By Marie Jackson
The summer holidays are under way, but for some children, the studying – and the homework – will continue.
It was a moment of pure joy: school was out for summer.
Your school bag was shoved in the back of a cupboard. School shoes went the same way. Ahead lay countless days of freedom, play and sunshine.
That used to be the case for most children – yet not all youngsters today enjoy the same.
There’s school work to catch up on; a year’s learning to consolidate. An 11-plus test in the autumn term, perhaps.
So – some parents argue – why not study over the holidays?
Vivienne Stiles tutors children aged between four and 16 throughout the summer.
They attend a class twice a week, and are given between 15 and 90 minutes of maths and English homework every day.
“Children’s brains need to be stimulated throughout the holidays,” she says.
“You can’t expect them to pick up in September where they left off.”
By doing work little and often, says Vivienne, children maintain the stamina and concentration built up during term-time.
Vivienne – who works for Kumon, a tutor company – says the children learn new skills, develop a strong work ethic and get into a good routine.
She says her own daughter, now 19, went from a “good C-grade student” at the start of secondary school to getting a place at London’s Royal Veterinary College, thanks in part to extra tutoring.
Mother-of-two Tanith Carey was also a big believer in tutoring.
That was until her eldest daughter, Lily, did not want to accept a school prize for science at the age of seven, saying she hated the fuss.
It was then Tanith found out about the pressure her daughter was under.
So, the maths tutoring through the holidays stopped, and Lily had more time to spend making up little worlds and imaginary characters with her younger sister, Clio.
Tanith says that, like many parents, she had been swept along in a “tide of panic”.
“Competition between parents is contagious – because they fear if another child gets ahead, their child will feel left behind. So it spreads,” she says.
“I think it’s sad that the summer months are viewed as an extension of the academic year – a chance for kids to catch up or get ahead.”
In her book, Taming the Tiger Parent, Tanith writes about the concept of a child’s spark.
“It’s something that every child has and is the one thing they love doing and they lose themselves in and find easy,” she explains.
“Children can only find it if they are left to their own devices.”
Over the summer, 12-year-old Clio has decided she wants to take photographs and turn them into an album, and compile and bake some vegan recipes.
Her sister, Lily, now 15, is going abroad on a music course – despite having GCSEs coming up.
She will also enjoy the freedom of not having to get up for school, and reading whatever books she wants, Tanith adds.
Her own summer holidays playing in the garden, making huts, and playing Cowboys and Indians, formed some of the happiest memories of her childhood.
“I think in their panic and fear about the future, parents are forgetting that some of the best learning is done through play and getting to know the physical world outside in nature.
“They are forgetting that children used to have two educations. The one they had at school and the one they had from nature.”
Father-of-three and author of the Idle Parent, Tom Hodgkinson, spent his summer holidays roaming freely round parks and over rubbish dumps.
He may not prescribe rubbish dumps to children today, but does believe in giving them the space to make fire, climb trees and play with knives.
“It’s about responsible neglect,” he says. “Leave children alone – you’re nearby but let them get on with it.”
Life is overscheduled so the summer holidays should be a time to live in the moment, have fun and be creative without an authority figure lurking in the background, he says.
It teaches you self-sufficiency, the ability to entertain yourself and how to look after yourself.
“These skills may not be useful in corporate life or if you want to suck on the nipple of the state but they are if you want to be a responsible grown-up human being,” he argues.
However, this summer he won’t practise what he preaches. His eldest has A-levels next year so it will be Latin every morning.
“It’s a one-off,” he says. “You do have to work sometimes.”