By Wendy Andersen
SUMMER breaks are traditionally long in Spain because children in agricultural areas were needed during the harvesting of crops.
Although much has changed since then, current school calendars are still based on those developed in the turn of the last century prior to air conditioning and at a time when 85 per cent of the population’s livelihoods were tied to the land.
Today both parents and child psychologists worry that such long breaks may be detrimental to learning.
The argument goes: children learn best when instruction is continuous.
Summer vacations break the rhythm of classes, lessons are forgotten, and a great deal of time is wasted in the autumn reviewing last year’s work.
Special needs kids are said to suffer the worst.
And for those of you speaking only English at home, there is a worry that children will suffer when they return to a Spanish speaking classroom after 10 weeks without practising.
Of course general intelligence levels are not going to alter, but children may suffer from what experts call ‘learning loss’.
This affects boys and girls equally, but notably, children from poor families tend to suffer more than their wealthier peers.
According to research carried out in the US (where children have similar holiday lengths to Spain) children lost the equivalent of one month’s learning after the summer.
But in maths, there was no difference in the loss from rich/poor families.
It seems mums and dads might be reading to their children, but are not working on maths problems while at the beach.
Reports on how to address the problem all focus on adjusting the school calendar – slightly beyond the powers here at OPX. So we’ll stick to the obvious – parents have to take on that much beloved role of the ‘home teacher’.
Why, every time I suggest to my kids ‘how about we do a bit of maths today?’, it’s just like Christmas morning with squeals of delight. Okay, maybe not.
Parents have to perfect the art of what I call ‘stealth-teaching’.
In summer my local supermarket becomes a virtual maths laboratory for my kids
It happens a lot when we’re in the car. I find teaching works best with a trapped audience.
My top game for primary school kids is to hand over the Sat-Nav and have them navigate.
It requires a bunch of skills, from entering the address, to distinguishing left and right, assessing distances and so on.
My son has to note the speed limit and tell me how much over the limit I’m going. I mean under the limit of course. Taking it up a level, my older daughter has to work out the percentage over the limit and so on.
Summer time means quite often I have to drag the kids around the supermarket – a virtual maths laboratory.
Challenges can be calculating best prices when different weights are involved – two-for-one deals are great adding another level.
Set up a reward scheme – each time you put something in the trolley, if they can find a cheaper option that money is theirs to put towards an item of their choice (ice creams, biscuits, etc that you were going to have to buy
Hand the cash over to the kids to work out the bills and coins, and count the change for you.
On a final note, long lazy summers are an important part of a child’s development, in terms of imagination, relaxing and forming happy life-long memories.
But they are also important for the teachers who spend every day with these shouting, snotty, self-centred, squabbling little angels we love so much.
Teachers not only deserve it, they need it! And a month as a stealth-teacher will prove it.
As one school director says about long summer breaks: “It’s crucial for teachers to do other things as well as teach; whether it’s painting, trekking or, as in my case, writing books – it adds such a lot to what teachers have to
give …. We all know that some of the most valuable learning experiences take place away from the classroom.”
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