Ideas for holiday learning

Written by: Karen Sullivan | Published:
Image: Adobe Stock

Last time, Karen Sullivan argued the case for allowing some term-time holidays. She now looks at how learning can continue while families travel together

In my last article, we looked at the wealth of research suggesting that term-time holidays (judiciously taken) can have benefits for health, wellbeing and brain development, which can have a positive impact on achievement, concentration, learning ability and even IQ (Arguing the case for term-time holidays, SecEd, March 2017:

Part of these benefits relate to the “enriched environment” and the opportunity for play, relaxation and bonding that holidays offer; so, although it can be tempting to set assignments for out-of-term breaks, this is likely to undermine the short and long-term benefits.

Instead, why not consider creating new opportunities for learning that will enhance the educational benefits of a holiday, no matter where it is taken. And make them fun.

Ask students to research and prepare a pre-holiday document, outlining the fundamental characteristics of the area: geography, politics, religion, population, etc, and upon their return ask them to revisit it to contrast the reality with their expectations and external perceptions.

Encourage them to photograph and record their journeys on their iPads or phones – interview local people, create a daily podcast on a subject of their choice that can be posted on social media or the class blog/school website, create a series of photographs that gets “inside” their holiday destination (i.e, what the holiday brochures don’t show), even a “food” log, showing what’s on offer and what the health benefits might be, or how the cuisine differs from our usual fare.

Even if a beach holiday is on the cards, there will be plenty to investigate and stimulate – and across most of the curriculum. Even an amusement park can provide opportunities to explain the laws of physics and, indeed, mathematical probability.

Ask them to seek out authors or poets from the country or place visited and take them along to get further insights into the culture. Or ask them to become authors, and write a short story or a poem inspired by their experiences. Anything that encourages them to look around, look deeper, and learn, will enhance the benefits in multiple ways.

One benefit of holidays is relaxed time with family, time to get to know one another on a deeper level, to bond, to share, and this provides the ideal opportunity to map the family on a family tree, or to write a series of descriptions about family members, particularly older generations, detailing their past, the stories they have to tell, the advice they share.

Or more artistic members of the class could draw or paint their family members, which provides a certain intimacy in itself. After the break, they could, perhaps, write an essay on the importance of family, or the tensions that exist within even the happiest groups.

Last time I looked at evidence that holidays relax the mind and body, and activate “warm, generous feelings”, so why not suggest a daily assessment of emotional health and wellbeing. There are numerous phone apps that can be used to monitor blood pressure, heart rate, sleep patterns, breathing and even mood, to provide an overall picture of physical and emotional changes. If nothing else, this encourages self-awareness and a deeper understanding of the workings of the mind and body.

Suggest they look for a human rights cause, and find out more – preparing a report, along with photographs, interviews or other supportive material that can be shared with the class upon return. Even the sunniest of destinations, the happiest of theme parks, usually has a “cause” or grievance lurking somewhere beneath it. Seeking these out and highlighting them in a report will open eyes for all involved.

Document attempts to learn a new language, perhaps in “Ten new words a day” format. Find some culture and record it, even a dancer on a beach, a festival, an art gallery, a show, or a parade at Disneyland says something about local culture and/or our own.

These are just ideas, and you can, as a group, work together to come up with more, on a case-by-case basis. In fact, get the class involved in finding out more about the destinations being visited, and ask them to prepare a question each, which can be answered by the holidaying student.

The importance of encouraging interest in the world around us cannot be underestimated. Most of all, however, remember that this is not “work”; this is learning through living, through relaxing, through curiosity, through observation and interest.

It is, in fact, independent learning of the highest order, initiated by students, and driven by their own creativity, imagination and motivation. Ultimately, a holiday during term time isn’t absence from the classroom; it’s merely a move to another classroom, with a more elastic curriculum and wider boundaries, that will benefit students in a host of different ways.

  • Karen Sullivan is a best-selling author, psychologist and childcare expert. Email To read her previous articles for SecEd, including in this series, go to


  • 20 Reasons You Shouldn’t Assign Homework Over The Holidays, Teach Thought (article provides a wealth of ideas for other things children can do, and why they are important), December 2012:
  • The summer homework task that went viral, TES, August 2015:


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