Should we be using summer holidays to help our children catch up at school?

Rosie Joyce, early years specialist and parent coach

Rosie Joyce, early years specialist and parent coach - Credit: Rosie Joyce

As we near the end of a very strange school year, there will be a lot of questions around what is best for our youngsters. How should we use the time this summer? Haven’t the children got a lot of catching up to do? There will be talk of getting ahead and doing extra work so as not to fall behind. 

For those who have children starting school, you may be asking yourselves, what should my children know before they start? Will they be behind their peers?

The thing is, child development and childhood learning is not linear. So the arbitrary points that were marked as ‘ahead’ and ‘behind’, especially in the early years, are quite frankly nonsense.

Yes we want children to work towards a certain attainment, but actually what we REALLY want is for them to have a full throttled thirst for learning. A curiosity, instinctive motivation, awe, wonder and inquisitiveness.

Not to mention the fact that within one school class, there will be children aged one year apart. For little children, one year is a big percentage of their life span and so much can happen in that time! 

So, should we be trying to help our children catch-up this summer? In short, my answer is no. The minute that learning is forced and not developmentally appropriate, boredom falls heavily on their shoulders. And this is followed closely by disengagement. And once disengagement happens that is a long battle to overcome.

Children can develop aversions when they are pressured to start things too early. Hearing “I don’t like reading” from the mouth of a four year old child can easily become a life-long held belief. Just because a child can do something, it doesn’t always mean they should. High expectations should always remain but they should always be appropriate for each child. 

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So what should we be doing with our children this summer? What will the schools expect when the children return in September?

Rosie Joyce, early years specialist and parent coach

Rosie Joyce, early years specialist and parent coach - Credit: Rosie Joyce

Those of us who work with children know that children are messy and unique and all things in between. We know that children need to have their souls filled with the good stuff - with open-ended play, with loving connection and physical action; and only from here will the learning come. 

Staff will want to see children come back to school who have maintained the skills they had before - reading skills, independence, washing hands and toileting skills as well as lots of activity to maintain their mental and physical wellbeing.

Schools want to see happy children in September whose cups are filled and can tell tales of play-dates, sleepovers at grandparents, days at the park and outdoors with friends and family. The good stuff that they have really missed out on.

I think many of us know from having been thrust head first into the trauma of a pandemic along with the culmination of work and home schooling, that stress and over-bearing pressure does not bring out our best selves. Overloading ourselves or our children with too much at once and a pressure to ‘perform’ above all else, is harmful at best.

When we have freedom to be ourselves and think for ourselves, when we have connection to others and freedom to move, our brains become less stifled and are opened up to see the world in new ways. That is when learning happens.

For those parents worried about what the new Reception year will bring, or what you ‘should’ be doing before your child starts, I have a whole host of support about what REAL school readiness looks like.

Rosie Joyce, early years specialist and parent coach

Rosie Joyce, early years specialist and parent coach - Credit: Rosie Joyce

As an early years specialist and parent coach I focus on the practical and the emotional aspects of the transition to school. The stuff that really matters in order to give your child the most supported and positive transition to school.

I don’t just focus on getting them through the gates, but what to expect afterwards, and how to manage any hiccups or wobbles. You can find out more and download a free guide here