, there will be accidents, cuts, bumps and bruises. But the price in terms of confident, well adjusted and self-assured children might just be worth paying.

And before anyone is thinking I am advocating a summer of recklessness, I am not. Most children, like most of us did as children, will make up fun and safe games from as little as a ball and a stick.

Some academics worry about holidays affecting learning. But research seems to show that for the vast majority of children any "learning lag" caused by the holidays is quickly made up when children go back to school. This is probably due to children being better able to work well when they are refreshed by a good break.

Given the Irish climate, it's probably best to plan a few indoor activities. You'd be surprised how quickly some board games would be put to use.

Reading a book is another way to pass a few hours usefully. A visit to the local library can be a great help here with the added bonus of making sure that children associate reading with places other than school.

The primary-school holidays were originally designed around the 19th-century farming calendar when every available pair of hands was needed to bring home the harvest.

But there are very good 21st-century reasons to keep them and make the best use of them.

Irish Independent

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