My daughter, a pupil at a Hong Kong primary school, has problems remembering facts and skills after she’s been taught them, especially in maths. I’m worried her academic skills will suffer during the long summer break.
Julie McGuire writes: Parents often fear that their children are going to regress academically over the summer holiday. This is rarely the case. However, during this extended period, important skills, especially those focused on reading and maths, can be consolidated and even extended, in all sorts of fun ways.
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Many schools give little or no homework over the summer break, although teachers sometimes ask pupils to start researching topics they will be studying the following term. General activities that may be encouraged are, for example, reading, holiday scrapbooks and writing postcards to be shared with the class on return to school.
One head in Britain whose school achieves outstanding academic results has been outspoken in his views that students should do no schoolwork during term breaks. He believes that the emphasis should be on something different, recommending plenty of rest, sleep and recreational reading as well as some cultural sightseeing and music practice.
The long holiday is a crucial time for your daughter to recharge her batteries. Overscheduling children can be detrimental to their emotional health and future learning potential. Holiday clubs can be good for some, especially those who enjoy activities such as sport or drama, and they can be an ideal opportunity to socialise and make new friends. Nevertheless, they can be expensive, and don’t forgo the chance for your daughter to just “be” and relax.
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Away from the busy routine of school life, she will have time and space to think, be imaginative and develop other skills and interests. It can be stimulating for children to choose their own activities, depending on their personal interests rather than constantly being timetabled by teachers and parents, encouraging a creative and independent approach to learning.
At the same time there are many hands-on activities you can do with your daughter. Examples include research projects, holiday scrapbooks/journals, visits around the locality, and practical art, craft or science projects. These types of activities give parents the opportunity to discuss ideas with their children, support them and give feedback.
Try to also ensure that your daughter gets plenty of physical activity while experiencing things that Hong Kong has to offer that are different to your normal routine. This could mean visits to local parks or playgrounds, where she will come into contact with other children, or day visits to outlying islands. If it’s too hot to spend a long time outside there are some great museums to visit. It’s also a good time for outdoor swimming and indoor racquet sports such as badminton or squash.
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Given your concerns about maintaining maths skills, make a conscious effort as a family to use maths every day: telling the time and using timetables, for example. Cooking is a good holiday activity and uses all sorts of mathematical concepts; using money to buy ingredients, comparing products and prices, following recipes and weighing ingredients, to name a few. Board and card games are excellent for strategic and lateral thinking skills. There is also nothing wrong with a quick 10 minutes of more traditional maths, for example practising tables. Bear in mind that there are some fantastic interactive maths, language and thinking activities available online.
It’s also a perfect time for children to relax with a good book and read for pleasure. Local libraries often run interesting holiday activities and will offer a different range of books to those she is used to at school. If your daughter is already a keen reader she may need very little encouragement. Otherwise, involvement of a new person can sometimes be a good incentive, such as reading picture books to a younger sibling or cousin. This can develop confidence in older children and help them to add expression to their voice.
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There are many books, TV programmes and online resources that are full of creative ideas for art and craft activities as well as science experiments. Alternatively, just provide a range of materials, including 3D options such as collage, clay and sewing/weaving equipment, and let her experiment.
With opportunities for much of the above, as well as time to socialise and have important bonding time with extended family, your daughter will hopefully have an interesting and enjoyable summer holiday. She should be able to return to school excited about reuniting with friends and experiencing new teachers, ready for the learning challenges ahead.
Julie McGuire is a former Hong Kong primary-school teacher