School’s not out – but it darned well should be!

It’s that time of year again.

When each evening I have no idea what we’re going to eat until half an hour before. When baked beans become a  staple part of our diet.  And I don’t even care.

When I haven’t looked at my son’s reading record for several weeks, or heard him read a book. And I don’t care (ok, he’s reading to himself so I’m pretty lucky).

When the sun is finally, actually, yes really shining, and the beach is yelling at me saying its been far too long since we saw each other.  And I do care.

When I can’t even be bothered to find a funny image or photo for this post.

When my normally conscientious daughter says she can’t face school.  Her desire to day-dream or play mean our requests to “be here, do that” fall on even deafer ears.  So tempers flare.  I care a great deal about this.

When I find my normally conscientious self actually says to her daughter ‘Maybe don’t worry about doing your homework – what’s the worst that can happen?’

When I can’t bear to read American blogs for fear of the Huge Green-Eyed Monster reaching out and engulfing me as I read their posts about how they’re all in chill-out, go-the-beach, kick-a-ball-around-the-yard mode (sorry guys, you’d understand if you lived here!).

In short, the need for a break is getting beyond a joke, and the season is telling us to kick back, relax, enjoy what it has to offer and let the kids run free.

Lets face it – July and school simply don’t mix.

And I know the only reason they’re in school is because the government is obsessed with targets and producing globally competitive economically productive citizens.  This, and the many parents who both work full time and find 6 weeks of holidays a challenge let alone the 8 that most countries get.

This is hard. And I’m very lucky that I don’t have to work around my kids in the holidays to make ends meet.

So, I’m at risk of making myself unpopular with those of you who do work or find 6 weeks of children under your feet a real stretch.  It’s such a tough job working and being a parent. You have my utmost respect.

But the reason I’m writing this is that I feel passionately that our kids are missing out on quality day-dreaming time and the best weather of the year because of the country’s need to produce wealth.  Our kids are worked so hard for the rest of the year, far harder than we ever were, that they deserve a decent break.

I wrote about this essential human (and child’s) need for ‘kairos’ time in a post last summer holidays (Back to School: Farewell Kairos, Hello Chronos), and even though I desperately miss quiet, uninterrupted adult time during the holidays, I know how deeply important it is for a child to be given that ‘no agenda’ time.

Ok, maybe the practical solution isn’t longer summer holidays, but longer half-terms in May and in October.  One paltry week off in October is so hard on infant-aged kids who have to effectively sit still for seven weeks in a row. And the weather is often better at May half term.  (See the BBC’s online magazine for ‘What length should the summer holidays be?’ for an article debating just this).

My point is I feel the pressure of modern British life is so affecting our children that we are robbing them of their childhoods, and damaging their relationship with their parents.

Let me give you an example: my daughter and I had a ‘set to’ at the weekend, after weeks of happy calm, which all arose out of the fact that we’d had a lovely, long busy weekend full of usual end of term summer fodder – school fairs and village Larks in the Parks. As a result she’d not done her homework and it was late before she’d even started getting ready for bed.  She didn’t hear my 3 requests for her to get to bed as she was so focused on making a flag for South Africa day the next day (which she didn’t have to do, it was her idea admittedly) and you guessed it, I ended up shouting, yet again. Tears of exhaustion and frustration from her – she genuinely hadn’t heard my requests.  Followed by more stress in the morning choosing clothes for South Africa day and more tears….

You get the picture. We’ve all been there. Although I most probably shout more than you do.  Or maybe I don’t.  Who knows?

I wrote her a poem the next day which it sums up how I feel:

 

Umpire of Your Day

I’m so sorry, my love, when I make you cry

When the anger comes out and the daggers fly.

I don’t do it to hurt you, or bring a tear to your eye

But I can see why it makes you ask the question ‘Why?’

 

The thing is I love you, with all of my heart

And hate it when anger tears us apart

 

The need to be here, do this and do that,

Get up, have breakfast, don’t forget your hat

The constant demands of the school day

Mean life can be pressured, fun gets in the way

 

I wish I wasn’t always the umpire of your day

“Stop what you’re doing and put it away!”

But how would you get your sleep or your food

And you might end up going to school in the nude!

 

I’d love to be calmer and not so red-hot

When you’re still in your clothes and it’s past bedtime slot

I realise you don’t always hear what I say

You’re engrossed in your book or masterpiece of the day

 

I wish school was shorter and no homework was given

Then life would be a much easier living

I wish term was finished, you could run free and roam,

Til then, I’ll do my best to make ours a happy home.

 

One thing you must remember, never forget,

Before you drop off or wake up in the morning

Never be in doubt of one precious fact,  

 I love you

I love you

I love you.

 

Do you feel the same? Or is it just my kids who show the signs of needing to be just kids? If so, what’s the solution? Maybe I should be home-schooling my kids if the system doesn’t suit but that has its own downsides… I’d love to know your thoughts…

28 thoughts on “School’s not out – but it darned well should be!

  1. We rarely did homework at primary school (once a week arithmatic, spelling tests and presumably reading – although I don’t remember that because I used to read all the time anyway). But we still came out of school with good GSCEs, A-levels and a good degree. Mind you, I don’t think I actually did much homework at secondary school compared to now (although I also wasn’t really pushed by teachers). So I think the homework thing at primary should be dropped to a certain extent. I’m not sure extending holidays is the answer though. I don’t remember struggling to get through a school term, I did lots of outside school activities (virtually every night and Saturdays) and I wasn’t burnt out. However, my mum was a SAHM as my dad died when I was young so couldn’t afford to go out to work and they’d agreed that having kids she’d stay at home. So holiday times weren’t a problem.

    I’m strugging to even work out how I’m going to work and get my son to school, let alone holiday times (my OH’s a farmer so always working, and in Summer he’ll be harvesting so can never/won’t help with any childcare). I wouldn’t say any of my nephews and nieces seem stressed with their life or schoolwork (ranging from 4-13), they all have hobbies, some family based. The school’s are good ones. I think it depends on the family and extended family, and how much opportunity to get to do the things they want to do . Ours get a lot, because they love being outside and they’re on farms. They do struggle more in Winter because they can’t get outside. Maybe that’s what they need more of – just the opportunity to get outside and relax, rather than necessarily more holiday time.

    I might feel differently once my son’s at school though.

  2. I think we all feel it more keenly – the exhaustion, the running on empty – when it’s this hot. I am a Primary TA in Y5/6. I wish we’d finished today but no…. two more pointless lip service days watching DVDs to go. Less than 6 weeks off. I really think we should have shorter terms not longer. 8 week half terms are ridiculous. The Continent manage to educate their kids with shorter school years. As for homework , our school give KS2 kids 1 Literacy task, 1 maths sheet & 10 spellings once a week. If they cant manage that at 10 or 11 they are going to get a shock in Secondary ! Ease them in, I say.

    • I agree, I agree and yes, these long half terms are crazy for primary aged kids. And yes, I def agree they need some sort of homework from years 4 or 5 o/w they’ll get a shock at sec school. Thanks for dropping by and taking the trouble to comment!

  3. Sadly I think the academic pressures on our kids are part of a wider social problem that forces all sorts of aspects of adult experience on them at far too young an age. We should be valuing childhood in our society, but we should also be valuing individuality and bio-diversity. Focussing solely on academic or career success is divisive, and the attitudes and value judgements arising from that focus are damaging on every level for those who lose the race. Sadly the society we have now generally doesn’t value things like compassion, sharing, empathy and individuality, which are things we learn from social interaction and play, but puts huge emphasis on winning and/or ‘fitting in’. 🙁

  4. I so agree with this!! I am a teacher and have a son in Primary school. I disagree with homework most of the time. I teach secondary so sometimes set stuff that I feel is relevant for my senior pupils. Or rather I did. I just quit teaching because of all the pointless things we have to do. I was forced to give my first years (Scottish system) homework even when I said it wasn’t appropriate for them at that stage in their learning. My son wants to do other things when he gets in and homework eats into our family time. The only one we enjoy is the reading. I resent it and if I felt I was up to it I would home school as teaching has totally opened my eyes to just how damaging school can be. Great post!

    • Wow, thank you for your comments, S, they are particularly resonant as you are a teacher. My post prompted a big conversation along these lines with 3 other people on my FB page which you would’ve agreed with too. Crikey, this whole home schooling thing is becoming more and more something I wish I’d tried now….S

  5. I agree that we need to readdress the timing of the Summer holidays! I do find myself shouting at Grace a lot so can empathise with the poem too – I particularly liked the Umpire of your day line. Fab! Really chuffed that you have linked to Prose for Thought – thank you so much Siobhan xx

  6. What a lovely poem, what a wonderful Mum you are to have written that for her. I have been shouting a lot of late, just as you say mainly triggered by the need to get things done or get out of the house or to bed, and I always feel terrible when I do. It is so important to apologise to our children afterwards – when my kids are older I think I might apologise to them in verse as well. 🙂

    On another note, you sound like an ideal candidate to take part in my project to reimagine education! It’s called Clean Slate, have a look here if you haven’t already:
    http://secretsofthesandpit.wordpress.com/2013/06/18/reinventing-education-lets-start-at-the-very-beginning/

    • Ooh, thank you J. And yes, its SO important to apologise, as apart from anything we model it to them. Your Clean Slate thing sounds very interesting. I’m up for it! (when i have time to look at it next week). I’ll let my other friends know who’ve been discussing this on my FB page too – they’ll have stuff to contribute too. S

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  8. I think we all feel like that towards the end of term – in need of a huge break and no more so than at the end of a very long school year. They do work the kids hard and I think it’s a shame that they can’t make the most of the summer by being off in July. I think having holidays similar to the Scottish terms would be far better – back to school in the middle of August. Personally, for me, the 6 weeks is too long. I think they would be better spreading out the holidays more evenly across the year with 2 longer breaks of 4 weeks – one at Christmas and one in July. Just personal opinion really.

    • Good points and suggestions Suzanne. Yes, starting early July and finishing mid August is a good idea. 6 weeks is realistic, can’t really see ANYONE agreeing to 8 in this country! I’d rather not have a longer break at Xmas though. For me, 2 weeks in autumn half term would be sooo good. The little ones need far more than 1 week off bet 1 Sept and 18 Dec!

    • Wow, thanks Jo. And re “not looking forward to it” – maybe this will help you think clearly about the type of school you send E too, how much homework they get and how its assessed wasn’t something i knew to think of asking about when we started out…

  9. There was a big outcry about the kids getting homework in our little one’s infants / junior school and the head put it down by asking several questions on a questionnaire which was really sly:
    How much homework should they have?
    Do you not want to be a part of the education of your child?

    This was the equivalent of asking someone when they stopped hitting their wife – it stopped the rage because nobody could answer the question while at the same time never really addressing the problem

    • I think I know what you mean, but you may be misreading it a bit. Heads really do see homework as an opp. for parents to be involved in their kids education, which i agree with. Thats the ONLY reason why i tolerate homework at Primary stage. Without it, I’d have no clue what they were up to. BUT we don’t need so much and secondly, the kids shouldn’t be penalised if they don’t hand it in. It puts so much pressure on them, as it has done to my daughter who, being conscientious, is afraid of not doing her homework as she’d get a stern look from her teacher and a black mark ( I think its actually a lack of a star rather than a negative, but I need to double check this – the teacher’s very nice, I know that!) And maybe the head really does want to know how much homework you think they should have. Have you talked to her/him about it? But I see what you’re saying, in that it could have that kind of effect.

  10. Agreed to a degree I can’t even express. The amount of pain and division in my family that arises from trying to motivate my exhausted 8 year old to stop drawing fairy princesses long enough to do some maths homework that she’s barely been taught how to in class leaves me so frustrated and angry that I’m about […] <- this close to just doing it for her at the weekend and letting her get on with the business of being a child.

    • I feel for you and your daughter….thanks for posting this here aswell as on the FB conversation that’s ongoing on Jane Evan’s page. I’ll see if Jane is willing to put all her wonderful points here as well.

  11. Agree Agree…it is certainly a struggle to maintain a decent ‘family’ life with the pressures getting bigger and more intense. Don’t know the answer; we can only do the best we can with God’s help each day….. and keep telling them how much we love them! I love your poem.

  12. Great blog! I don’t remember you four all being so stressed by the end of term: is there more pressure nowadays? And don’t forget, long holidays are harder to manage if you live in a city without ‘letting off steam’ open spaces, or even gardens.The interesting thing is that countries where children start school later and have longer holidays, do just as well academically, if not better! But how do working mothers manage? Joan was talking about an Online School, for the time being for 14-16-year-olds who are ‘school-refusers’. Grace knew about it. With our idiotic government raising the school leaving age yet again, without putting anything in place for the non-academic, something’s going to give. And what a lovely poem – your daughter is a lucky girl to have such an understanding Mum.

  13. I have absolutely no idea what the solution is, but yes I agree they need more downtime. Life is very pressured nowadays and terms just seem too long. I am so looking forward to the summer, Mich x

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