For many children in the city, it’s back to school during summer vacations

School vacations used to be about two months of non-stop fun and frolic. Once it was an idyllic time for endless adventures in the nooks and crannies of the ‘native place’, a time to lark about with cousins who’ve gathered from afar, a time for Cluedo and Monopoly, a time to immerse yourself in the worlds of Enid Blyton, Hercules Poirot, and Nancy Drew, a time to just stand and stare… Vacations, it seems, have now become another excuse for parents to, well, pack their kids off to school!

School’s out and already kids have their schedules packed in ‘summer schools’ that teach everything from art and craft, French and German, to dance, music, cricket, Abacus, Vedic math, aero-modelling, personality development, Kalaripayattu, and what not. And that’s in addition to attending ‘special tuition’ classes to catch up on weak subjects.

As George Jacob, a final year student of electrical engineering at College of Engineering, and a veteran of many summer classes during his school days puts it: “Students these days, myself included, seem to spend their free time in the virtual world – in front of the computer or the TV – or on the mobile phone. There is a distinct disconnect with the actual world.”

Psychologist Amar Rajan also thinks it’s a worrying trend. Says Amar: “Summer vacations are meant to be about enjoyment, relief and rejuvenation; about refreshing the mind for the academic year ahead. Once upon a time, in the city, the only things we had akin to a summer school were the music and dance classes at Jawahar Bal Bhavan and swimming classes at Water Works. Nowadays, everywhere you turn you find so-called summer schools for children. Interestingly, every one of them is packed to the rafters. What really is the objective of sending kids for vacation classes? Is it about improving their skills or is it really because parents do not know how to manage children at home?”

Busy IT professionals Arun Varghese and Beena George, parents of eight-year-old Jonathan, feel that it’s a bit of both. “Both of us have hectic work schedules, my wife especially, whose job involves a lot of travel. So it’s often a struggle to adjust our schedules during the holidays. We do take leave and spend quality time with him but we can’t keep doing that throughout. And also it’s not right to fob him off on our parents. Summer school becomes a necessity then. Jonathan’s most happy to sit and draw but we want him to utilise the opportunity to learn something and engage with kids his own age, outside of his regular environment,” says Arun. Jonathan is now enrolled for summer classes at a local playschool that teaches a little bit of everything – craft, music, painting…

Beena quips: “It’s not a question of bad parenting. Rather I think it’s a part of new-age good parenting. If you attend a parent-teacher meeting you will know how involved most parents are in what their children do. Of course, there are those who are determined to make their kids into superheroes. They believe that their kids should be good at everything under the sun. There is nothing wrong in thinking like that. After all, this is the age that kids imbibe a lot of skills. I believe that sending kids to summer school is beneficial for their all-round development.”

Homemaker and mother of two Sarah Ajith, agrees and says: “Honestly, mothers go crazy during summer vacations! Summer school is a great idea because it keeps children occupied. Otherwise, what is the alternative? Sit in front of the TV all day long? Given a chance that’s what most kids will do. You can nag them to play games or read only so much. I’d rather they go out and enjoy themselves, meet new people and if they learn something in the process, it’s well and good.”

Most of the kids who attend the various summer classes in the city are between the ages of five and 13 - in fact, most of the schools only accept this age group. Teenagers, meanwhile, tend to go for classes on web-designing, animation and the like. “Such courses are almost de riguer among my friends,” says class 11 student Fahad Faisal, who is presently learning web-designing as well as going for special classes to crack the entrance exams.

On the whole, parents caution that before enrolling kids in summer school, it’s important to identify good courses, and more importantly, what’s right for each kid. “Because there are so many, it’s impossible to find out which one is good and not just a scam. Ask around and take a good look at the facilities – do they have enough supervision, clean toilets, knowledgeable staff…” says college lecturer Geenu G., whose 12-year-old daughter Devika attended several summer schools over the years – even advanced math! “This year she has decided that she wants to sit at home and read. I was only happy to let her be.”

Most of the parents say that a wrong choice of class can ruin the kids’ vacation completely. Explains Sarah: “At the end of the day, it should be all about fun. Last year, I put my kids in a summer school that gives preference to outdoor activities thinking that it would be good for them. After a week of nasty bruises and torn clothes I realised that there were not enough supervisors on hand. I pulled them out soon after and guess what, they spent the rest of the vacation in front of the television!”

Bonding with kids

Vacations are also a time to work on your relationship with your kids, says Amar Rajan. And one of the best ways is to go on family trips together or do some kind of activity with them. “Parents and kids need that break together. I suggest a five to 10-day trip, at least. It is a way for kids to observe their parents handle different situations and also for parents to understand their child’s interests. Don’t say you don’t have time. Make the time. After all, vacations happen at a specific time every year. That’s plenty of advance notice for parents to juggle their schedules,” explains Amar.