Summer Daze

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Question: During the long summer vacation, I can’t help but wonder if my kids’ learning progress regresses. How can I make sure their minds remain stimulated, when all they seem to want to do is watch TV and go to the pool? Or should I not even be worried about this and just let the kids have a much-needed break? – Concerned Parent

Jane KH Smith
Deputy Head
of Primary,
The British School
of Beijing

It is generally believed by educators that some children experience a decline in their studies during summer when they are out of school of several months. They appear to drop back academically and take some time in the autumn to get back on track with their learning. But research gives us some clues on how to avoid the phenomenon in our own children without needing to send them to summer school.

Choose a Good School: A good teacher will ensure that your child’s learning is secure – that is firmly established and fully developed. Research tells us that poorly understood information or half-developed skills will be most easily forgotten during a long summer vacation. So choose a school with great teachers who really understand how kids learn and who make sure that your child understands fully all that is taught before moving onto the next area of learning.

Read: Recent research shows that kids in the US who had restricted access to books were the most likely to experience a drop in reading scores. So make sure that your holiday still allows access to books, magazines, comics, etc – anything to keep your child reading.

Go Digital: Load up your iPod with books for your child to listen to on long journeys. Listening to challenging (but accessible) books has been shown to boost a child’s vocabulary.

Talk: “Big Talk” is a technique we are introducing at The British School; it involves discussing a question in depth with your child to develop their vocabulary, thinking and reasoning skills. Should children be allowed a TV in their bedroom? What are the advantages and disadvantages of a chocolate door handle? If you had to live on a desert island, what five items would you take with you? Does a tree make a sound when it falls and no one is around? Great discussion topics for any long journey or summer meal. Kids will soon present their own “big” questions for the family to ponder!

Use it or Lose: The ability to write can easily dip in the summer if a child never has the opportunity to pick up a pen or tap on a keyboard. Keeping a diary (online blog or the old-fashioned kind), or writing postcards and letters to family and friends in Beijing while you travel are great ways to help your children’s skills stay razor-sharp.

Look for Links: Think about what your child learne last academic year and link some of your summer trips to those topics to act as revision and to challenge them further. If ancient Rome was an area they studied and you are in Europe, try to take in some of the abundant Roman sites there. If they studied the planets, drop into your local planetarium to allow them to use what they learned last year.

Graeme Salt
Head of Senior School,
Dulwich College Beijing

During the summer vacation we would certainly not recommend that students take a complete break from intellectual stimulation. Yes, it should be used for rest, but it should also be used to provide opportunities and time for activities that develop the imagination and broaden the experiences of young people – as well as maintaining skills already learned.

One area of the curriculum that regularly sees a drop during holidays is languages. Opportunities for intensive language study should not be passed up – immersion for a week or two during the long summer break works wonders for those studying a second language. Here, summer schools or camps can provide the perfect combination of language study and social interaction. If this is not feasible, parents should consider planning opportunities for language immersion into family holidays.

Together we should also make the case for our children to read at least one book in their first language per holiday, and preferably more. In addition, why not obtain audio books that the whole family might listen to during a long journey or individually through the holiday? This could then lead to interesting discussions within the family.

If you are staying in Beijing look to the number of summer camps available at the international schools – including Dulwich. A huge range of activities are available, in particular, sports coaching at various levels. Residential courses in nearby places such as the Beijing Sailing School should be considered – learning a new skill can do wonders for self-confidence, and interacting with a new set of peers challenges young people to go beyond their comfort zone.

Parents should trust their instincts – if they sense something is not right, it probably isn’t. So if you feel your child will not make the most of the holiday, then it is time to intervene, with the assistance of the school if and when required. We would advise planning for something new, something active, something organized and something to maintain and develop language skills – as well as leaving some time for rest.

Wayne Demnar

Elementary School Principal,


The eternal dilemma – but one which is easily answered. We mustn’t rob children of their childhood. In our rush to ensure that they are ready for all that the future may hold, we often lose sight of their inalienable right – a childhood just like most of us had. My parents gave me the most wonderful childhood imaginable and that’s just what I have tried to do for my children.

For years as an administrator in schools, I have been pleading with parents not to over-organize their children’s lives. There is nothing wrong with down time, play time, dream time, free time, whatever we want to call it, if it gives the child a chance to explore their own creative response to that freedom. In the end it’s all about balance – combining some of the formal stuff during the holidays but allowing plenty of time to play. Outdoor activities and trips, reading, time on the
computer or watching television are all valid uses of the children’s time – balance is the key.

As parents we need to consider what our children will think when they reflect on their childhood – I hope that my children think that I was a dad who loved to see them happy and gave them every opportunity to be so. As my children are now nearing the age where they will be making their own decisions, I hope that they think that my decisions on their behalf were wise ones.

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