Of course, there is the possibility of sending kids off to the beach or the mountains on summer camps, or colonies as they’re known here...
As usual at this time of year, our son is about to finish school a week before the end of June and not return until almost mid-September; in other words he’s about to have 11 weeks off. Yes, you read right, 11. Whoopee! He might say, but not us, his parents, who like many couples in Catalonia both work full time and have to devise ways of keeping our son occupied for the upcoming 78 days.
One of the obvious consequences of long summer holidays for working families is the difficulty of providing childcare. Of course, there is the possibility of sending kids off to the beach or the mountains on summer camps, or colonies as they’re known here, and that gives parents the chance for a breather - or to secretly move house - as well as providing kids with the chance to do outdoor activities and explore the world outside the confines of school. However, colonies are not cheap, and combined with the annual summer holiday add up to quite an expense for families. Especially if you’re planning on secretly moving while they’re away.
Even in the UK, where the summer holidays are only six to seven weeks long, studies have highlighted the need for shorter ones: firstly, they’re a throwback to times when kids would help working in the fields during the summer months (whereas here their length is more associated with the impossibility of studying in the summer heat). And secondly, they don’t appear to have beneficial effects on children. There is mounting evidence of summer learning loss, with pupils performing one month behind where they left off in the spring upon their return in the autumn. Now more than ever, a long study break is more likely to cause students to forget what they have been learning. With movies and video games, they slip away from study habits and become languid from so much time not working. And the reality is that parents’ ability to provide stimulating summer activities for their children is sharply constrained by income and the sheer length of the holidays.
Many teachers disagree. But they would. They’re under so much pressure to reach targets that most put in lots of extra hours in the evening and at weekends and feel exhausted by the end of term.
Surely it’s time to take into account the changing nature of society: many more families with school-aged children in Catalonia now have both parents working, and they struggle to manage during the holidays. With a shorter summer break parents wouldn’t have to plan for eleven weeks’ childcare or take holidays at peak times, when it’s so expensive.
In the UK, there have been calls for five terms of eight weeks each with a shorter, four-week summer holiday. The idea is that spreading out the holidays would keep up momentum and improve learning because kids and teachers would have a decent break after each eight weeks and come back refreshed. Eight weeks is also believed to be the optimum time for children to be able to concentrate and for teachers to teach with enthusiasm. And it’s hard to move house in just four weeks.