GARY STEEL has made it through another marathon school holiday, but he’s exhausted and his nerves are frayed. Is there a better way?
My six-year-old went back to school today. I nearly cried when she walked out the door to meet the school bus down the road, but at the same time, my whole body heaved an involuntary sigh of relief.
I love having the kids at home, I really do. We’ve had some amazing times over the holidays, some incredible fun and lots of bonding activities.
At the same time, however, having two especially high-maintenance children at home between December 10 and February 4 was often tortuous, and the two grownups have ended up with frayed nerves and chronic exhaustion.
You know how the end of the year goes: you think you can shift into overdrive and relax a bit in the lead-up to Christmas, but instead life becomes a mad rush and by New Year you’re a mess. The kids, however, have already had three weeks away from their usual school routines and the entertainment and good company their school friends bring, and there’s no letting up on their constant demands.
Admittedly, we’re older parents and as our two children are our first, we also lack experience. On top of that, we have no relatives or friends to babysit and few friends to draw on for help. The summer holidays are always hard, because most of the other parents are spending quality time with their extended whanau. Meanwhile, our nuclear family struggles along on the edge of it all and there’s no break from the demands, no release of the tensions.
Big city families with enough income to justify it can ease the burden, with older kids at least, by enrolling them in various extra-curricular holiday activities.
While we love living in the sticks, and there are numerous advantages to our situation, school holidays are the bane of our lives. To cap it all off, I can’t afford not to work for six weeks, and I work from home, where the constant noise, commotion and miscellaneous dramas impede every slow, drawn-out, frustrating step of my progress. My wife does a heroic job of dealing with the dramatic ups and downs of each day, along with all the hissy-fits and meltdowns (including those of her husband).
So here’s a question: WHY? And: What are these drawn-out school holidays for, exactly?
This year, parents have got school holidays to look forward to from (roughly) Saturday 17 April to Sunday 2 May, then Saturday 10 July to Sunday 25 July, then Saturday 2 October to Sunday 17 October. Oh, and then of course, another five or six week marathon over the 2021-2022 summer.
Sometimes, it feels like a school term is just beginning when it’s over already. I guess that was heightened during the Year of Covid-19, 2020. But given the fact that so many children got way behind during 2020 because of the pandemic, wouldn’t it be sensible to have fewer holidays and more concentrated schooling in 2021?
I really don’t get it. I’m not intentionally trying to lay the blame with teachers, who I’m sure are mostly very conscientious and work really diligently for the benefit of the children. But can anyone tell me precisely why, when most parents only get a few weeks’ holiday each year, schools have these immense breaks?
It seems to me that in a more egalitarian system, there would be a kind of alternative education programme for kids over the holidays that was covered by the State. I’m not talking about a boot camp, exactly, but there are many areas of life untouched by public schools at the moment, and perhaps the ‘holidays’ are a great opportunity to teach kids behavioural characteristics that will reward them later in life, like resilience, discipline, good manners, logic, loyalty and empathy, along with activities that allow them to explore their own interests, whether they be art and crafts, sport, music, whatever.
Yeah, it’s yet another sinkhole for the government to pour money into, but what’s the upshot of the current situation? For whatever reason, we’ve developed a system that has these marathon holidays, where the majority of kids probably get bored, or into trouble, or spend way too much time watching TV and playing computer games.
I’d love to hear from other parents and their experiences. Perhaps these interminable holidays are there for a reason that I’m simply unaware of and most parents and kids really love them and see value in them. Good on you if you do. Meanwhile, I’m off to take a long stroll on the beach and to breathe in the air.