The title of this blog post is not meant to be offensive to school teachers, I am one. I am a primary school teacher and I really enjoy my job. Nor is this blog post going to be about doing extra school work in the holidays. What this blog post is here for is to talk about the learning which happens outside of school and why the holidays are great for this.
There are lots of sources which tell us as parents and teachers about the loss of learning which happens in the holidays. Not surprisingly many of the voices pushing this are trying to sell us ways of supporting school learning in the holidays. Some are useful and some are not, but that is another blog post! Yes, children come back to the school after the holidays a bit wooly and a bit wild, and some content from last year has not been used since it was introduced, but on the whole they are also relaxed, bright eyed and ready to go! So if I am not pushing extra maths and spelling, then what is my point? My point is that some things are best learnt in a home environment and a long holiday can be great for this.
I’m sure this is the last thing you want to read but before you click away, no I am not mad. I also have two children and live on a shared plot where there are nine children, lots of arguing potential. I don’t mean the “arguing over a piece of string” kind of arguing either (as my dad used to call it), I mean arguing to make a point. This arguing is more in the form of a debate and is really good to practice this skill in a safe environment where the biggest or loudest child will not always win and where you can encourage the skill as a seasoned veteran of arguing.
At school I learnt about the reasons for the first and second world war, but I learnt the art of arguing with my two sisters at home. Being able to argue without screaming, hitting or bursting into tears (or bombing each other) is really valuable for school and also later in life. You can teach a child that arguing is based around making points but also listening to the reasons from the other side. My parents never argued in front of us and as a result as an adult I took a long time and a few relationships to find out that arguing doesn’t mean it’s over. I had no adult arguing skills and would just burst into tears and end the relationship. Shouting, screaming and being abusive to each other as adults is not what I am encouraging you to teach your child either, but if you are able to be angry but still respectful to other people while you argue your point and come to a reasonable solution your child will be learning from you that it is ok to have a different opinion, to be upset, angry, hurt even but you can still love and respect the person you are arguing with. If you can’t (and this is often me still) then consider taking a leaf out of the Simpson’s book and argue in the car with the music on loudly.
I read this week about a school who excluded some of its male pupils for coming to school in shorts in the hot weather, so they came in a skirt. The headteacher allowed the skirts but missed the point with the shorts. Ok, they were not normal school uniform, but they were school sport shorts and thus a part of the wider uniform. There are times when putting your foot down as an adult is vital, but there are times when the arguing and debating and compromise are more important and recognizing that you shouldn’t back yourself into a corner and risk losing respect or face for something that is not worth it. Some topics to have an open argument or debate on: Activities you are doing that day, what to eat for dinner, bedtime in the holidays or on the weekend, who does jobs around the house, pocket money, having a pet.
A particular favorite of mine, but what does it mean? The best thing I can offer you is this example – Like I said, I learnt at school a lot about the first and second world wars. I also learnt about the Vietnam war. Despite learning about three major wars in history, I was never taught to compare these three wars and use this knowledge to look at potential reasons for future wars. This is called higher-level thinking – using knowledge we have acquired and being able to apply it to a new situation.
So if your child has been learning about the Tudors, Victorians, etc. then of course any trips to museums etc. will support your learning, but what will also help is helping them understand why the Tudors lived like they did – what was different to the Victorians and why was it different? Why don’t we live like that today? Could we do a Victorian day as a family?
If you go on holiday abroad, this is a great way to look around at how people in that country live differently to you do and discuss reasons why. So many of the children I teach bring things back to money – we are rich they are poor. This is sometimes true, but it is far more complex than that. For example, electricity makes a huge difference to the way we live, access to water and education, the role of religion. You do not need to have all the answers, just encourage them to think about the concepts coming out of the facts. Going back to the Tudors and Victorians the concept here is that the human race is always evolving and changing. This helps the children link their learning about cavemen to Victorians and now to us and begin to wonder about how we will evolve in the future.
Wondering and Magic
Many children love magic and lots love silly ideas. I must admit that this is not a strong point for me, but I’m trying. When I was doing my MA I interviewed the head of a Waldorf School. I asked him what he thought parents could learn from his school’s style of education – he said that his biggest concern was that we were over-explaining everything to our children. He said that it lost its magic and that children up to around 7 years old don’t really want to know the truth anyway. He said children want to understand the world around them but in a way that they can understand, in stories and made-up tales. I felt guilty of this and vividly remembered explaining to my three year old how thunder works and wondered why she asked me every time there was a storm again. It wasn’t until my neighbor told her a story about the weather god in the sky banging his drum that she laughed and the question didn’t come again until she did a weather project at pre-school and came home with a simple explanation about warm and cold air.
My six year old is convinced that she is a fairy and believes deeply in the Easter Bunny and Father Christmas even though we don’t really push it. If, like me, this stretch of imagination is hard, there is help! Books from writers like Roald Dahl take the children on these magical journeys in their minds and will probably sweep you up too. Look for activities offered locally based around magic and make-believe too, some people are really good at being in-character. One of my favorite childhood memories was going on a “pirate hunt” at the local beach. The activities were great but most of all the people running it were so involved that you believed it too.
A little confession here – since having my own children school trips give me nightmares. Before I had my own kids I was always game for a day out and wasn’t shy of an overnight stay, but now I am a wreck the whole time. I see danger everywhere and am just exhausted by the end and grateful to hand your precious little person back in one piece. With my own children I am much more adventurous and encourage climbing trees and jumping in puddles as much as possible. My oldest daughter has just spent her first night in a tent outside and was so proud of herself! Please, let your children get muddy and sandy because trying to do this at school is a health and safety nightmare. Let them test themselves to their limits physically because all too often at school this is only encouraged mentally. If you can’t do it – and I know it is hard – find someone you know who you can trust and who is good at being a bit outdoorsy to team up with. The Youth Hostel Association offer adventure holidays on their website which takes the organization off of your hands. If you don’t fancy a whole adventure holiday, just teaming up with other parents and planning a day out off the beaten track is a good start.
I hope you have a wonderful holiday and if you would like to hear more from me, feel free to visit my blog at www.mama-chic.de