School holidays and the concentrated mind

It is advisable to maintain a balance between recreation and work

Reading Time: 5 minutes


The mid-year holidays are upon us and it is timely for parents to ask how to approach the break from the point of view of their children. Holidays are necessary for breaking routine, refreshing the mind and relaxing. However, they can also be an opportunity for students to discover a new balance between rest and effort.

All students tend to look forward to the idea of a holiday. The school term can vary in length between seven to twelve weeks. Students and their teachers look forward to a break from the early morning starts and the fullness of the term. Holidays usually provide a complete break from school. The exception may be that some schools provide activities and structured support for students in senior years. These schools might offer study revision classes or time when major works for particular subjects such as Art and Design and Technology can be completed. It is also possible that schools offer holiday care for students to help working families.

The question that should be asked is whether a complete break from study is, in fact, the best use of holiday time.

Family time

A recent study in Taiwan asked parents what they value most about school holidays. Taiwanese students are currently on summer holidays. When planning for the holidays, parents in Taiwan firstly budget for family time. That is, they first allocate money and time for a holiday with their children. Interestingly, their second consideration is private tuition and study camps. This means that once the joint holiday part of the school break is over, the parents expect their children to engage in some structured study, despite being on holiday.

mother and daughter, family time
Source: Canva

Balancing time

A balanced approach to the holidays includes a mix of complete rest and relaxation, some physical activity, some reading, some mental exertion and some recreational and social time.

Students should be allowed to have some complete days off to do as they like – sleep in, watch television, play electronic media, socialise with friends and relax. However, once a few days have passed, depending on the age of the student, it is appropriate to expect that one to two hours of academic work be done on each weekday. This might include an hour of reading, some time revising past notes, doing practice questions, expanding their reading and revising of schoolwork covered in the school.

2 kids skateboarding
Source: Canva

Focus is the key

A crucial issue with respect to holiday work is how to focus. Students might feel like it is very unfair or difficult, to concentrate when they are on holidays. There are several strategies that parents can adopt including a discussion about the need to balance between rest and work, as well as to encourage children to take advantage of this time to think and integrate concepts and learning, and to provide a chance to set goals and feel the personal reward of achieving them.

Balancing work and rest

In the study of organisational psychology there is an understanding that too much work can cause distress. But too little work can be stressful as well. The optimal level of stress is called ‘eustress’ and in this range of stress, people perform to their optimal capacity. Students who rest too much or work too much will tend to become stressed easily when pressured by the idea of study. However, a small amount of study, some physical activity, some socialising with friends – these are perfect days. Students who study and then play cricket, watch a movie, go shopping or spend times with friends are much more likely to feel like the leisure is well-deserved and therefore more highly valued.

kid studying, reading
Source: Canva

To help children find value in appreciating the benefit of some structured study time, parents can start by teaching them about goal setting.

READ ALSO: Developing critical thinking skills in your kids

Goal setting

If asked what they would like to achieve, many students might shrug uncertainly, or they might say something extremely likely to make their parents proud such as becoming a doctor, lawyer or pharmacist. Some might cheekily say they would like to be a Bollywood star or even a famous millionaire. The reality is that achievable, but challenging goals drive the best performance. When the goals come from within the child, they are a source of inspiration, energy and focus.

Parents can help children focus on goals by helping them understand their strengths, listening to and sharing their interests, and by showing them how goals can be broken down into a series of small, manageable steps.

Goals can be negotiated at the start of the holidays in order to make the most out of the holidays. These can include some goals for how much recreation, social time, family time and also study time can be expected over the holidays.

Predictability, structure and order

Even during the holidays predictability, order and structure are important. This is because to study for an hour or two a day requires some planning and discipline. If the study is done early in the day, a child can feel a sense of achievement and personal satisfaction, and enjoy the rest of the day with a great sense of accomplishment.

iPhone and iWon’t

There are very many distractions for students when they try to concentrate. Primary amongst these is ready access to electronic media and social networking sites such as Facebook. An aspect of holiday discipline is to help students wean themselves off constant access to the phone, music and the internet. Surprisingly, they might find that they actually remember more, get more study done in less time, and start to intrinsically enjoy learning. The phone, music and internet will still be there in an hour!

Source: Canva

Holiday revision courses

One way for older students to spend productive time during the holidays and also to meet other students is to attend holiday revision courses. Spending time at such courses can help students revise material already covered in school or to introduce areas of study that will be covered. This exposure can take stress off term time. A disadvantage of these courses is that they can be expensive or require travel. An advantage of the courses is that they can help to provide focused and supported study time. Furthermore, they can be very affirming for students, especially if they already know the content and realise that they are learning strategies for applying the skills and knowledge that they already have.

Hitting the ground running

Students who take a few days off from all study and thereafter integrate a small amount of disciplined study into each weekday of their holidays will be doing themselves a great service. They will feel rested and relaxed whilst also ensuring that their mind is active, and they will be exercising their thinking. With some physical activity thrown in, you can have the perfect break.

READ ALSO: How to engage with your child’s school

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Mohan Dhall
Mohan Dhall
Academic leader, M2K Education and Advisory and CEO of Australian Tutoring Association and Global Tutoring Association.

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