The children are shattered but it’s midterm at last

Covid restrictions made last year’s celebrations grim, this Halloween will be different

The ghosts and ghouls are ready for Sunday. Photograph: iStock

The ghosts and ghouls are ready for Sunday. Photograph: iStock

 

Midterm at last and I’m looking forward to it in the ways of old. Yes, like for many parents, there will be a juggling and rejigging of work with the children about the place again, but there’ll also be a freedom from homework, school lunches and school runs which, thanks to staggered start and finishing times, means my daily steps have never been higher.

Who needs the gym, eh?

And there’s Halloween to look forward to – a proper Halloween, not like last year. The image of my youngest child dressed in his costume waving sadly at his friend from across the street through his sittingroom window as we went pumpkin spotting in our estate, instead of trick or treating, is still etched on my mind. Bring on the excess sweets (that I’ll no doubt curse the next day) and the excited trick and treaters, keen to confuse those of us who answer the door to them.

But mostly bring on the break. Thanks to the vaccines, for the first time since the pandemic began I’m not dreading that a normal school break might lead to schools staying closed for weeks, or even months – I think. Although I deleted this line twice after typing it for fear of tempting fate.

The kids are shattered. It’s been a crawl to the finish line as life is particularly busy during the school week, so they counted down the last few days and nights. And I’ll be honest I’ve been using it as a carrot for the last few days to get them out of bed in the morning, and down to bed at night and through the homework battles around the diningroom table.

And it largely did the trick until the one who started secondary school this year raised his head from his books and asked if he’d get homework over the midterm. It was difficult to predict, but knowing what had been the case in previous years for the other secondary schoolers and remembering my own school days, there was little to suggest anything would be different for him. “I expect you might,” I replied.

“So if we get homework at the weekend and on holidays, then when do we get our break?” he asked. A reasonable question, in fairness, and perhaps one this homework anarchist has not given comparative due consideration to, having previously largely focused on the pointlessness of homework in primary school.

While research suggests there is little to no benefit in primary-school homework, it appears things are different when it comes to secondary school. But therein lies the issue. Is academic benefit alone enough to justify fostering an unhealthy work, rest and play balance in our teenagers? Is doing homework at weekends and midterm not akin to an adult working on their days off or while on annual leave? And would we ever suggest to an adult after a day’s work, that doing some more work when they get home is a good or healthy practice?

For many students the secondary-school day is already notably longer with increased hours and a commute often to be factored in too. It’s a particular adjustment for first-year students, but it’s one we expect them to make – and then fit a couple of hours homework and study into their evenings as well.

For the exam years, the pressure on their time is greater, something we’ve noted for a long while, but never seem to have done anything about. This year’s third years are facing into their Junior Cert – the last time they had a normal school year, they were in 6th class in primary school.

One of the secondary schoolers has suggested that he shouldn’t return to an activity he enjoys after midterm. “I don’t really think I have time, mum”, he said. “Not with having to get my homework done and all,” he continued, by way of explanation rather than complaint. We tell our children that academics is not the be all and end all, yet allow it to take up so much of their time that there is little time left for anything else.

During mental health awareness week, I saw a meme shared on social media that simply said “if you don’t make time for your wellness, you’ll be forced to make time for your illness”. Prevention is better than cure, we’re repeatedly told, so why is instilling healthy work, rest and play practices not a priority from a young age? Why do we continue to do things a certain way, just because we always have?

The ghosts and ghouls are ready for Sunday, though Halloween’s timing could have been better. I’ve a feeling there’ll be sugar-filled zombies to raise from the dead on Monday morning for school.

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