03.04.2024 Article

Academic Parenting Over The School Holiday

By Elizabeth (Bessie) Masiya
Academic Parenting Over The School Holiday
03.04.2024 LISTEN

It's barely a week after the schools were closed for Easter holidays and a monthly break, and most parents and students feel this is the time to relax and do away with any sort of learning, well that's wrong. Just because they aren't at school, it doesn't mean a child's learning should be put on hold.

How can children avoid the dreaded holiday caused 'academic amnesia' over this long school break?

After 3 months of hard work comes holiday, and brings with it weeks of freedom from school-runs, schoolwork and (usually) homework. And while this break much-deserved, time away from day-to-day learning can have a detrimental impact, too, often setting children off on the back-foot when they start school again in May.

Indeed, parents need to remember that children who drop behind lose confidence, which can take time to rebuild. And the second term is a time when children are facing new challenges – curriculum intensification, as the norm; 1st term serves mostly as an introduction season.

From reading and writing, to remembering their table manners, all can take a hit over the long break. So what can you do to ensure that your child keeps learning throughout the holidays?

Make reading a culture at home. Read regularly with your child, or if they are fully-independent readers, set aside time for them to read to themselves. Visit the library, revisit old favourite books, read taking turns or taking the roles of characters or the narrator. Read anything: comics, magazines, even instructions for making something. When given a chance, just read anything that's readable, that makes the culture sink.

Apart from reading, practise writing as well. Holding a pencil correctly, can your child write – in their neatest handwriting – your shopping list or holiday list of items to take? What about keeping a holiday scrapbook? A holiday is a chance to improve fine motor skills and penmanship in a relaxed environment.

Setting up some reading and writing timetables may be effective but not advisable for it brings a classroom set up, which makes it boring and not-holiday like.

Randomly in just one sentence, they could outline the different activities and events they have been to, or even describe the best bits of their day, adding pictures and photographs.


For infants, counting is a skill that can easily slip away, for one missing number, the number line is baggard in their heads.

Try counting holiday money, or playing cards or board games – all support mental agility. And don’t forget that cooking is the perfect opportunity to practise weighing and measuring ingredients, and learn the difference between ounces, kilograms, pounds and so on.

Encourage independence

Don’t do everything for your child because it’s quicker or more convenient for you. Help them to learn to follow instructions. Start with one simple task, then add in a second, and build from there.

Encourage organisation, but that's one big task, for adults around should be organized too and be exemplary.

Children like routine, even if it is different from the term time. Young children can practise dressing and undressing themselves – can they do buttons themselves? Can they tie shoe laces? Can they help prepare and pack for any days out? Can they keep their room tidy with/without your support?

Give children responsibility for being ready for activities or appointments. This transfers into school, where there is a timetable they must follow. Get young children to recite the days of the week, months of the year as appropriate for their age and stage. Do they know how many days in the week, months in the year, weeks in a year, and days in a year there are?

Conversations, have conversations around the house, traveling, while shopping, everywhere possible, for this improves speaking and listening. Discuss different issues or topics that crop up. Help your child to take turns in dialogue and, by giving them your full attention when listening, encourage them to do the same for you.

Discuss topics with your child that will interest or engage them, be relative. How about some Takalani, Paw Patrol, Frozen or Pegga Pig talk?

Enhance their vocabulary by using slightly more complex words, but don’t confuse them! Explore imaginary 'Meanwhiles' and 'what ifs?' scenarios together – these can be funny and enjoyable, especially if you take turns in extending the story line, e.g. what if an elephant came to live in our house?

Try something new – new activities, new foods, new ways of doing things

Flexibility of thinking is an excellent skill to transfer into school. Trying new things in the reassuring safety of the home with a familiar adult is a great starting point.

Parents, guardians and older siblings are mostly responsible for building confidence in younger children.

Holidays are a great opportunity to build a child’s self-esteem by giving them specific, meaningful praise and by commenting on what they are good at. This will help your child to reflect on their successes and feel good in their own skin.

Please don’t forget table manners – thank you!

Table manners are something we pick up on in school, but consistency between home and school is so helpful. Use the holidays to practise holding cutlery correctly and cutting up food independently, and for traditional food, Sadza to eat correctly. Good table manners are always a good life skill to model, and for your child to practise.

And… relax!

Allow your child time to just “be”! To relax, to imagine, to play, to have spells of time where there are no planned activities and no electronic devices to hand.

For older children… start prepping for exams

Empower your child to set a timetable for themselves and to commit it to paper with a given time for work and relaxation. Give them choices, such as, “would you like to do 15 minutes reading/times-tables practice/maths/writing at this time?” They will feel in control. If you want to build in rewards, so be it. You should also timetable in activities that take your child outside and away from their desk.

After a while always revise, revision is a good way to use the holidays wisely. For infants you don't need to practice a bunch of concepts at once, but revise more the little that you've done or are doing.

For upper grades, set aside this agreed time and perhaps ask your child to cover the timetable each week with post-it notes. Once the “working” slot has been completed, a post-it note is taken off, screwed up and put in the bin – job done! This gives a strong, visual sense of making headway, and also helps to develop self-discipline.

Practice papers can be invaluable, as the format becomes familiar, less daunting and therefore less stressful. Remember, stressed children will do less well than those who are more relaxed about exams. However, while practice papers have their place, learning is most beneficial when it is contextualised, so reading a book together and discussing the text in detail can be as equally valuable as doing a reading comprehension test paper.

How much is enough?

Little and often is the ideal depending on age and stage. Don’t save it all up to the last few days before term begins, as the “dip” will have already happened and hours crammed into the last few days of the holiday will only induce stress in your child.

Different individuals work in different ways and for different lengths of time, and parents/guardians are the best judges of their own child. Between 10 to 40 minutes dedicated slots per task is probably appropriate. Always remember anything overdone becomes stressful and boring, also it's relaxed learning not classroom learning. See you better next term!

© Elizabeth Masiya

Elizabeth (Bessie) Masiya is an Infant Teacher, Hockey, Swimming and Tennis coach. She works at The Cradle Infant School in Harare.