The summer holidays are almost upon us. Yes, we know some of you are already there.  Enjoy a much-deserved rest and the odd cheeky choc-ice! We’ll be joining you soon. For those of us yet to break up, and following a number of requests, here’s a blog with ideas for summer activities that won’t detract from all important rest, play and those wonderful freedoms of summer.

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Michelle Nicholson is an English Teaching and Learning Adviser at Herts for Learning.

One rainy summer holiday my sister and I -in the absence of a camera- amused ourselves by drawing a set of Polaroids of our holiday camp in Minehead. We believed our felt-tipped masterpieces to be an accurate representation of the bunkbeds, soggy plimsolls and unused buckets and spades that surrounded us.  In fact that wet summer spawned a series of creative projects and our artistic ‘skills’ became well honed. Needless to say, we also read everything we could get our hands on.  It was a summer to discover the joys of Roald Dahl and ‘My Naughty Little Sister’ books.  All too soon September rolled around, but we were ready for whatever school days might bring….

Whatever your class are doing this summer- whether they are soaking up sun in the med, whiling away the hours in holiday club or simply lounging in their lounge- it would be nice to think they are keeping up with their classroom skills. It is well documented that children often suffer from a drop back over the summer holidays.  For some, this could represent a loss of a term’s worth of progress and lead to frustration for you as a teacher, as well as a dip in their own confidence.

Many of you will be meeting your new class this week and next. Whilst the thought of formal homework is not appealing to most, it is well worth considering the benefits of a carefully chosen holiday activity pack to ‘keep the school fires burning’.  I always liked to send home activities that could instantly become part of a display on return in September.  For example, a zig-zag book of six card pages could be used as a six entry diary accompanied by photos (real or drawn!). As they come in, these can be jauntily pinned up on a ready-prepared board.  Then, not only do you have a vibrant display from day one, but the children see that their holiday work was valued and purposeful.

Alternatively, give the children blank postcards that could be written at various points in the holiday. If the school budget allows, it might be nice to put a stamp on one or two so that the children can physically send their postcard (from the UK). Postcard writing is a disappearing tradition in the days of social media, but one that still excites primary age children. It is important, however, that they understand that the prerequisite for a great postcard is not an exotic location, but a carefully worded and beautifully handwritten summary of a moment in time.  It is the old-fashioned form of a tweet- can you sum up your day in a pithy 140 characters? No? Then write it on a postcard: “Had a fabulous day baking cookies with Nan! They look so professional- we decorated them with chocolate sprinkles. The dog has been sick as he was licking all the icing from the bowl.  Wish you were here.”

Another fun idea is to ask children to write out the recipe for something they have cooked over the summer or tried on holiday. Maybe they could write out the instructions for a Lego model or something else they made- a dual purpose activity that could keep them occupied on a rainy day. How about finding a favourite poem and copying it out beautifully adding illustrations?  Perhaps older children could create a one page encyclopaedia entry for somewhere they have visited or would like to visit in the future.  Any of these writing activities will give you a ready-made class book that the children can have in their book corner from the first week back.  Don’t forget to provide the paper in a plastic wallet as not all children have a ready supply of stationery.  In my experience, a class book is a great way to encourage a 100% return- children don’t often like to feel left out when their peers are reading through everyone’s contributions.

Reading is another pastime to encourage during the school holidays. Local libraries have an annual summer reading challenge and you can find the details at http://summerreadingchallenge.org.uk/ . This year it is ‘The Big Friendly Read’- a Roald Dahl themed reading adventure to mark the centenary of the author’s birth. Sadly, it can be tricky to encourage some children to venture into the library and to manage six books in six weeks.  But harnessing peer support can work- teams of readers comparing thoughts on the same books perhaps. If creating your own reading challenge, consider alternatives to the standard ‘book review’ as it can seem like a chore for many.  Instead, provide a small slip of paper with a simple framework of “I think this book would be ideally suited to ___ and ___ because ….. The bit they will really love is when….”  On return, these slips can be stuck onto colourful card representing book spines, bricks in a wall or even messages in a bottle that can become part of an interactive book corner display.  I have seen a wonderful display whereby a book summary and a photo of the child reading the eponymous book are stuck on the front of a Perspex book frame containing a copy of the text for children to borrow. As children love anything to do with technology, why not persuade them to create a Vlog for their friends of a book they have enjoyed?

With the shock of the recent reading tests still in the air, it is well worth encouraging children to read more widely and choose more sophisticated books. Many schools are starting to publish a list of suggested texts for each year group – a top ten of books to encounter before you leave Year _ approach. Parents are often unsure as to what their children could or should read – there is almost too much choice out there and, without guidance, they often resort to familiar titles and authors or books with limited value. One approach is to give the parents the Carnegie/ Waterstones/ Smarties list from last year- whilst books on current top book lists are expensive, previous medal winners can often be purchased from a certain site for 1p plus £2.80 postage.  If children can’t yet read the books that are at their interest level, supply a few CDs of popular stories that a child of a particular age should encounter.  Children could listen to them on a plane, on a long car journey and at bed time and this will expose them to ideas, vocabulary and sentence structures that could influence their writing.

And a final thought must be spared for spelling. There is a need to raise the profile of spelling across the country, but over the holidays this is best done through fun, practical activities that the children can do fairly independently. Exposure to the Y3/4, Y5/6 spelling lists could be given through prepared word-searches or treasure hunts to photograph examples of words from the list that they see whilst they are out and about.  Younger children could take home bingo grids of high frequency words/ common exception words. Set a challenge: How many words can they make from the phrase ‘Great Summer Holiday’? An idea for KS2 is to devise investigations whereby children collect words with a certain prefix/ suffix such as tele- or –graph. These can be displayed in a spidergram or uploaded onto Worldle.net to give a visual map of connected words.  If families are going abroad, can they find any words that are similar or the same in both languages? Last but not least, direct children to some of the many spelling games and APPs that are available online. Share the notion that words are fun and children can be language detectives. Above all, don’t make spelling seem like a chore.

So have fun creating summer activities to occupy your class. As long as they don’t have to create a scaled version of a medieval castle (as we once had to with our daughter) parents will generally appreciate some support with the weeks ahead. And come September, you will reap the benefits by having primed pupils and ready to go displays.  Do get in touch if you have a fabulous summer activity to share, and do enjoy some well-earned rest.