Schools out! Hurray! Everyone knows the best adventures happen during the long summer holidays, right? Tomorrow you’ll be out in the countryside exploring with your friends and you’ll happen upon a secret hiding place with a strange looking chest hidden behind a rock and it will all kick off… Well, maybe not. This isn’t the 1950s.
illustration of The Secret Seven by Enid Blyton (Guardian newspapers)
Today’s adventures are usually a bit more manufuactured. Thrill seekers tend to head in hordes to places like Alton Towers and Lightwater Valley – huge theme parks with rides that will make your eyes bulge and your heart thump. For those who like their dangers in a more naural environment there’s Go Ape where you can get in touch with your inner chimpanzee and abseil between trees. Closer to home every leisure centre is open seven days a week for swimming, athletics, dance classes and fun activities for ‘all the family’. Then there’s the seaside – don’t forget the seaside! OK, it’s been a rubbish summer weatherwise but we know by now wellies and a cardi are as much part of an English summer as sun cream and Ray-Bans. The UK has some stunning beaches. Who needs the boring old Med with its sand too hot to walk on and sea too blue to be true? Get to Whitby on a blustery day and jump in those freezing cold waves. That’s real courage. Or drive further along the coast and explore the rockpools in Robin Hood’s Bay and stop off for some fish, chips and mushy peas after. Champion!
But wait. New research is saying the summer holidays are bad for you. That five weeks is too long and harmful to your education. You kids out there, being that thick, forget stuff. All those science lessons and hours of mental maths are wasted. In one ear, out the next. So now there are plans to bring in shorter holidays covering five terms. The summer holiday will be reduced from six to three weeks. Those ‘for’ say this will help working parents who have to find childcare. This will also help children from disadvantaged backgrounds who don’t have parents who pay for extra tuition over the holidays. This will help the government look busy.
I dunno. As a kid I loved the long school holidays. I loved playing out and only checking back in the house when I was hungry. I certainly didn’t have any ‘extra’ tuition yet I don’t remember any teachers despairing that my IQ had dropped considerably between July and September as a result. Maybe that’s because I was a reader.
I didn’t have a childminder when my mum worked. I had books. Books chosen from the local library and taken home to be devoured in the evenings or on wet afternoons. Books filled those hours between playing out and going to bed. Books full of stories that took me on breathtaking adventures without having to leave my bedroom. Books that filled my imagination and nourished my brain. And best of all, they didn’t cost a penny. Then, like now, library books were free. Only then we didn’t have any fun activities surrounding the books. No fabulous Summer Reading Challenge to take part in.
So here’s what I think, for what it’s worth. It isn’t the length of the school holidays that determines whether a child will succeed at school or not. It isn’t whether the child comes from a wealthy or poor background. It’s whether they read or not. Readers, studies have shown time and time again, fare 100% better in the world than non-readers. If the government really means what it says about caring about child poverty and caring about improving the nation’s standing in literacy tables it will do everything it can to encourage the love of reading and allow children access to books. And that means, in a nutshell, KEEPING LIBRARIES OPEN*.
*and repeat until blue in the face xx