By Alan Peters
Encouraging students to try something new in summer holidays is a real challenge for teachers. Of course, students need a break too; refreshing the batteries and all that, but they also benefit from keeping minds (and bodies) active; achieving this certainly helps September to start on the front foot.
And it’s students we are talking about here, before the old chestnut of teachers and summer holidays raises its ugly head.
It is a long time – six, seven perhaps even eight weeks between breaking up in July and coming back to school in September.
Location, Location, Location
So much depends on where our students live. The fact is, those with a more rural setting will find it tougher to join a club or take part in an activity week that those residing in a large town or city. And while the Enid Blyton in us all might romantically imagine the country child undertaking all kinds of Swallows and Amazons type adventures, the reality is usually far from this. We live in a small village with large woods surrounding it. Do we walk the dog while trying to avoid children falling from trees or large scale run and chase games? Sadly, not.
I do remember playing in the hayfields as a kid, building dens out of straw bales, swimming in country streams, lying under the sun chewing daisies, finding rockpools and taking cycle jaunts down tree lined lanes to discover dodgy agents in raincoats and trilbies, who my friends and I would unmask, Scooby Doo fashion, before handing them over to the friendly local bobby in his Morris Minor panda car. Each day would begin with toast and marmalade made by mum in her flowery apron, before I grabbed my packed lunch of fizzy pop and iced buns and set off to meet my friends, mum’s friendly words ‘And be back by tea’ ringing in my ears. Or maybe that is just a nostalgic dream.
However, a google search of ‘Summer Activities for Children’ threw up an interesting array of possibilities, especially when the geography was narrowed. Of course, the down sides of any commercial activity are 1) getting them there and 2) the cost. Nevertheless, a clever teacher might put together a list of possible activities and links to send to parents to help students learn something new in summer holidays.
Reward and Bribe
It’s amazing what a sticker will do. The power of the lollipop and the attraction of the mars bar. A bit of bribery (OK, we can call it reward) can help to motivate young people disproportionately well. I remember spending most of the weekend ‘helping’ my youngest to build a theatre, complete with working curtains and (my own invention) trap door from which an actor would rise, phoenix like, to the stage. That was all to get her a smiley face sticker, and the teacher didn’t even provide one for me. Still, I allowed myself a proud little smile when I saw it on display in the reception area.
Setting a ‘project’ that results in a small prize (for all, not just the best) can get our pupils investigating parts of their world that they might otherwise never experience. Like, for example, a book!
Use Our Power
As teachers we do hold enormous power over our fellow human beings. We can require those over whom we possess authority to perform tasks that, if we are honest, can be totally unreasonable. After all, if anybody else told somebody to run six laps of the athletics track in steaming hot weather, or to dive in the swimming pool and rather than have fun, swim up and down using just their legs they would be laughed at in the face. Unless the subject was in the army, in which case he’d probably shoot them. But we can require those under our influence to draw pie charts or read about the Poor Laws, something no normal person would ever choose to do.
So that power can be harnessed to encourage (the word is used loosely) our students to try something new over the summer holidays. Tell them that they have to visit the public library and they probably will. Instruct that they need to discover about the Romans in Britain and off they will trot, clipboard in hands. That power often stretches to cover parents, and they will join forces with their offspring to investigate their new learning. Before you know it, the Vauxhall Zafira will be loaded and headed down the motorway to St Albans or Bath.
Bucket Lists and Bingo Cards
What child doesn’t love a bingo card? Simply draw a four by four grid and fill it with sixteen activities a child can try. Some can be really simple and quick – listen to a piece of classical music, do some gardening. Others can be more challenging, such as visiting an art gallery or reading a pre-war novel. Of course, such a card will be age specific.
Departments can get together to design a cross curricular card. Prizes and rewards can be based on ways to win at bingo. A big reward for completing a full house, a smaller one for crossing off a line, or the four corners.
Bucket lists use the same idea but, I would say, are just not quite as much fun.
A brilliant way to get children to try out something new over the summer is to talk about what they will be getting up to during a class discussion. As a form period, or tutor time lesson, this is not only a worthwhile activity but can inspire students to consider something that they would not otherwise contemplate. The power of peer pressure should never be under estimated.
OK, we might need to move quickly past the rich kid whose parents are taking them to sail the Mediterranean, even more so the Mr Cynical who plans to sleep and play computer games, but by digging deep and letting students share their own areas of interests, their peers could well become motivated to try something new.
Who knows, maybe that week-long Gymnastics course will suddenly fill up with our students, and we can claim a bit of commission.
Beware Mumsnet Syndrome
Yes, we do want our students to try something new over the summer. But we also want them to learn to fill their days themselves. During the google search mentioned above, I was drawn to a site popular with a certain kind of (mostly) mum. Mumsnet has a downloadable weekly planner that seems the antipathy of all for which the summer holidays should stand. Each day is divided into morning and afternoon sessions, and there is even a wind down time before bed. Honestly, what child wants to think that they are being wound down?
As professionals, we are aware of the importance of a holiday break, but parents are not always so inclined. Especially if they are feeling some guilt because they have their own work commitments, or cannot give as much time to their kids as they wish. They can then feel that filling every moment of their child’s time is the best way to demonstrate good parenting. Schools that require too much from their students’ holidays might add to that pressure.
It is easy to forget that young people generally don’t drive, don’t have a credit card, can’t spontaneously decide to go out for the day and mostly have to work around the commitments of others to see their own wishes satisfied. That is just how it is, and learning how to use your own time is a part of coping with that.
Plus, if we expect too much we will end up with a lot of marking come September…
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