Friday, September 18, 2015

School holidays: A holiday from school (Let me explain!)

Today is the last day of school term 3 for public primary school students here in Melbourne, Australia. It's been a long 11 weeks of mostly bad weather, only starting to shift to a more springlike temperature in the past 3 weeks or so. A lot of people seem to have copped fairly nasty viruses this term; our family has been lucky, suffering only an annoyingly protracted but relatively mild communal cold. In our household, all but the first two weeks of this term has overlapped with a large freelance project of mine, which has involved 4-5 days a week of work snuggled in among the school days, evenings and weekends as I can manage it.

Despite my kids being uber-fractious with each other this week, and the fact that I will be juggling work for the first 9 days of the school break (I'm taking Weds-Fri of week 2 off my projects), I am looking forward with a high degree of intensity to the holidays.

This isn't just because I think the kids are really, reeeeeeeally ready for some downtime, or because it'll be nice to have some family time (although both of those are true too). It's because of this: school is work, not just for students, but for their responsible adults.

I have friends who homeschool their children, and there's no doubt in my mind that that path involves both work in itself, and opportunity costs for caregiver potential lost income - indeed, I think few people would deny it.What I think sometimes gets a bit lost though is the fact that sending kids to school also entails work, and costs, and opportunity costs too.

Getting children to school on time, with lunches packed, is work. Picking them up on time is work, and after school care, should you use that, costs money. Every week, new notes come home - my record with three children in school was 19 notes in one week - all of them requiring money or effort, or sometimes both, to respond to properly. Indeed, the unceasing flood of monetary demands gets overwhelming in terms three and four - one memorable week early in the term, I handed over $1200 to the school for 3x excursions; 2x camps; new windcheaters for two kids; and three separate fundraising efforts. This is a public school, bear in mind. ($1200 in a week is unusual, and is of course largely derived from the two $400+ camp fees for the elder two kids, but nonetheless, you get the drift).

Helping and supporting children with homework and projects can be a lot of work, even if your kids are self-motivated. Supporting the plethora of special events at school can be an enormous amount of work, given how heavily schools rely on caregiver volunteers - between helping with school cooking, the Father's Day stall, attending and helping with Fun Run, Athletics, Book Week and Open Day events, my partner's role on school council, the garden working bees and the Open Night, this term we have clocked up about 10 days total volunteer time at school between us, and there are caregivers who do much more than we do.

I'm not saying any of this as a whinge - not exactly - but more, I'm just acknowledging the reality that schooling children is work, for the whole household, and sometimes a break is needed from that work, just as in any job. Of course a lot of the work of school is enjoyable work - I love helping with school cooking, for instance, and being there to see Athletics and Book Week fun - but two weeks off from the logistical, organisational and practical work of supporting three children at school is most welcome and most needed.


  1. An interesting article to read, as I'm avoiding packing a weeks worth of sandwiches and lunch boxes etc. I find the work of the getting kids to school and doing everything required for school, more draining than any of other jobs.

    1. I agree, Jess. The morning run is pretty hard yakka most of the time here too. Very glad to be shot of it for a fortnight!