Should kids switch off or swot up over the summer holidays? Both – says our undergraduate intern

I am 20 and about to go into my second year at Durham University. I have had seventeen summers of trial and error under my belt. I’ve seen both sides of the great school’s out debate. There have been entire summer months when I have not written a word and definitely suffered the consequences when it was time to go back to school in September. I have also experienced the other extreme: long six-week ‘holidays’ when I have been bombarded with booklets, reading schemes and the numerous repeating of timetables. I have left a trail of very frustrated summer tutors in my wake. 

Although I hated my mum at the time (sorry Mum!), now I’m older I am very grateful for her persevering and helping me to get where I am today. Let me tell you: Durham, let alone any university, was certainly not on the cards ten years ago and a little bit of pushing over the summer potentially made all the difference.  

I am not a complete advocate of August hot housing. Children deserve to relax and force-feeding them knowledge, despite a new tougher curriculum on the horizon, may make them resent you as parents and have a negative effect when it comes to their approach to schoolwork in September. In my opinion, summer is a time for exploring, growing up and developing a willingness to learn through different experiences. There are a lot more skills a child can learn outside the realm of education. Riding a bike, for example, swimming or perfecting the architecture of numerous dens.  When I think about my summer holidays, I look back and smile. I for one was very good at entertaining myself. Whether it was playing with woodlice or making exercise sheets for my made-up school. Summers were the time when I learnt how to have a good time. 

But the downtime in the summer is also the perfect time to fill in any gaps of knowledge that may have developed throughout the academic year. It’s a vicious cycle: your child struggles at school, so doesn’t enjoy it. Therefore they don’t want to practice and then they struggle more. If they practice often, they will get better; their confidence will grow and, in time, enjoyment will come. Unfortunately it’s about perseverance, which is no fun for the parent or the child, but it’s a foolproof method.

So what’s my remedy for a happy and productive summer? 

Balance is key. Letting children have some well-deserved time off is essential. They need at least a week to recharge their batteries and feel refreshed. But the holidays are very long, and a little bit of work a day/week is essential. You could keep it exciting by tying in topics they have learnt at school with visits to museums. A hands-on approach to learning is good. Although some work is very difficult to make fun, particularly when your child gets older and exams are approaching, a frequent reward system, like gold stars and a prize at the end, can give them the motivation they need.  The gold star scheme definitely work for me.

Even as a university student, the question about should we completely switch off for the summer is still very relevant, and I think it is hard to get the balance right, particularly as every individual is different. In my opinion, a little and often approach can have such a massive impact and really relieve any potential stress in store for the future. So practice those timetables a little each day, and the rest of the day can be filled with whatever your child desires; whether that’s immersing themselves in mud, Moshi monsters or XBox. They deserve it!