Written by Georgina Allen
Trying to keep your children up to speed with schoolwork through the holidays is a fraught and delicate business. The National Curriculum has many faults, but one positive is that it lets many attractions widen their family appeal by creating exhibitions and events that cover its themes. Indeed, most of Britain’s larger museums and galleries have dedicated education officers who design events with the various key stages in mind.
But parents can also can get in on the act, and planning a trip around what your child is studying at school can be very rewarding, whether it be visiting the Pyramids when your son or daughter are studying Ancient Egypt, spending a weekend at Windsor during the Victorians project, or exploring local museums when your child is looking at his local habitat.
Classroom-based education is very constrained and there is much that parents can do that teachers can’t. The key is to be active and fun, and to capitalise on the fact that a lot of what we do on holiday already covers some aspect of the National Curriculum without us being conscious of the fact. Avoid holiday diaries, unless your children really love writing, and avoid the temptation to lecture them for hours about interesting rock formations. Above all, be sly – educate under the guise of playing and you’ll find your children much more receptive to learning about the wonderful world around them. The following are a few suggestions based on Key Stage 2.
Geography: Collecting and Recording Evidence
Wherever you are, whether it’s the Jurassic Coast of Dorset or the Maldives, get your children a disposable camera and suggest that they go and find interesting rocks, photograph them where they found them, and – if they’re not in a protected area – collect a few. Initiate a competition to find the most interesting or beautiful, but resist the temptation to ask them to write or catalogue them (they do that sort of thing at school).
The same can be done with flowers, feathers, shells, and so on. Painting them back at the campsite/hotel might be fun – and then you’ve covering a bit of the Art curriculum too!
Geography: Using Atlases, Globes, Maps and Plans
This is another part of the National Curriculum that you can incorporate in to your travels anywhere you go – in fact, the further-flung your holiday, the better. It’s as simple as including your kids in your planning and in your map-reading. My father used to let me loose with a map we and would have a wonderful day going round in circles (be warned – you need lots of patience!).
One trick is to find your destination on a globe, then an atlas, then a country map, and then an OS map – hence, focussing in. You might also like to make your own map of the things you like best in, for instance, your village in France – a map of your gite with the pool marked large and then the steps down to the ice-cream shop. Be creative, adding in pictures of things you’ve seen or found (I used to do a ‘Beware of the Beasties’ section with the class that I taught).
Geography: Explaining Why Places Are The Way They Are
Before you go away, spend time at the computer with the kids, checking what the weather’s going to be like at your destination, finding good places to visit there (not just themeparks…), and discovering what facilities the local town has and what the transport links are like. Then, when you’re on holiday, try to make use of what you found out. As well as being fun and useful, this covers a whole range of National Curriciulum themes (particularly ICT).
History: The Ancient Greeks and Their Influence
This section is applicable even if you’re not going to Greece itself, since the Greek influence has spread around the globe. Find out for yourselves by seeing how many times and in how many places you can find Greek names for things – the Dionysus Taxi Service in Hackney in London, the Adelphi Hotel in New York, Corinthian chocolate in South Africa… Get your kids to take photos of such instances, or to draw pictures of all the locations, and then subtly ask why they think the places have been given those names. What do people want you to think of when they call their adventure holiday Herakles Holidays?
Or make up a holiday story involving some of the Greek heroes (you might need a reference book), who swoop in and rescue you all. The Greek myths are great stories that appeal to kids of all ages if told in the right way – first, let your kids tell you what they know, resisting the temptation to lecture (I find this nearly impossible).
History: Recognising that the Past is Represented and Interpreted in Different Ways, and Asking Why
Whatever country you’re in, ask questions. My favourite trick is to look at something that is different in the place you are on holiday. For example, that cup in Turkey – what is it made of? Why is that a good material for making cups? Why isn’t it made out of china like at home? Do you think they have always used this material for cups? What do you think they used in the past? Do you think they drank coffee in the past? Get kids to ask you questions too. This encourages them to look beyond the surface of what they see and to think themselves back into the past.
Ask your children what they think the people in the country you are in. Subjects such as colonisation, art or modern history can lead to many interesting conversations, as can looking at the way history is displayed in local museums and browsing local newspapers.
Children love experimenting, so take advantage of their natural curiosity about how things work. While on holiday at the beach in Pembrokeshire, for example, ask your kids what they need to make the perfect sandcastle. Why is adding water to sand important? While camping, encourage them to discover the best direction in which to hit tent pegs.
English at is not all about spelling, writing and reading, and most travel games cover some aspect of the English National Curriculum, so don’t underestimate the value of playing ‘Just a Minute’ on long car trips, or having a debate in the plane ride to Florida, giving each person 10 minutes to convince the chair to go to the beach first, rather than the café. Another idea is to buy great books written by people local to the area you are in and then talk to your kids about it. Even watching movies or TV based on your destination is a good idea. The important thing is to get them involved and talking.
And what child doesn’t enjoy dressing up and showing off? Give them an afternoon to produce a play for you – sitting in a deckchair watching a rendition of ‘Snow White’ involving half the kids on the campsite is a very pleasurable activity (well, at least the first hour or so is!).
However much you blanche at the word, maths can be covered easily and happily on holiday. For example, explain to Key Stage 2 children how to exchange money. The fact that different currencies represent different amounts is a good introduction to the topic of abstract maths and number relationships.
Shape recognition is another good maths-based game. Look for shapes in nature and in architecture, and count how many squares you can find on any one building. If you are going to India or an Islamic country such as Oman, point out the extraordinary patterns that you will find on buildings there, then get out a pencil and paper and try to reproduce them yourselves. Do crayon rubbings of interesting shapes that you find.
A basic round of ‘Row, row, row the boat’ covers this National Curriculum requirement pretty well, but with a bit of inspiration you can do better than that. Source CDs of local music, whether it’s opera from Italy or timba from Cuba, to play – and maybe even sing along to – in the car. At your destination, give round-the-campfire performances or have ‘X Factor’ style auditions for groups.