We’re all going on a summer holiday …

Goldfish play
They do not work.
They do not set the alarm clock
And get up at half-past seven
And get on a crowded commuter train
And go to the office.
They are playful creatures.
Goldfish play.

from Goldfish Nation by Wendy Cope (Serious Concerns)


The summer holidays are almost upon us again, and the annual debate about whether the schools’ long summer holiday should be curtailed has started up again.

West Wittering Beach (6)

The proposal is that the school summer holidays should be curtailed from the current six-week stretch, to a two-week blast “just like the rest of us”.

The arguments supporting this point of view are powerful. For working parents, it avoids the need to juggle holiday, and it also avoids the stress and expense of finding suitable and affordable childcare to cover the portion of the holiday that the parents can’t cover – day camps, childminders, grandparents, aunts, uncles and friends all get pressed into service and the children can end feeling rather passed from pillar to post, well and truly farmed out. At least until they are old enough not to need formal childcare, but that’s a transition that brings its own set of problems and anxieties. The whole business is an inconvenience that ought to be avoided, and an anachronistic hangover from the days when village children were needed on the farm to cover the busy harvest period.

Our agrarian days are well and truly over, so surely we should put a stop to this outdated practice?

Maybe, or maybe not. There are some other perspectives that ought to be considered here.

Firstly, back to those working parents. From my corporate days, I can still remember the hell that was negotiating holiday during the summer period. Only a limited number of people could be on holiday at any one time, given that the corporate machine needs to keep functioning. So, bidding for summer holiday leave started early, and caused so much resentment and argument that it was a permanent issue at staff meetings – in every organisation I encountered. Cutting the summer holidays to two weeks means that *every* parent in a given office will be trying to book holiday for those weeks, to maximise that precious family time. However, unless we are going to go down the French route with the ‘grand vacances’, when basically the whole country closes for August, it is not feasible to even imagine that allowing all employees who are also parents holiday in a given two-week period will leave a viable corporate function in its wake.

Secondly, consider it from the children’s point of view. Here in the UK, our children start school – formal education – younger than pretty much any other First World country, and both their school days and terms are longer than most other European countries. And, when it comes down to it, most children would prefer *not* to be in school. They want to play. But, we send them into school, and they work long and hard, and then we often add homework and after-school activities to that workload. The short Christmas and Easter breaks really don’t give them enough time to recharge their batteries in full, and by the time the summer holidays come around, children are exhausted, mentally and physically. They need a good long rest to recover their energy, space to settle the business of the previous academic year, to reflect and organise and absorb – often subconsciously – everything they’ve learned in the past year.

They need time to play, to not have the responsibilities of school and homework, and the pressure of expectation and performance on them. They need time to rest, to be themselves, to explore their world and their environments and their relationships with their families and others without the constant stress of school routines. Education and routine is important to the adults in their lives, less so to the children themselves. We need to be aware that we are not dealing with mini-adults here, and we are not training them up to be productive and useful cogs in the corporate machine.  Learning should be less about stuffing them with skills needed for the workplace – it should rather be about igniting their imagination and curiosity, and the summer holidays – endless weeks of long, lazy days – give them precisely that opportunity.

We should not force children into adult routines as soon as we can – they have no interest in alarm clocks and commutes and office jobs – rather we should allow them to enjoy the only period in their lives when they have no (or few) responsibilities and have to bear little of the daily stresses and compromises that will characterise adult life. We should celebrate their  playful natures, and allow them this precious time of freedom when they can wallow in their ignorance and innocence, and let their souls and dreams take flight.

They have playful natures. Let them play.


4 Responses to “We’re all going on a summer holiday …”

  1. 1 Erin

    Well said.

    I was shocked when you said they only get 6 weeks of holiday already. Ours get closer to three months — most of the school districts I’ve had acquaintance with usually require 180 days of schooling in the year.

  2. Wow! A 3 month summer break is astonishing – I think that’s about what we get for the whole year – 6 week summer plus 2 weeks each at Christmas and Easter, then 3 week-long half-term breaks. How heavenly – our 6 weeks flies past so quickly, I can’t even begin to imagine how awful it would be if they cut it to 2 – for me as well as the children.

  3. 3 Erin

    Where I grew up, it was 2 weeks at Christmas and 1 at Easter, and then scattered 3-day weekends (and 4 days at Thanksgiving).

    Here, it’s about a week for Christmas — December 24 to January 2 or 3 (or whatever the closest weekday is, with the first off), and less than that for Easter (Thursday to Monday).

    No half-term breaks at all.

    Interesting the way different places break up the year.

  4. 4 Randow

    I really like you post. It brings me back to the years when I had summer holidays and no parents around. What a great time that was: no one to report to, no one to tell you off and you could do what ever you wanted. My mum wrote my brother and me a list of things she wants to have done by the end of day and just checked on us every now and then through phone call or surprise visits. And once or twice during these holidays we went to visit our grandparent where we spend great days out with kids from their neighbourhood.

    It really seems that to long ago, thinking back. “

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