While it might seem as though the long summer break could potentially have a sloth-like effect on students’ brains, pupils in the UK, Spain, Germany, Latvia and Panama do not in fact get as many weeks as the Italians or Greeks who weigh in with 13.

 

It is, however, all relative. Italy, in fact, tots up 200 schooldays, against the UK and Germany’s 190. And long 10 and 11-week summer breaks such as Spain, Latvia and Panama enjoy have a way of evening out during the year with more daily hours in the classroom. Factor those in together with the absence of half terms and the six-week holiday in the UK and Germany does not seem so mean.

 

According to King’s in-house Secondary psychologist Miriam Mower, students need a certain amount of time off-grid, something that rarely happens during the summer months in South Korea where the holidays amount to just three weeks!

“I personally think a balance is always the key aspect,” she says. “Routine is good to keep a sense of “purpose” – unless you’re very proactive with lots of initiative, having no set plans could turn into monotonous days of not really doing much and changing sleep habits. On the other hand of course, overloading yourself with activities can sound exciting, but it would also be exhausting. I think students especially need to have moments of relaxing and actually resting and re-charging after an intense academic year!”

 

It is sometimes said that the length of the summer holidays as a global concept was established back in the days when the human race was predominantly involved in farming and children were needed to help the community on the land. This theory has been discredited, however, due to the fact that most planting and harvesting falls outside the summer vacation.

 

But if we are really concerned about our children forgetting much of what they learned over the arduous months leading up to the summer, one way of consolidating some of the material is to take advantage of the relaxed holiday pace to make an emotional connection with it – always more time-consuming than the traditional learning methods.

 

As educationalist Sir Ken Robinson says, “Learning happens in the minds and souls, not in the databases of multiple choice tests.”

 

This is where summer camps come in, with language learned in the classroom suddenly coming alive in a real and exciting context. Sandra González, Director of King’s College International, which runs summer camps with bespoke courses in 10 different countries around the world, says “You can’t learn a language with a book. I learned first hand that you have to need the language. I went to London and I was hungry and I had to use the language to buy food. You learn or you don’t eat. It’s the practice that makes you learn, not the theory.”

 

On a more laid-back note, reading is also a way of reinforcing what has been learned. There are books and novels on just about every subject under the sun and just one line or paragraph in a story can help students to nail a topic.

If, however, books don’t appeal, there is no need to despair. According to Sir Ken Robinson, creativity is as important for students’ futures as literacy. And some lazy summer weeks could be key to nurturing this. Extensive research is currently being carried out on the value of downtime for creativity – which is probably the most valuable tool any student (or person in general) could have in their mental toolkit.

 

In a study published in the journal Neuropsycologia at the end of last year, researchers at the Georgia Institute of Technology found a link between intelligence and creativity and frequent daydreaming, with those of their 112 subjects who allowed their minds to wander on a regular basis scoring higher on intellectual and creative tests.

So a stretch of disengagement may do students the world of good and certainly won’t do them any harm, particularly if coupled with a good book.

Younger children, meanwhile, can build happily on basic maths and literacy skills as Primary teacher in King’s College Madrid, Joanne Weale points out, by sharing out their sweets with friends, counting shells found on the beach, or even jellyfish and helping with directions on journeys by reading the road signs, though this may tip a few parents over the edge!

 

Heather Galloway