What are so many weeks of school holidays for?

Are the school holidays too long or do you need all the time available to enjoy them? / Justin Connors/Flickr, CC BY-NC

Do schoolchildren in Spain enjoy too many school holidays? Does a break of so many weeks have any benefit?

Sandra Ruiz

SANDRA RUIZ AMBIT Professor Faculty of Education, Nebrija University

They never seem to arrive. The little ones at home await them with great enthusiasm; they end the academic year visibly exhausted, intellectually tired and above all anxious in anticipation. What are we talking about? Indeed, from the summer school holidays.

Summer days

In Europe, each country has a different number of school vacation days in the Primary Education stage, with Spain –along with Turkey, Ukraine, Moldova, Belarus, Lithuania and Latvia– in one of the highest positions, with 13 weeks in the summer period. Above are Bulgaria (16), Italy and Russia (14). However, with fewer weeks off in this period, many other countries remain, such as Estonia and Greece (12), Romania, Hungary and Portugal (11), Sweden (10), Ireland and Poland (9), Norway and France (8 ) and, at the bottom, Germany, Denmark and the Netherlands (6).

In most countries, the longest holidays come at the end of the school year. The precise dates are defined by zones, regions or each one of the communities, which establish the beginning and the end of the classes.

Countries like Spain, France and Italy make this break coincide with the summer period. One of the main reasons is the high temperatures in the months of July and August, which make it difficult to attend classrooms and follow classes. Latin American countries have the same format but with their summer months (December to March).

Classes end and the long-awaited period of freedom begins for the students and the moment of greatest stress for the parents. Questions arise: what do I do with the children? Why do they have so many vacations? How am I going to reconcile their rest with my work? Do they have to do homework? Is it good that they disconnect so much from the routine?

These questions do not have an easy answer. Over the years, many authors and studies have tried to answer them. Most conclude that a break between school periods is positive, since it gives boys and girls the opportunity to consolidate knowledge and renew energy to face the rest of the course.

Are school holidays beneficial?

The direct answer to this question would be yes. Going a little deeper into the analysis, we can see that the benefits are several:

- Promotes rest. On a day-to-day basis, schoolchildren have routines with high levels of demand: getting up early, going to school, doing extracurricular activities, doing homework... This involves both physical and emotional wear and tear that boys and girls would not be able to cope with. assume uninterruptedly, appearing problems related to anxiety and stress.

- Sometimes, demanding intensive dedication from the minor that does not correspond to their own skills and expectations can generate serious emotional deficits, leading to child depression. It is important to propose a change on vacation: stop and allow children to establish new routines that include longer breaks, shorter periods of work and lower levels of demand.

- Develop family bond. During the summer holidays, at least a period of time is dedicated to family activities, trips or excursions, which allows improving relationships.

- Promotes contact with the environment. In the summer period, boys and girls tend to be more in contact with nature at the beach, the pool or the mountains. These moments can be used to consolidate school learning and understand the context beyond the book.

- Allows children to make a greater number of decisions. On a day-to-day basis, we live too fast, schedules are always very tight, we try to squeeze every minute by doing a thousand tasks at once: we send a message while we put on the washing machine and review our English homework... This means that we don't have time to ask them our children what they want and we present them with their entire day organized and planned in detail.

On vacation this does not happen. We allow ourselves the luxury of wanting to know what they feel like doing. These options allow them to participate in their own lives and increase their levels of autonomy and responsibility.

Some buts…

We must also raise what are the difficulties of school holidays. We mainly find:

- Reconciliation of family and work. Such long school vacation periods do not correspond to work periods, which often leads to resorting to multiple resources: school camps, grandparents, support people. Boys and girls may perceive that the routine and demand continue, since, although the activities or the location may change, the schedules do not. In addition, they may feel that their main caregivers are not "yet" available and they have to stay with others.

- The total absence of routine also unbalances the little ones. Meals are delayed, more ice cream and sweets are consumed, and writing or reading take a backseat.

Everything good ends

With all this, what conclusion do we reach? Are vacations bad? There are many?

Holidays are necessary: ​​that they exist, that they begin and also that they end. Its existence helps to set a goal, to be able to make a constant effort to get a reward.

Its proper management must obey a balance between educational quality, social policies and availability of resources, as well as taking into account the reconciliation of family and work life.

This article has been published in 'The Conversation'.

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