Learning Without Knowing

The summer break often means relaxation for most school children, but after this year’s disruptions, they may be at risk of forgetting unpractised skills. Teacher and mum of three, Julia thinks that children can have fun and learn in the holidays without 'working'.


Most years, children spend many months of the year in the classroom but not this year of course. Some parents will understandably be feeling pressure to keep their children from forgetting skills they learned before lockdown or even during. Luckily, I do think there are things that you can do at home that can make things more educational but still fun.

I've been around the block

Having been through the 'system', raising three children - all in their twenties now - I've got the t-shirt, the mug, and the fridge magnet when it comes to seeing them through the school holidays. To continue to educate or not, especially during that long summer break, can be a dilemma that many parents face. Some parents feel, and I was certainly one back in the 80s and 90s, that children achieved what they achieved during the term and then it was time to get away from the rigor and the routine, and have some fun.

No work, just lots of fun!

Days out at Legoland were a firm favourite for my son. He learned to 'drive' and was the proud owner of a 'driving licence' - aged five and a bit. My two daughters, on the other hand, liked to bake cupcakes that they would sometimes sell outside the house on a rickety old table. Their customers were usually any brave passer-by or neighbour who was no doubt enticed by the colourful - if somewhat messy - array. Money was my girls' main object of desire and they earned themselves a few pounds to supplement their pocket money even if I did fund the baking!

Variety is the key

Looking back, this was all good fun and character-building stuff. And without me realising at the time, lots of learning too. As a mother, and now as a teacher, I believe that the single most important thing parents and carers can do with children in the holidays is to interact and stimulate.

When we went out we talked non-stop about where we were going and what we were going to do there. At home I would watch some family favourite films with them like Home Alone. I remember laughing with them and talking about what would happen if they were left all alone in the house. This talk would lead to discussion and storytelling, which not only extends thinking skills but enhances and nourishes those incredibly important bonds.

I can see both sides

As a parent - and a teacher - I know there needs to be 'down time' for children, a break in the routine of school. However, I also know that the learning that has been achieved over the school year can be compromised, especially over the lengthy summer holiday. If skills are not practised, children can become rusty and in some cases 'forget' what they have been taught. I expect the first few days of a new term to be focused on reassessing the children's' knowledge and understanding - and in some cases revisiting areas of weakness.

So, what can parents be doing at home to make the holidays more educational but still fun, whilst ensuring their child does not slip back during the holiday period?

Forget book work!

I absolutely don't think sitting them down and making them work slavishly through a work book of sums is right, unless your child enjoys this - my youngest daughter did!

For my Year 2 class, I set as many practical homework activities for them as possible. For instance, as we were learning about the City of London prior to a trip on the London Eye one year, I tasked my class with making a London Landmark during the holiday. Most models had obviously had an adult's help but I was delighted by this and with the incredibly detailed results. The children were extremely proud of their models and we organised for them to be 'on show' in the school hall. Many children had taken that learning even further and found some interesting facts which were placed alongside each model.

Trips out can be educational and fun - as well as provide quality time - for families. Although some days out are free, such as some museums, others can be quite expensive. But simple activities are of real benefit to learning. This, however, does mean that parents or carers have to plan for them and give them time.

Hidden learning

Take, for example, cupcake making. This required planning and preparation, and years of practice together, but they were learning and having fun:

  1. Finding and reading the recipe - internet research / phonics / reading comprehension
  2. Buying the ingredients - writing a list
  3. Counting the money and working out the change - coin recognition/money problems
  4. Weighing the ingredients - weights and measures
  5. Turning the oven to the required temperature - temperature: Farenheight / Celsius
  6. How many can we have each? Can we take some over to Auntie Carol's? How many will we have left? - division / subtraction.

Can you imagine the talk, discussion and the learning that took place?

Let them enjoy learning

Try to foster your child's interests during the holidays. Visit a place of interest and understand the learning that they can get from it. I visited the Cutty Sark recently, and could see clearly how an eight year old would have been totally absorbed by the splendour of it.

Even if it doesn't come from school, set a project to work on together. You never know what you might learn! If only I had nurtured my son's initial interest in cars and helped him research Lamborghinis, you never know what direction he may have taken later on. Engineer? Formula One driver?

Whatever you do in the holidays, try to be led by your child's interests. But remember to plan for it and give it enough time. If they are interested they will learn, but it does take a parent or carer to initiate, interact and provide support for learning to take place.