The Good Friday long weekend has just passed, and the Labour Day + Hari Raya long weekend is coming up.
What would we prefer?
As working adults, would we prefer to have these long weekends without emails, without work-related messages, without proposals to write, without colleagues and bosses to bother us? And just have time and space for our minds and bodies to take a break from the hustle and bustle of work and decision-making? To have the time and space to explore our interests, our hobbies and spending time with loved ones?
As parents, would we prefer to take these long weekends to spend time with our children, have conversations, bring them out, do art, play sports, go shopping, binge watch movies and/or netflix, play computer games together? Would we prefer to have the whole weekend off, so that we can develop meaningful relationships with the ones we love, not just our children, but with our spouse, our parents, our extended families?]
As teachers, would we prefer to take these long weekends to also spend time with our loved ones, doing the things we love, beyond our work, beyond marking, beyond curriculum planning, beyond events, beyond minding our students, and have time to mind our own children, our own parents, our ownselves?
Then why, do we give "holiday homework" to our students/youth? Why do we feel the urge to have to "make sure" that they don't while away their time during these long weekends? Why don't we allow them the time and space to do "nothing", to allow them the time and space to play, pursue what they love? Why do we have this belief that they don't know any better, on how they will want to spend their time over these long periods of break, and therefore, we must "give them work to do"? Send them for more enrichment programmes, so that they are not idle?
Are we aware?
Are we aware, that we are already creating the future culture by doing so, where they will grow up to become managers and bosses who will also be the ones to give their staff work to do over the long weekends, and email them over the annual leaves and MC days? Because, we are now the role models to this future, of how we reject these periods of pause and idleness, of allowing for time and space to pursue our own interests, our own hobbies, our relationships with those who truly matter. Our children see us, hear us, feel us. And there are two extremes that they will become : hustle more, because that is what they see and learn and have been conditioned to do, or perhaps slack more, because they want to rebel and push for the opposite to happen. You might already be seeing these amongst your kids.
How about, we spend these next few days, already starting the conversation of what they might like to explore this weekend, that you can do together? How about, we practice the openness of this exploration, together with them?
For the first time, an adult can choose to ask them "What would you like to do this weekend?" and being students / youth, who have been so conditioned to being told what to do, you might hear a resounding "I don't know" and followed by apprehension, with a small voice at the backs of their heads "Is this a trick question?". Let them know that it is ok, that they don't know what they would like to do; let them know that actually, truthfully, you also don't know what you would like to do. And you would like to invite the exploration together. As teachers, as parents, as student/child/youth. And come up with a plan collectively.
If the youth/child/student comes up with the suggestion of wanting to spend time with their friends, say ok, and also arrange to spend time with your friends.
If the youth/child/student comes up with the suggestions of playing games, watching netflix, perhaps spend some time together to list down the games and shows that you can watch collectively, and also identify which ones you might want to watch independently, and come back and share with each other how the experience was like.
If the youth/child/student is the one who suggests taking time during this long weekend to study and do some additional worksheets, try and understand why, and allow for some time to do so, so that the youth/child/student is also empowered to make that decision, in awareness, in consciousness. And that also then gives you the space to share why you might want to do work or not, while the child/youth/student is studying. This helps to open conversations about the culture you would like to build, and it can be very empowering for both the youth/child/student and the adult.
If the youth/child/student is the one who suggests to read, or to go shopping, or to go to the playground, see if you have it in yourself to also do similar, to allow yourself to explore these, instead of allowing your mind to jump straight to "What a waste of time!". See if you can find it in yourself to savor these moments of pleasure, to stretch and challenge yourself too. Let the child/youth/student know, that it is challenging for you to do that, and that you are not doing it because of them (this is a sure-fire way of placing guilt and shame on the child, and eventually lead them to coming back to "Then I will just do what you want me to do lor."); you are doing it, to allow yourself to feel the discomfort, and to challenge yourself to do something different, out of your own comfort zone. And that it is ok to try and perhaps even fail. No one is to be blamed for the failure of the trial; it is a learning experience. And will you try again, if the child/youth/student suggests a similar activity, the answer is "yes", because it will always be a new experience with the child/student/youth.
If you have read till here, thank you so much for enduring this read.
Bottom-line : I am not saying that the child does a singular activity for the whole of the long weekend, for example, gaming. I am saying, allow the child/youth/student, with the guidance of the teacher/parent/adult, to have some conversation and empowerment of what to do over the long weekend that is to come. Allow the conversation to happen, not just between the teacher and the student, or the parent and the child/youth; allow the conversation to be amongst these 3 parties. And allow the time and space for these conversations to happen. Which is why I am sharing this post today, 2-3 more schools days before the start of the long weekend, because there is still time to turn things around.
It can be this evening's, or tomorrow morning's assignment, depends if you are a parent and/or a teacher reading this. And to support you and guide the conversation, ask the student/youth/child :
* What would you like to do this weekend? I have no clue for myself, and I would like to hear some suggestions of what you would like to do, and I might like to explore them too!
* As part of the "research", I would like you to go home/to school, and ask your parents/teachers, what they would like to do over this long weekend.
* Let's take some time over this Friday, to discuss/share and come up with our personal list of things that we would like to do this weekend with and without our families and/or our friends.
* It is ok to have similar and different activities; that's what makes it fun!
* We will also be taking some time to decide how much time we would like to spend on each activity. And it is also absolutely ok, to put in a space of doing absolutely nothing, and just stare into space, or look at the sky, or take a nap.
And let's just experiment and allow for this to happen, not just for this one long weekend, but for the long weekends to come for the rest of this year and next year. If we hope to change the future of work, and have more life-work balance, then let's start from our youth and our education culture.
Note : I understand that there are many parents who are front-line workers, and who will not have the luxury of spending these long weekends with their children/youth, and are grateful to the teachers for giving "holiday homework" and feel safer giving their own children "holiday homework" in the form of enrichment classes and worksheets/assessment books, to "compensate" the challenge of not being around. I am not against "holiday homework" per se. There is value in it.
But this value needs to be articulated and shared with the youth/child/student.
"Holiday homework" can still be provided as long as the meaning of it makes sense, rather than left to "no choice".
There is always a choice : do we choose the one that is easy, or the one that is meaningful? And meaningful for who? How might we co-create meaning, through education, with our youth/child/student?
About the Author
Michelle Ow is the founder and Human Experience Facilitator of Chrysalists Pte Ltd.