Hugh Mackay in his book, What Makes Us Tick, writes about the desires that drive us, including the desire for something to happen. Emphasising the need for novelty, change and stimulation, he writes: "We need breaks, breakouts, breakaways." There are cognitive benefits associated with stimulus, novelty, uncertainty and excitement, but we all need a holiday occasionally, especially at the end of the academic year. Thankfully, summer holidays are about to begin. The anticipation with which we look forward to a holiday period is based upon the expectation of change; doing something different from our current routine. It is exciting to anticipate the freedom of unstructured time at the start of the long holiday season.
Cognitive stimulation can come from a variety of sources: reading, social interaction, family excursions, exercise, movies, extended play, games (interactive, card and even electronic varieties), puzzles, visits to new places, sport and acquiring new skills. Students need to rest, relax and enjoy the fun, laughter, physical activities, imaginative and adventurous play as well as time with family and friends to build cognitive skills and relationships during extended holiday periods.
Unfortunately, there can be a downside to a long holiday break. Students who do not have sufficient intellectual stimulation during the holidays can become bored and irritable. Research shows that many students experience a loss of learning and academic skills over the summer break. The academic decline or 'summer brain drain' is a concern. Research carried out by Harris Cooper identified that many students forget content and skills during long summer holidays, losing academic skills associated with reading, spelling and maths. It is to be expected that students not engaged in formal learning make no academic gains during this time; however many students lose one to three months of learning. A study by Barbara Heyns demonstrated that students who read at least six books during the summer break maintained or improved their reading skills and vocabulary test scores whereas students who didn't read experienced a marked decline in reading skills.
For many, the extended holiday period provides a wonderful opportunity to read. Voracious readers consume numerous books, especially if they are natural speed readers. Reading provides many benefits: it is a relaxing and stimulating activity; escape and intense immersion are possible; facts can be acquired and fantasy enjoyed, separately or together. Encourage students to read and to select books that stretch reading skills, vocabulary, comprehension, knowledge and interests.
We all need holiday breaks; not holidays full of tutoring and formal learning. Students need to relax, experience and enjoy stimulating activities during the holiday period but they can do this through a variety of experiences. Holidays allow the freedom to have time outdoors for physical activities, imaginative play and family excursions that develop a range of skills and relationships. Limit the amount of time spent in front of screens; select electronic games that build thinking skills rather than reflex speed; look for television programs and videos that inform as well as entertain and discuss the content after viewing. Holidays are a time for rest and relaxation, but as Hugh Mackay says, "To stay sharp, we need things to happen." Enjoy the holidays ahead.
© Michele Juratowitch