A summer voyage of discovery

When I was at school, I dreaded the summer holidays. As a hay fever suffering farmer’s son July and August was a mixture of hard harvest work interspersed with seasonal rhinitis.  Living in the deepest countryside, summer was also a time of isolation from friends who were either away on holiday or enjoying the attractions of city life whilst I was stranded beyond the reach of public transport.  Holiday time passed slowly and by September I was eager to return to school.

Today’s Cambridge pupils about to embark on their summer holidays are blessed.  They live in and around a city with some amazing museums, gardens and historic sites.  They are less than one hour from central London with its galleries, theatres, concert halls, architecture and history.  We all tend to take what is on our doorstep for granted and concentrate our travel minds on more distant horizons, but we must not forget just what a world-class doorstep we have.

In addition to all that is on their actual doorstep, the classes of 2013 are blessed with a plethora of virtual visits.  The internet has revolutionised education and search engines can take children on amazing journeys of intellectual discovery – albeit ones that may benefit from some parental direction and the appreciation  that much internet content is unedited.  The summer break provides an excellent opportunity to develop the discrimination to judge whether content is fact or opinion, or indeed just plain wrong.

As I grew older I began to use the summer months for independent reading.  I would borrow my maximum library allocation and divide the holidays into author weeks, devouring the work of the literary greats.  Such vociferous reading did wonders for my vocabulary, intellectual curiosity and imagination.  Suddenly holidays were something to look forward to, an exciting time when I could set my own educational path rather than follow the standard motorway route of exam learning.

Whether staying at home or going away books, of the electronic variety or hard copy, take young people on a voyage of discovery. No summer holiday is complete without a reading list. Our librarians recommend the Carnegie Medal long list for inspiration and for extra encouragement have set their annual ‘Extreme Reading Challenge’ in which pupils compete to be photographed reading a book in the most unusual place. In the past, we have had photos of students climbing mountains and scuba diving, and even members of staff cuddling up to a tiger in Thailand – all reading!

If travelling, long car journeys, and even longer motorway queues, can be a good opportunity to introduce children to fascinating radio.  Radio 4 and the BBC World Service are positive treasure troves of information and intellectual stimulation.  Series such as ‘The Sceptered Isle’, ‘In Our Time’ and ‘Document’ are wonderful ways of learning history on the move.  On the World Service ‘Heart and Soul’ and ‘Discovery’ offer excellent insights into religion and science respectively.  We clog the airways with a lot of inane background noise and music, but if you know where to look there are some real gems that justify the licence fee.

‘Old fashioned’ media deserves a look in.  I know that newspaper sales are falling, but I am always shocked by how few teenagers read a quality daily newspaper.  A summer spent sampling the daily press, whether in printed or tablet format, can do wonders for knowledge of current affairs.

The perfect summer holiday will be balanced.  For all the intellectual stimulation recommended above, it is also important that children find time to rest, recuperate and play.  Summers can be a wonderful time to develop new pastimes, perfect sporting talents, improve physical fitness, and enjoy the outdoors.  And for once the weather might just oblige.  The Azores high is heading our way and with it the summer sun.

Whatever you do this summer have a good one.

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