Telegraph Voices: Should Sheffield children still get a six-week summer holiday?

Picture by Julian Brown 15/07/17

Jessica Luckiewicz poses with one of the exhibits, a Masiakasaurus

Meeting dinosaurs, each one masterfully built in miniature using LEGO bricks at Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston
Picture by Julian Brown 15/07/17 Jessica Luckiewicz poses with one of the exhibits, a Masiakasaurus Meeting dinosaurs, each one masterfully built in miniature using LEGO bricks at Harris Museum & Art Gallery, Preston

‘It’s a great time for pupils to unwind and see their family’

Daphne Cawthorne, retired headteacher, Broomhill

10-1895-1

Caitlin and Callum Chilvers come face to face with a lizard at the Summer in the Streets, Fur, Feathers and Scales Petting Zoo event.

10-1895-1 Caitlin and Callum Chilvers come face to face with a lizard at the Summer in the Streets, Fur, Feathers and Scales Petting Zoo event.

“Three cheers for the holidays!”

This will have been heard across many schools in the land from pupils who relish the thought of not having to rush each morning, and from teachers who will have some down time, sort out their ‘piles’ of paperwork and prepare well for the next academic year.

Pupils can take a break from the heavily timetabled schedule of lessons, learn a new skill and take ownership of their own activities during the summer holidays.

Some parents might argue that five or six weeks is too long but actually it is a great time for children to unwind, see family and friends and enjoy the outdoors.

For many children whose parents have to work all summer long there are opportunities to spend time with grandparents or attend organised summer activities such as King’s Sports Camp, swimming and tennis lessons or craft sessions at the museums.

When my own children were at school we always had a planning session at the start of the summer and they made suggestions for trips out.

These included walking to Whirlow Farm to pick fruit, a train trip to York, a museum or local art gallery, the cinema and on picnics in the nearby hills and parks.

They knew there was a budget and had to stick to it. The two of them would be assigned the task of finding the opening times, routes and costs.

Once we had agreed our itinerary they would make the bookings.

Each week they had some ‘free’ days and a ‘play day with a friend’.

They and their friends had to make the lunches often after doing the shopping themselves.

All good preparation for later life!

Of course being Britain we could not always rely on the weather and often had to change plans to do bread making, build dens inside the house, have ‘media time’, reading under the duvet and puzzle days.

When asked recently about their summer holidays my children said they had enjoyed decision making, taking ownership of their time, a chance to experience the great outdoors and learning new skills.

Hope you have a great summer.

‘I’m not sure the break needs to be this long’ Jane Avgousti, Ecclesall

Each time summer holidays approach I get pretty excited. I always think it’ll be entirely wonderful - a time to get my kids back and be a full-time family again. We can play together, go on long walks, toast marshmallows, and the sun will always shine…

In the real world, while some of those things happen, I’m much less Mary Poppins and more like a shouty version of the UN – breaking up arguments, and trying to find things that all the kids can do, and want to do all together. All the while still generally trying to keep on top of things and putting food on the table.

While I’m lucky enough to be pretty flexible regarding working hours, if you are not, add in trying to sort out childcare and the whole holiday can be pretty stressful. You often end up playing ‘childcare tag’ instead of being able to spend the time all together. Another thing is the expense of summer. People say Christmas is expensive, but I think the summer holidays are more so. If you want to go away, everywhere charges double. Even a day trip to the zoo comes in at over £100 for our family of five just to get through the entrance gate, before any extras while you are in there. By the time the six weeks are over we are totally broke!

That said, I really enjoy having a longer period with my kids. I think we all look forward to having a break from routine. I’m just not sure it needs to be this long.

I read somewhere that the summer holiday came about because we needed our children as labour to help bring in the harvest. This isn’t necessary nowadays. I would love to have longer at the two half terms instead.

What about four weeks in summer and a fortnight at all the other holidays? It would be short enough for the kids not to forget everything they’ve learned the previous year, but long enough to still be special.

‘School isn’t meant to regiment the young’ Timothy Plant, Sheffield primary school volunteer

I think children should have a six-week break - actually, they should probably have at least eight weeks. Our children have significantly fewer days holiday than their European counterparts. This when, despite the absence of any evidence to justify it, children in the UK start formal education a year or more earlier than children do in the rest of Europe and the USA.

While they are at school they are faced with a regime of targets and assessments, under which teachers, against all their better instincts, are increasingly obliged to restrict both the range and depth of their pupils’ experience. There are no targets nor measures for how the children have enjoyed themselves, used their imagination or played together creatively.

We need to remind ourselves that the education system exists for the benefit of children. School is not there to regiment children and break their wills nor make them malleable subjects of the ever more hostile world of work. If education is experienced by our children as the opposite of freedom, enjoyment and self realisation, then we have a real problem.

I know many parents and carers will have decided by now that I am quite barmy. but if parents and carers dread the prospect of the long holidays it is because their own work patterns are too restrictive and their wages and benefits are often too low to allow them to cope with them positively.

Proper summer holidays need good facilities: parks and open spaces, libraries, cheap public transport and clean air, play-schemes, healthy food and exercise; not to mention flexible working patterns for parents.

Public health and educational policy needs to focus on how to make summer holidays a positive and effective part of all our children’s development. Our children are young, with their lives ahead of them. On the first day of their holidays they need to wake up to the prospect of an endless period of fun, excitement and adventure. What else would you want for them?

‘It can be a big source of stress and anxiety’ Charlotte Nuland, Broomhill

Facing six weeks off school, in the sunshine, with plenty of activities sounds great in theory.

However, the reality is that the long summer holidays often signal bad weather.

They can also cause stress and anxiety for many families.

Childcare is extortionate and entertaining kids is expensive, especially when you have several kids of different ages.

Trying to find something for all of the family to enjoy together can be a real challenge.

Even with a National Trust membership, a family day trip can be expensive - buying an ice cream can cost upwards of £10 for a family of four.

When I wasn’t working and my daughter was aged around five, it was easier to find free events and activities – arts and crafts and other events held at the local library.

We could go to the park and walk in the rain.

That was when jumping in puddles and getting dirty was still fun.

However, now she’s 11, it’s much harder to make the rain fun and finding free or cheap, age-appropriate activities is tough.

Even when the weather is nice, parks are mostly designed for younger children and playing out isn’t something many kids do nowadays.

I’m not sure if a shorter holiday would make things easier. But it would mean less time spent worrying about it.