We seem to have got to the last day of July in an awful hurry. How do I let myself get so busy when it's supposed to be the start of the summer break? I can already feel the end of the holidays looming towards me instead of stretching away into the distance. Others, according to the media anyway, have the opposite problem - they have the boredom of the holidays with which to contend, the coping with the kids, and the entertaining of them without breaking the bank and so on. Here I am, desperately trying to find two minutes together to just be with my children, and savour their summer. I can't be the only one who isn't dreading the holidays, but the speed with which they'll fly by, can I?
I had to turn off a BBC Radio 4 Woman's Hour article this morning when I got very angry with Carol Vorderman of all people. She was promoting the use of her Maths tutoring website over the summer (well, she would, wouldn't she) and was arguing a case for keeping up learning standards during the holidays so our kids don't revert to 'where they were' at the end of the spring term - the so-called summer slide. She was implying that without using such websites or providing them with a holiday tutoring programme, our children would not read, write nor do any Maths, not really learn anything, over the summer. Really?
I shouted at the radio before switching it off that they learn all the time. Yes, Carol, even out of school - imagine that! Why doesn't she know that children don't limit their learning to within school hours - it's simply not how they work. It may not be formalised, classroom-based, attainment target-adhering learning, but it IS learning. And it's important to give our children this different pace. If we say that learning can only take place in formal settings with screens, or pen or paper or teachers and white boards then we have a very narrow and incomplete view of learning indeed. Learning in the summer vacation can be the most marvellous, unique, holistic, progressive, penetrating, enduring kind there is.
I will not be fooled by the advertisers' boredom-buster solutions that insist we need to keep our children entertained or learning Maths or otherwise occupied to stop them from driving us insane. Most parents know that giving their school-aged children time is the best thing they can do for them over the summer. Time for sports and games, for playing outside till it's too dark to see the ball, for reading what they like for fun, for making and tinkering, or learning to shuffle cards. Time for perfecting their tying of bows, learning the rules of backgammon, for creating masterpieces with Lego, or for baking biscuits. Time for learning a few chords on the guitar or playing a harmonica in a hammock, helping with chores, or for taking day trips to new places. All these experiences can feed into their learning, and actually consolidate their school-gained knowledge and skills across all curriculum subjects and beyond.
This radio programme was a wake-up call for me; reminding me to take a step back and not feel guilty about the fact that I'm not tutoring or providing school-work for my children during the summer break. Instead, I choose to reflect on what my children are learning during their time off. When they're out digging in the dirt, collecting snails, counting how many times they can bounce that ball against the wall, or reading endless comics - they're learning. And when September comes around, I know they'll be ready - with their pencils sharpened, their shoes polished and with renewed academic energy. That back-to-school feeling can be great - but only if children have had a chance to actually leave the place, and that kind of learning, behind for a bit.