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Summer Learning: Children don’t learn in the summer holidays, do they!?!

By Sarah Allen

13th September 2017

I am a teacher currently working on a supply basis, usually in nursery, reception and year 1. This leaves me with little (or no) control on how the class is organised and how teaching and learning happens. I, however, still find ‘Keeping Early Years Unique’ valuable. It’s really inspiring to know that there is this huge group of like-minded practitioners convinced of the importance of play and child-directed activities. It gives me so much hope for the future. Being part of the Facebook group helps me keep up to date with current thinking and issues, something that is difficult to do as a supply teacher. I have learnt about Helicopter Stories, for example, and plan to read Trisha Lee’s book to further my understanding and to consider if there is any way I can incorporate this in my practice. Also ‘play’ appearing so regularly in my newsfeed helps to keep my motivation strong to fit it in as much as possible around the planned lessons, timetables, learning children’s names, remembering when lunch is etc. (you will be glad to hear the schools I work in have some strong child-initiated practice, much of which is very much embedded in the daily life of the classroom).

Although I can’t have a significant impact, in schools, due to my current teaching role I can have a massive influence on the learning that goes on in my own home with my own children. Which led me to wonder just how much learning really goes on when they play at home?

As a primary school teacher, I have often heard conversations in the staffroom about how children have regressed during the long six week break. Is this really the case? I am not saying the same is for all children, I know I am writing from a place of privilege, we have plenty of time and resources available during the summer. I have always been convinced that learning at home is so important and, at times, maybe more important than the learning that takes place in school. I also have an interest in unschooling, feeling (fairly) convinced that children will learn because they are interested in the world around them. So, I thought I would document the learning I see during the summer holidays and during the first week there was so much! This is not, by any means, all the learning my children have done. There will be plenty of learning taking place when I am not looking and plenty of learning taking place, no matter how hard I look, that I can not see. How can I possibly understand all the learning taking place in another person’s brain? I knew they were learning all the time but I am truly amazed at the education they have had in just one week of the school holidays. In the main, this is child-initiated. I have set up some resources if I have seen an interest develop but it has been completely down to my children what they engage in. As a little aside, it has been reassuring for me to document this for the first time as I, as many parents do, feel guilty if I feel a day has been ‘wasted’. For example, I felt worn out yesterday and they spent a big chunk of time playing computer games. I am also trying to reassess my own thinking that nothing is wasteful, a rest day is beneficial, lots can be learnt with technology. So here it is, a breakdown, subject by subject (I am a teacher after all) of what was learnt in a week playing at home:



Problem solving through completing jigsaw puzzles.

Playing monopoly included lots of addition and subtraction, number bond practice to 10 and 100 and comparison of two 4-digit numbers.

We worked out how much to pay when buying sunflowers (6 × 50p). We looked at the price of items in shops. The children counted their pocket money and found out the difference between the money they had and the cost of an item they wanted to buy.

Investigating how many pebbles can by stacked on the beach before the tower fell.

Working out what time the meringues would be cooked.

They measured mass in grams when baking.

Building  with lego.

When watching ‘Inside the factory’ and ‘The Sweet Makers’ on TV large numbers and negative numbers were talked about as well as dates. They know a century is 100 years.

Spatial skills were developed when playing computer games.



Playing in the mud kitchen, making mixtures (reversible and irreversible changes) and pulling apart flowers (so could see different flower parts).  Also irreversible changes were observed when baking.

Observation of plants were made because we had a sunflower growing in the garden. We have observed the flower open this week and looked at the direction the flower faces. This led to a visit to a farm to pick our own sunflowers and to look if the flowers are all facing the same way.



Illustrating a diary and a book



My 7 year old wrote some eco-friendly tips and she wrote about Lego Friends.

Bananagram, a spelling game.



I have seen them read the following books:

Sams Pizza by David Pelham

Rent a Bridesmaid by Jaqueline Wilson

Alone in the Dark by Holly Webb

The Longest Whale Song by Jacqueline Wilson

We have visited the library and started a reading challenge. We bought some second hand books.



We learnt where tea is grown.

We travelled around in our local environment.



Pop music in the car and on i-pods. Live music was playing when we visited the High Street



They played a range of computer games.


Physical Skills

Computer games develop hand/eye coordination and speed up reactions.

Bouncing and catching a ball.

Hula hoop

Playing running games.

Table tennis

Playing on bikes and scooters.



Cooking, nutrition and food.

We watched ‘Eat Well for Less’ on TV which gave us recipe ideas and we learnt about maximum daily amounts of sugar and how much sugar is in specific products.

We learnt how tea bags are made.

My 9 year old made meringues.

We saw cocoa beans in a cafe.



We learnt a bit about the history of tea including how it used to be sold loose, by weight, and how much tea was allowed during WWII rationing. We also learnt that soldiers during the war had access to tea and how they made it.

We learnt about food in the 1910s and learnt a little about suffragettes.

We learnt about sweet making in the Georgian period.

The children learnt the meaning of the word ‘historian’ and ‘inherit’ (All this history learning came from watching TV together).


Social Skills

Taking turns playing games.

Resilience because of not always winning the games.

Negotiating what we are going to do looking at everybody’s needs.

Helping each other e.g. with tidying the house

Having friends to stay and managing with the changes in dynamics.

Sharing our things.

Playing with children of different ages from 1 – 10 years old and interacting with a range of adults.


I am truly amazed by how much my children have learnt during the week. I am not sharing this to show off, although I am really pleased! I share because I value play and child-initiated learning for all ages. By learning in this way my children are motivated and interested and so learn more. The learning is at the correct level for them because if it is too easy or difficult it is, quite simply, not what they will choose to do. Also learning is often seen as something that happens in school, only in the presence of teachers but this is not the only way children learn. I want to raise the profile of child-led learning in the home and make parents and caregivers really value the role they play in this as well as suggest all children in primary school should have the freedom to direct their learning (at least some of the time) and play. Please let them play!  

I’d be really interested to hear you views as a teacher or parent.

Sarah lives in Devon, England with her husband and children, aged 9 and 7. She writes about creating natural childhoods and interacting gently and respectfully with children and the environment at and on her Facebook page


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  • Helen (Thursday, September 21 17 08:43 pm BST)

    Anxiety can get in the way of learning and showing what you know. Children enter a new classroom with a new teacher and often a new way of working. I believe this is why it can appear that children appear not to be able to do something that they could last term. teachers need to think of what it was like in the first week of a new job.

  • Susan Koszak (Thursday, September 21 17 08:52 am BST)

    Agree with your approach so much.I'm also a supply teacher and like yourself find it tricky to implement a full blown keyu ethos but this play led learning always influences my teaching and TRUSTING children who are always learning as we are in each new setting we find ourselves in.