Are School Holidays Too Long?

As a child, did you have long winter breaks from school sledding down the neighborhood hill or building marshmallow towers in your hot chocolate? In the summer did you spend lazy afternoons floating on in an inner tube in the town lake?

As much as you may have fond memories of your school holidays, among teachers, parents,and policy makers, there is a lot of debate over how long a school break should be. As the Christmas and winter holiday season approaches, some schools take off a week while others take off a month or more.

What is best for the student? How about for the family or the school?

Advantages of An Extended School Holiday

There are some obvious advantages to a vacation that lasts three weeks or longer. Families who live a long distance from relatives are able to travel, sometimes across the ocean, in order to connect with their loved ones.

Even if you don’t have family far away, an extended holiday is a great opportunity to travel. From an educational standpoint, a child that is able to experience another culture can gain valuable language, history, and social skills.

Some activities (like a theater production for example) are best carried out over an extended holiday. If communities and schools have enrichment programs during the holiday vacation, then students can participate in activities that would be difficult to do during a regular school term.

Some activities (like a theater production for example) are best carried out over an extended holiday. If communities and schools have enrichment programs during the holiday vacation, then students can participate in activities that would be difficult to do during a regular school term.

In many families, religion plays an important role in the holiday season. With an extended break, students can have ample time to partake in the rituals and traditions of seasonal holidays. In orthodox faith for example, Christmas is celebrated for twelve days from December 25th- January 6th.

Oftentimes holidays like Hanukkah are difficult for families because they are busy celebrating during a time when school is in session.

Disadvantages of An Extended School Holiday

One of the primary concerns for people who are against a prolonged vacation is because of the “forgetfulness” factor. Critical academic skills need daily repetition and teachers know that parents may not be able to carry out practice at home. This is true for some subjects and age groups; for example students learning to read must practice these skills consistently or the teacher will have to reteach some of the concepts.

The same goes for foreign languages and math facts. Even with a homework packet, some children may not have a home environment that encourages learning.

When classes do not have a definitive beginning and ending in accordance with the scheduled vacation, teachers can spend up to a week or more rehearsing the same lesson plans that were taught in the time before the holiday. This is frustrating for educators who must complete a certain number of lessons for a final exam that dictates the amount of government funding the school gets.

Advantages of a Short Holiday

From a financial standpoint, parents typically like a short holiday vacation because of the cost associated with childcare and day camps. Most work places do not have the same vacation time so lower income families must struggle to find babysitting if there is an extended holiday. With a short vacation, families can celebrate the holiday, have a bit of rest, and return to school before the vacation turns into a stressful experience for working parents.

Most work places do not have the same vacation time so lower income families must struggle to find babysitting if there is an extended holiday.

Teachers find shorter holidays to be easier for lesson planning. Even a short break from the routine can renew and energize students for when they come back without losing momentum in the classroom. Short holidays also mean more of them. In some school districts, school is no longer defined by a long summer, but instead runs over the whole year, sprinkled with breaks in between.

Parents who have children in these school districts enjoy the ability to go on vacation when other schools are in session.

Disadvantages of a Short Holiday

Adults understand that sometimes it takes a person’s mind a long period of time to wind down. When the vacation starts, it takes a few days for the child to transition to a freer schedule and routine.

Once they make the transition, more creative imaginative play can be developed. If the holiday is short, then the child (and the parents) spends most of the vacation either transitioning out of the school routine or transitioning back into it.

There is also limited opportunity to explore other life experiences like travel, community service projects, and other investments. The whole vacation gets taken up with festivities, homework, and family obligations. Long distance relatives may choose to remain apart because it takes too long to travel.

There is also building maintenance and teacher development to be considered. Without long holiday breaks, when do the maintenance managers have time to tackle large repair and renovation projects? Can teachers continue to further their skills without the opportunity to spend several days on staff development?

Debating Holiday Length

In an article by the Guardian titled Are the Summer Holidays Just Too Long?, columnist Barbara Ellen and teacher Francis Gilbert debated about the length of summer vacation. The two women banter back and forth about the pros and cons to long breaks.

Barbara uses the argument that parents become exhausted and financially strapped trying to keep their children stimulated throughout the summer. Francis argues that shortening the summer is not the answer but that society as a whole must look at the respective roles of teachers and parents in modern society.

Underprivileged kids get further behind when summer drags on and on. Many parents cannot afford camp, tutoring, and other enrichment programs that wealthier children are offered

Barbara also points out that underprivileged kids get further behind when summer drags on and on. Many parents cannot afford camp, tutoring, and other enrichment programs that wealthier children are offered. Francis suggests that the community should offer low-cost or free experiences for their children.

Shortening the summer stifles a child’s ability to experience freedom and learn creativity and autonomy.

Do Long Holidays Set Up Inappropriate Expectations For Adult Careers?

The reality is that once a child is out of school most professions do not allow long vacations. In America, most employees can only take two weeks off consecutively (unless the person is in academia or is self-employed and financially secure).

After nearly 20 years of school, it is difficult for young adults to realize that there will no longer be large chunks of time in which to goof off and relax. It is a big adjustment for a person to transition to the new rhythm.

If school were set up more like a job, would society better prepare children for the working world?

Is It Fair To Assign Homework Over The Holiday Break?

Annette Boardman (of the Daily Kos) laments about the lost momentum in her classroom after a 10-day Thanksgiving Day break. She brings up the ethical questions of whether it is reasonable to give a pop quiz the day after break when she knows most students are not thinking about school at all. Her stance is that she wishes Thanksgiving wasn’t such a long holiday, especially because it is right before the end of the term.

Teachers vary wildly on the idea of homework over holiday. Since the very definition of “vacation” means to have a break from regular life, many educators do not give homework. After all they argue, when an employee takes a vacation day, there isn’t an expectation that they will work.

However, school is a bit different. Teachers are building a methodical foundation of knowledge that must remain strong in order to expand upon budding skills. From this angle, it seems only reasonable that a teacher require some homework so the students aren’t behind when vacation is over.

A Question For You…

So what do you think? Are you a teacher, a parent, or a student? Should school breaks be limited to one week or is it important to have an extended holiday in which to gain other life experiences?


Julie DeNeen has her bachelor's degree in Clinical Psychology from the University of New Haven. She spent several years working for a local Connecticut school at the district level, implementing new technologies to help students and teachers in the classroom. She also taught workshops to teachers about the importance of digital student management software, designed to keep students, parents, and teachers connected to the learning process.

You can find out more about her @jdeneen4 and Google+.

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3 Comments on “Are School Holidays Too Long?

  1. I am all for a trimester schedule with four week breaks. The problem with low socio-economic school systems is that the free camps and other recreation programs are often the first to get cut from school or municipal budgets, which just goes to show what society really values. American society needs to more closely emulate Europe, Australia, and Canada when it comes to vacations, days off, and education.

    The Europeans, Australians, and Canadians are the ones who provide family time such as after a pregnancy; they have the better, right family values, and the United States needs to catch up instead of disparaging Europe. Europe is more family friendly in both good times and bad. I assign my students reading over breaks, at least 1 book for every 2 weeks. When they come back, they have the promised quiz or essay.

    The essay quiz consists of the name of the book, the author, publication information, what the book was about, and making a recommendation to a friend to read or avoid the book and why they gave a positive or negative recommendation.

    I allow them to use the book they read during the assignment in class. If they actually read it, there will be no problem. It also teaches reasoning skills because they have to justify the reading. Requiring them to read a book, keeps their minds sharp and engaged during the break.

    Sometimes students actually discover something wonderful and occasionally run out of time on their essay-quiz in class.

    • I agree…many European countries (as well as others) do a much better job at supporting the family during vacations, family leave. Thanks for stopping by and taking the time to comment!

  2. I totally agree with Kurt. It’s high time that the US emulate countries like Europe, Australia and Canada in terms of providing vacations, days off, and education. I’ve been to Europe this year and even if it pains me to admit that they are way better than the US in these categories. Family time should be valued more here in our country and that should start now.

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