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Headmaster Simon Smith outlines three key components to a balanced summer break

Headmaster Simon Smith outlines three key components to a balanced summer break

We’ve all seen the MasterCard advert for Schools Out. Teachers pouring out of classrooms, heading off to exotic destinations, celebrating the end of a long academic year. I’m sure pupils feel the same but I suspect that for many parents 6 or 7 weeks “off school” is less a cause for celebration.

In fact the holidays are even longer for pupils at independent schools, like mine, where we break up early July, or for those who have finished their examinations in June.

Much has been made of material being unlearned during an overly long period away from school and moving away from a model which has its roots in a time when people were needed to collect the harvest; a four Term year for example? For now, however, how do children get the right balance during the long break.

Firstly, rest is not to be underestimated. We forget how physically, emotionally and intellectually demanding school is. I only have to shadow a pupil for a day to be reminded of the levels of stamina they need.

But their powers of recovery are great too and I wholeheartedly support strategies to get them off the sofa. Much depends upon their age; summer jobs or work experience is an option not open to 11 year olds, for example.

 So here are three ways which teachers would love to see their charges spending some of their time off.

Reading should be at the centre of their restful learning. This can take many forms. For 11 to 13 year olds I recommend the Carnegie Medal Shortlist.

For older children perhaps trying a Classic or two, historical fiction, audio books or even articles from magazines such as The Economist or National Geographic.

Good schools should also provide Year 11s with subject specific preparatory reading lists for forthcoming Sixth Form courses. Reading of newspapers, most easily on-line, is an excellent way of keeping up with current affairs and becoming accustomed to different writing styles.

Maintaining a healthy lifestyle is essential too. After a couple of “pyjama days” getting outside is vital not just for avoiding cabin fever but in preparation for whatever Autumn Term sports may lie in wait. It’s easy to tell, in pre-season training, who has attempted to keep up a modicum of fitness. Taking advantage of warmer days and lighter nights, especially here in North Wales, is a great way to socialise as well as staving off lethargy.

Finally, cultural visits are an opportunity to broaden minds and be exposed to those things which overly narrow curricula don’t allow. Whilst trips to art galleries may not appeal to all the North West (and further afield) has a fantastic range of museums, theatres, festivals, university campuses and exhibitions to ensure all tastes are catered for.

Sometimes even the most reluctant teenager can return surprisingly inspired by such days out.

So as parents and educators let’s be brave and encourage or cajole our children to embrace the mantra that all play and no work make Jack a dull boy. Good luck but roll on September 1.

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