Sabine Hutcheson, Education Consultant at TutorsPlus
No holidays for education
The darling buds of May have been and gone, the summer fete stalls are almost ready and P.E. teachers are polishing their whistles ahead of sports day. All this means that the two months of summer holidays are once again upon us. Children may rejoice but many parents will be breaking into a cold sweat about how to keep their children occupied in a meaningful way for practically the length of a term. Fear not! There is plenty to do, whatever the location or weather. This is the time when learning can become truly exciting again; not that it isn’t in school, but with no time pressures, homework or tests, inquisitive little minds can get creative.
School is out for summer and your child is relaxed and, therefore, receptive. Just because your child has reached optimal conditions to learn, though, doesn’t mean you need to don a mortarboard. Learning is not exclusive to the school environment and, as a parent, you are in the best position to provide the right environment and opportunities to facilitate learning experiences for your child. Naturally curious and active children will be easily guided through a series of educational activities but those who associate them with a negative experience at school, either through their own learning difficulties or merely lack of interest, will need more covert tactics. Games, friends and the great outdoors will certainly feature high on your list, but don’t forget purpose.
Someone said that schools kill creativity. However debatable this statement may be, this is the perfect remedy. Being creative goes beyond a pot of paint; it is about thinking outside the box, a skill that will be increasingly sought after in tomorrow’s world of work. It encompasses the ability to think, make, build, solve, sort, tell, write, sing, dance, draw, cook and so many others.
Thinking creatively also means making links. Art and environment: make paper and plastic jewellery, lamp shades, flower pots. Suddenly you’re in the garden with biology and cooking: plant some summer vegetables so you can create an exotic dish. Now you’ve jumped to geography and history: have your child organise a themed evening on a particular culture, serving food, listening to original music and discovering all about it in atlases, history books and through online documentaries. Is there an exhibition on the subject nearby? Maths is on the cards with working out bus or trains timetables, entrance fees and pocket money. City architecture also lends itself to simple geometry, so encourage your child to carry a notebook where they might want to sketch shapes and outlines. This cross-curricular project, which might be carried out over several weeks, can easily culminate in English and media studies: a report to sum up the exhibition findings, a holiday brochure or persuasive letter to convince you to take them to the newly discovered country on your next holiday, or perhaps a filmed diary of their educational and cultural adventure so far.
The possibilities are endless if you want to have fun with your children while they are learning. It does take a little time and some planning but the experience can be shared amongst a group of friends so that parents can also share the burden of time off work. Children will get double the benefit from spending this quality time with their parents as the school term often reduces communication to homework nagging and fleeting conversations.
Other than broadening knowledge and adapting curriculum subjects to less constrained environments and methods, learning outside the classroom is predominantly about acquiring and refining life skills. Whilst these are present in the primary classroom, they increasingly make way for the curriculum in secondary school as each teacher must concentrate on delivering subject specific knowledge and skills. Education programmes recognise the need for teenagers to continue to be trained in key skills but it is sometimes easier for students to develop them outside the classroom, in contexts that better suit their interests. At TutorsPlus, our teachers often spend equal amounts of time on such skills as they do on course content.
Here are some of these key skills and examples of activities to apply them.
- Problem solving: set your teenage son or daughter the task of organising a dinner party, incorporating set parameters, such as a particular recipe, a tight budget and some special dietary requirements.
- Working in groups: get the children in your area to organise a small-scaled sports day, involving games for all ages; they may also have a go at producing an open air theatre play in the park.
- Research skills: help your children peel themselves away from the Internet and set them a treasure hunt-like mission that will force them to carry out real-life research around town, observing, taking notes and photos and paying attention to detail they may otherwise never have noticed; on rainy days, show them how to use the local library – this is a disappearing skill which they will need if they go to university.
- Communication skills: good old-fashioned postcards are a great way to develop succinct communication, a method that pre-dates Twitter where focus and clarity is essential. Writing to family abroad by email is also useful for logical structure in narrating events. For less traditional methods, let your children use media, such as tablets, to create their own mini-documentaries and TV reports, which they can also send to friends and family.
The no-plan plan
The let’s-go-to-the-park-and-see-what-happens plan is a fantastic opportunity to let your children get in touch with their creative side. In today’s world it seems inconceivable to imagine that our children might be content to do what previous generations did over the Summer holidays: going with the flow, getting on our bikes and making up our own adventures and games, spending as much time outside as possible. Today’s parents are too often made to feel the pressure of providing constant structured and educational entertainment. Children, as well as their parents, need a break from the pressures of term, packed school days, busy after school clubs and the incessant rushing to and fro. They need time to reflect, take it all in, and to daydream – something frowned upon in school but necessary to develop imagination. A carefree afternoon spent with other children playing close to nature, laughing, kicking a ball and making daisy chains will not be wasted. It will provide a much needed and deserved battery recharge. Again, parents may take it in turns to accompany a group of neighbours’ children and friends to a local park and let them come up with their own entertainment. Rudimentary games will soon take shape and imaginative creativity will be rife. Remember the cliché jumpers for goal posts? Happy days!