by Rebecca Brooks
AUK Education Policy Advisor

With half term imminent in England and Wales, and families in Northern Ireland and Scotland already seeing the long summer break on the horizon, thoughts will be turning to what the school holidays will look like during lockdown. 

Some families will perhaps be looking forward to the possibility of abandoning formal school work, while others will be concerned about how a change in routine will impact the delicate ecosystem of the household. How will we spend the time when many of the usual strategies for surviving school holidays – playdates, visits to family, day trips, holidays, summer clubs, activity weeks – may not be available to us? 

In our home educating family, we don’t pay much attention to the school calendar. We tend to continue our routines, unless we are actually going on holiday somewhere, and the length of time we spend on work each day reflects that. Put simply, we can afford to spend fewer hours in formal learning each day partly because we don’t take weeks and weeks off every year. We spread the load. 

We have also found that maintaining some kind of structure to each day reduces the impact of the transitions involved in switching from learning to holiday and back again. If we drop formal learning for two weeks, it is harder to go back to it afterwards, and the hurdles of reluctance and resistance make an unwelcome reappearance. 

If your child is younger and less likely to notice the transition to what should have been the school holiday, you might want to take a similar approach by sticking largely to the routines you have developed over the past few weeks. It might make sense to vary the activities somewhat, perhaps reducing the amount of formal learning activities, and focusing more on family and fun, but still largely structuring your day in the same way. Familiar routines provide a sense of predictability that can be very comforting. 

Those of you with older children will probably be raising your eyebrows at the suggestion that your tweens and teens could be persuaded to carry on learning during their school holiday, and that’s fair enough. Even BBC Bitesize programmes are taking a break for the spring half term in England and Wales. 

If you have spent the past few weeks juggling working from home, while overseeing your child or children’s learning, then you are probably all in need of a well-earned break as the school holidays approach. If you’re in that place, then take the break. Your mental health and wellbeing, and that of your family will come first at all times. 

Yet, even if formal learning is off the table, the long days will need to be filled and, for many of our children, hours and hours of unstructured time makes for a tricky situation. It might be worth deciding, as a family, which aspects of your current routines can be kept going during the holidays without putting intense pressure on anybody. Try to focus on activities and routines that maximise the sense of connectedness, nurture and belonging of all family members.   

So, if you have been taking daily exercise together, can that continue? If you have been eating (and maybe even cooking) together, can you still do that? If you have agreed limitations on screen time, perhaps those could continue, even with a few concessions. Could you introduce some new, holiday time activities, like a family film night, board games hour, picnic in the garden or other shared activity? 

And finally, please remember that learning is not just something that happens in the classroom, with worksheets and text books, or according to a specific curriculum.  

As we spend time in close company with our family, we are learning about ourselves and each other, fast-tracking awareness and development of social and emotional skills. The everyday life skills that can be hard to teach our children during a busy school term, are now happening in real time in all of our homes. Even our child-friendly explanations about Covid-19 and the restrictions in place will be encouraging them to think about new issues and ideas. Perhaps it has never been more true that life itself is a learning experience.