Should the school holidays be reserved for relaxation and play, or should parents factor in study time as well?
I have two kids aged six and 11, and they’ll be entering Primary 1 and Primary 6 next year. For my six year old, life is still fairly simple—we practise reading, sporadically, and we’re currently going through the Branches series from Scholastic, created for emerging readers. For enrichment, he has two hours of soccer per week. Like his sister, he has a Chinese tutor but there’s been a break as the tutor is overseas.
My 11 year old has more on her plate but I would like to think that she’s had a balanced and fulfilling holiday, mostly spent bonding with her brother, fixing up Lego sets, cycling, reading, and catching up with friends.
For this holiday, she’s had a weekly three-hour gymnastics training session (she’ll be part of the school team next year), and she’s joined her brother at soccer as well. She also has a weekly two-hour science class at our nearby enrichment centre, where the teacher has started covering topics from next year’s syllabus.
At home, I’ve tried to establish a revision schedule for my daughter, which I hope will take her into the new year. I don’t interfere with her tutors but I don’t believe in learning ahead—I don’t want her to lose interest in the classroom. Instead, my priorities are for her to revise concepts that she’s already covered, score herself and assess her own understanding, take note of areas that may require further study, and develop good work habits.
We’ve set weekly and daily work targets but they haven’t been effective. Often, my daughter has incomplete tasks at the end of the day that need to be shifted to the next day, and this affects the overall plan. This is sometimes due to her underestimating the amount of time needed to complete a task, or, more frequently, distractions that get in the way of work. Time management is something that I hope to help her improve on in the next year.
What we have instead is a flexible holiday work plan with mandatory and optional items. The two items marked with an asterisk are my daughter’s priorities for each day—they are not difficult to complete and require about an hour of her time. If she feels like doing more, she can choose from the remaining optional tasks on the list. There are still days where no work is done, but I feel this arrangement works better for her.
At the end of each day, my daughter records what she’s completed in a planner, so she can easily see what she’s accomplished every week.
I bought the Conquer series for Science MCQs and the Score A* In Singapore series for math problems because they both have detailed answer schemes. I don’t mark my daughter’s work—instead, she checks her answers immediately after completing each exercise, so she instantly gets feedback about her answers, and she knows her next step is to seek help from an adult if she needs further clarification.
I like the Diagnostic Practice in Science series because the learning process is clearly delineated—there is a pre-test to check awareness and preliminary understanding, followed by revision notes, worksheets featuring MCQ and open-ended questions, a mind-mapping exercise, and a questionnaire to wrap up each topic.
I’m using the questionnaire to gauge if my daughter needs more support or additional materials (e.g. books or online resources) to better understand certain concepts.
For English, my daughter doesn’t have major issues with grammar. She doesn’t score very highly on compositions but she tends to do well in situational writing. Writing a good story requires maturity and life experience, so I’m willing to let nature take its course. I also feel that while it’s important to be familiar with exam formats, slaving over exercises such as Synthesis & Transformation don’t contribute to long-term growth, whereas reading for pleasure and building one’s vocabulary will serve one well throughout life. This explains why I’ve prioritised reading and vocabulary practise for English, and not much else.
For Chinese, my kids will resume work when our tutor returns next week.
I’ve wondered if other parents were encouraging their kids to use holiday time for work and I found a KiasuParents discussion, where half the parents polled indicated that yes, they would like some holiday time to be spent on revision or learning ahead of the syllabus.
Here is some food for thought on the subject, courtesy of the KSP community:
My understanding with my kids is: as much as possible, I do not touch their holidays. But in return, they have to show me consistent work and results during the school term. So far, they have been fine. One drawback though: when school starts, it takes about two weeks for them to get their engines cranking again.
We will usually go for a two to three-week break in December. When we get back, there will be a flurry of activities for Christmas and the New Year, and before we know it, it’s the first day of school.
The only thing I do to get them into the school routine is to go back to school-term bedtimes and waking hours about one week before school begins. This is done as much for them as it is for me and my husband.
Very honestly, I thought that during this holiday, we would complete some of the more useful assessment books that we have not done. It would be a form of revision and it would at least keep some of the studying momentum going.
Here’s what happened instead:
1st week: aiyah, let them play lah, still so many weeks to go.
2nd week: maybe next week we’ll start.
3rd week: ummm I think we should clear out the assessment books. I don’t think we will ever touch them again!
If I allow my kids to just play the whole holiday, god knows where their brains would have gone come January 2! Academically I do have to push a little, two hours of work every day to keep those brain cells active. But it’s the holidays, so we slot in play and TV time, and in the evenings after dinner, we go for dessert or take a stroll.
I believe in balance, so this is what I’ve done over the years (my kids are teenagers now).
I don’t teach in advance.
At the beginning of the two longer vacations, I assess whether there are weak areas that we might need to go over, and then I will see how much needs to be done. I limit such work to a couple of hours a day at most, and try to do it within two weeks (less time if possible).
I impose daily reading time for both languages—20–30 mins for Chinese (this they don’t like!) and at least one hour for English (they usually exceed this).
I limit computer and TV time even though it’s the vacation, although they will get more time than on school days.
I set them little projects based on their interests, like reading up on a new topic, trying experiments, making a Powerpoint presentation, writing a story, etc.
If I “teach” anything during the vacations, it will be non-academic stuff like crafts and baking.
The rest of the time is free.
The final week of the mid-year vacation, I will ask my kids to flip through the past semester’s work, especially in their weaker subjects, and maybe attempt a few practice questions (total time: a maximum of two hours per subject). We don’t do this before the new school year.
It depends on what the kids want, but usually some form of work helps to engage their brains and keep them grounded. My first daughter has a multiple-choice English book that she can flip and do if she likes, and the rest of the time, her head is either in her storybooks or she will be practising the piano. My second daughter is self-motivated; she plans work and drives us into coaching her. Aside from work, my kids will still have their play/free-and-easy time for other activities.
I think there is a difference here between stay-home mums and working mums. Part of the reason that I give my daughter work is to keep her busy. I’m at work all day and she refuses to go out with my mother-in-law—bad for her street cred! So if I don’t give her any work to do, she will be calling me all day saying that she is bored. I’ve taken leave for every Friday of the school holidays and we are going away before Christmas, but that still leaves a lot of time to fill.
Other than their Chinese tuition once a week, there is no academic work planned for my P4 and P2 kids. My boy is already busy during the term, so every holiday, he will be “off” from work. We keep him busy with books and play dates, plus sports and games. My girl is kept busy with cooking and art classes and her favourite hobbies. The rest of the time, I’ll bring them to visit local attractions. I need their brains to be recharged for next year.
During the school holidays, I load my kids with books and more books. But only storybooks, both fact and fiction. I double up on music and dance classes. I want to engage them differently. Let the overworked brain cells rest while we stimulate the dormant ones.
The school curriculum can be easily covered when school reopens. Objectively speaking, there isn’t much value in doing more and more assessment books. Down time is so precious, and a limited resource. I prefer to open my kids’ minds to the world outside of textbooks.
At the moment, they have no enrichment besides Chinese. I don’t have anything structured at home. I oversee their schoolwork at arm’s length. They will ask their teachers to clear doubts. They will come to me if they still need clarification. When there is a chance, i.e. right time and place, I will go beyond what is covered in class. I love the “eureka” sparkle on their faces when they learn something interesting and new. Oftentimes, they don’t know why they need to learn something in school and they learn without understanding. There is a disconnect because they don’t see the purpose in an exercise. That is where I come in.
Contributed by Evelyn, a freelance writer and parent blogger. The comments in grey were excerpted from a KiasuParents discussion on work during the school holidays; comments have been edited for language and clarity.