After countless weeks of lockdown and homeschooling, the summer holidays (such as they are) hove into view. What should the plan be? Murray Morrison is a leading educationalist and founder of online learning program Tassomai, used in over 600 UK schools. Here he addresses the vexed question of whether the summer should be a time for more work or a clean break.
The efforts of the past months, juggling what passes for normal life with a sudden requirement to run full-time childcare may have felt to many families as if the long summer holiday had simply started in March, but with the added thrill that one couldn’t leave the house. Working anything approaching structured learning into the mix might really have felt impossible, but seemingly many parents have managed to make it work.
But when a term-and-a-half has already felt very much like the summer holidays, families are beginning to wonder what, if anything, should be different between now and next year.
Plan for the long-term benefit, not the short-term gain
There’s a balance, somewhere between ploughing on as though homeschooling runs right through until September, and shutting down completely and letting nature – and boredom – take its course. Finding the happy medium between those two extremes will be more art than science. The main thing is that families find what works for them rather than follow others: everybody’s circumstances will likely dictate very different routines and expectations. Plus, whatever your friends say they’re doing is probably a huge exaggeration.
The key question, from which your plans should all hang, is ‘what will make the coming months and the next academic year as positive as possible?’ If you’re focused solely on ‘what now?’ and ‘what next?’, then inevitably your plans will be unsustainable and reactive. Focusing on the end goal will be what helps you find your family balance.
What will work best for you as parents?
I truly believe that you have to put parental considerations first: your other responsibilities – to other family, to work, to your own wellbeing – must be considered. If building a few precious hours of silence into your day (which a bit of structured study time might afford) enables you to last the distance, then that’s reason in itself to make it part of your plan.
There are plenty of things that children can do that are mentally constructive that require neither supervision nor hours in front of textbooks: a long-term craft or gardening project, keeping a diary or blog, researching family history, or a well-considered reading list – all could be fantastic summer work, and can buy you a little time for your own thoughts.
What will work best for your children?
Next year will be strange territory for any student. The circumstances, and the methods at school will be very different. If they are to thrive next year, your child will need to be primed to learn: rested, enthusiastic, confident, but also balanced, resilient and able to focus.
With much of last year’s content either missed completely, or learned (or not) remotely, we can expect two things: one, that that last year’s essential material will have to be covered again, but not in depth; two, that next year’s learning will be compressed as a result. Factor in the likelihood that teaching might continue to be extremely disrupted or blended with learning at home, then the standards attained by most pupils will fall far short of most years’ cohorts.
In those tough circumstances, consider what preparation in the summer will best help your child to manage. For some it will require maintaining some routine so that, rather than go to seed they maintain their ability to keep concentration, handwriting and note-taking ability. Being able to stay calm and plough through, too, is a skill that can be practised: next year will be frustrating for many.
For others, the emphasis may need to be rest and fun, especially if the summer affords more opportunity for freedom of movement and socialising. Beginning the new year with energy levels high, keen to start learning, counts for a great deal.
With my students, I always took inspiration from the way athletes prepare: they would train regularly, build up skills and fitness, but just before a competition, they might stop training and rest. Having a couple of weeks’ break in August will likely confer benefits for almost any child’s mental endurance.
Plan together; shake on it
No battle plan survives contact with the enemy – and so it goes with study schedules. If your programme is to work, it must be constructed with all parties involved, each having their say, and agreeing to the necessary compromises.
Summer will feel incredibly long, so if your plan is to last beyond the first week, it has to be sustainable. If the whole family can agree on what is to be accomplished, and why… and shake hands on it, then you’ll have given yourselves the best chances of surviving the summer.
Murray Morrison is a leading education and learning expert with over two decades of experience. He is the founder of online learning program Tassomai.com