Is it time to scrap the six-week summer break from school and give children a longer Christmas holiday?

Ella and Ethan jarvis at Flatford

Ella and Ethan jarvis at Flatford - Credit: Archant

The school holidays start out with the best of intentions but, as mums Kate Dodd and Charlotte Smith-Jarvis reveal, the road to hell is also so paved.

Ella Jarvis at Flatford

Ella Jarvis at Flatford - Credit: Archant

They ask: Is it time to accept that the reason for the huge six week break - the harvest - now applies to so few children, that perhaps it might be time to revisit the summer break?

Wouldn’t a three week break do the same job - then we could have more time at Christmas (always so rushed), a longer half term (holiday prices are cheaper in February) and three weeks at Easter, allowing Brits more relaxation throughout the year, rather than one big chunk and lots of rush jobs?

Charlotte Smith-Jarvis reveals spending time with the children isn’t always fun

Ethan Jarvis at Walton

Ethan Jarvis at Walton - Credit: Archant

I was looking forward to a week off work.

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After a crazy-busy time, long hours glued to a screen, missed family meals, and arriving home when the kids were getting ready for bed, I needed it.

But, having relished the thought of annual leave for several weeks, had I built myself up for a fall when I downed tools and switched on my ‘out of office’?

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In my head (yes, I’m a dreamer) I’d spend my days lying in, baking side by side with my rosy cheeked cherubs, kicking a ball about the park, sauntering on the beach in the sun. After all, the May half term was a treat. We had a great time at the Suffolk Show, tobogganing and taking lazy afternoon picnics in fields strewn with wildflowers. What could possibly go wrong?

Matilda and Florence Dodd enjoy a day out in the forest

Matilda and Florence Dodd enjoy a day out in the forest - Credit: Archant


I should have known something was afoot over the weekend in the lead-up to the event. There was a simmering, mounting pot of tension between Ella (9) and Ethan (7). Every parent reading this should know what I mean. It’s an almost tangible sense of unrest. Civility goes out of the window. There are red faces. Doors slam. They hate each other. They hate you. They hate everything. And you think to yourself, “they aren’t even teenagers yet!”

On the first day of the week I was calm and collected. I would, I decided, take everything in my stride – keep cool and carry on.

We drove over to Fynn Valley for a few rounds on the nine hole course. A bit of light-hearted fun – I thought.

A day on the railway with the Dodd girls

A day on the railway with the Dodd girls - Credit: Archant

Even though I had to lug three enormous bottles of water and a non-wheeled golfing bag around the green, things were going okay. Ella seemed to have a knack for it. Ethan likes anything that involves hitting. I even managed a respectable Birdie on the ninth.

Round two. Not so successful. After 10 goes trying to whack the darned ball into the second hole, landing in the deep grass, a hedge, and a small sand bunker, there was no consoling my eldest who threw a paddy of McEnroe proportions, chucked her club to the ground and ripped up her score card.

“I’m rubbish,” she proclaimed, sobbing.

“Er, you’ve never played before,” I retaliated, “you think you’re going to be a pro on your first ever go?”

Dodd summer holiday - craft time

Dodd summer holiday - craft time - Credit: Archant

It didn’t matter how hard I tried. That was it. She had the hump - for two whole hours.

Ethan and I left her to her own devices and she followed us around the course, sitting nearby with a demonic look in her eyes.

Which leads me to the second day, where those demonic eyes were in play once more.

I love Dedham and Flatford – even if half the time we spend there is taken up hiding sandwiches from curious cows who seem to turn up when you least expect it.

I promised the youngsters we’d have a picnic, play Pooh Sticks on a bridge and hire a boat. Ella had been begging me to go rowing for weeks.

When we got there, after a lunch of lovely deli sandwiches (which they, of course, moaned about) we popped over to the boat hire area to be told it was too windy for me to possibly row the vessel myself. There was a harrumph from behind. And there, on the step, sat two kids, brows lowered, lips puckered and arms folded in mutiny.

But, again, being still in a breezy kinda mood, I let it go. “Come on, there’s a bug trail,” I shouted gleefully, dragging them along to the RSPB centre where they actually had the best time bug hunting, making willow fish, taking part in a dig and pond dipping. Even though Ethan decided, while my back was turned, to get into the pond, it was alright. They were happy at last. Or, until the car journey at least, when they emphatically stated that they hated each other again. Sigh.

On Wednesday I apparently ‘embarrassed’ my daughter “to death” (so no exaggeration there) when I made her leave the queue for the inflatable at the local pool because she’d blatantly pushed in front of three people to stand with her friend.

And I forked out over a tenner for new goggles that Ethan begged and begged and begged me for, only to be told, once he’d ripped them out of the packaging, that he didn’t really like the colour. Patience was wearing thin.

But the breaking point came at the end of the week. On my last day off we headed to sunny Walton with my parents for a day at the sandy beach.

We parked right up the other end of the town near the tower. While Ella walked the dog with dad and Ethan built sandcastles, I spent a good while lugging chairs, bags and blankets down the steep hill. Then I had to go back up and down for ice cream and toilet stops.

And, when I finally thought I could take a break, it was decided we’d go and visit relatives further up the beach in their hut. Dutifully I packed up the gear again, lugged and hoisted it all the way back up the ‘mountain’ and met the folks and kids at the bottom where we preceded to walk five minutes around the coast.

Once there, my two were apparently starving and I had to set off on a food-finding mission which involved me walking nearly a mile and a half to find a fish and chip shop, waiting 20 minutes for the goods, and jogging back said mileage in the hot mid-afternoon sun, only to find the tide had pretty well come in, and the kids had lost interest in eating.

That was it. They got the silent treatment all the way home. And, wordless, I stomped up to my bedroom like a moody teen, to sulk. It took until the next day for hubby to coax me out of my post-holiday trauma. “It’s alright,” he said. “We’re going to Cornwall in a couple of weeks, you’ll have a good time there.”

Inevitably during his time off work (this past week) the children have been as good as gold, revelling in hours spent with their dad. He looks smug. Secretly I hope they’ll turn on him when we hit the road for our family holiday. Dads are never the bad guy are they?

I’ll be the one on the beach in a black one-piece and shades, hiding behind a crime novel, pretending the kids running amok on the beach with their poor dad in tow aren’t mine. But loving the little cretins for their mischievous ways all the same.

Kate Dodd thinks the holidays are just too long

I feel heartbroken. I used to think the summer holidays were the best thing ever. Much better than Christmas or the ending of Bugsy Malone, but as a parent, a little bit dies inside when the ‘six weeks’ looms.

I had every intention of hitting it head-on, tally-ho and all that. Stocked up the crayons, the feathers and sequins draw, the batch of paper cases for fairy buns, the wine (on stand-by). But by week two it was farewell arts and crafts - hello Netflicks and playbarns.

As a child, six weeks feels like forever, but as a mum, drastically scrambling for ideas: Empty egg box? Let’s make a crocodile, it feels like a life sentence.

Of course, I’m not totally ‘over’ school holidays. I love the lazy mornings and the freedom of the day ahead, and those life-affirming moments when a snap-shot on the beach or in the park will last a lifetime. But after the 23rd morning of being asked, ‘What are we doing today? How much are you spending on us today?’ making family memories becomes a little wearing.

And the flip side of those lazy mornings? The compete death of routine. Bedtimes, especially with the nearly-two-year-old, have become a full on battle ground. She’s getting spoilt for sleep in the day with longer car journeys to snooze, and her big sisters (three and five) are making the most of movie-nights or later teatimes.

I do wonder where the merit is for having such a long holiday. It plays havoc with childcare arrangements - I know plenty of couples who use up their holiday allowance, without even sharing the same holiday dates. I also wonder how much knowledge is lost over August - my little schoolgirl is reluctant to sit and do sums whilst her sisters squirt water at the cat. I think children and teachers should be given an extra week at Christmas and Easter - spread the seasonal joy.

There are 17 days left before the children go back to school or nursery and playgroups reconvene. Mums may whoop or cry at that news. I will, like a trooper, endeavour to keep boredom and insanity from spewing over our summer fun.

And, it goes without saying, I will miss them all dreadfully on September 2nd.

Have you had a rubbish week off with your little angels? Tell us all about it by emailing us For rainy day activities, see our guide here

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