Who needs vacations? All of us
“What shall you do all your vacation?’, asked Amy. “I shall lie abed and do nothing” replied Meg.”
― Louisa May Alcott
Walking around school this week, you could sense a variety of emotions: the youngest children were winding down; middle and high school students were stressing out over mid-year exams; and everyone was eagerly anticipating the upcoming break. If it feels like the period between Thanksgiving and the Winter holidays was even more frenetic than usual this year, there’s a reason why: Thanksgiving being so late meant there was one week fewer until the winter break than in other years, so we had to fit into three weeks what usually takes four.
So, first of all, let’s congratulate our students, their teachers, and members of the staff for an excellent first semester. You have worked hard, and we recognize your commitment and devotion. Well done! To parents, we also congratulate you for a great first semester: you have dropped your children off in the mornings; picked them up in the evenings; helped them with homework and projects; you encouraged them in their academic and extracurricular pursuits; attended performances and games; and you have been there for your children when they needed it. To everyone in the Keystone community, congratulations on a great first semester. You have all earned a vacation.
For our students, and families, a vacation may be the necessary and perfect tonic after working so hard since August. Scientific research shows the benefits of taking time off for adults, and I would argue that there are similar advantages for children and young adults. A 2016 article in the Inc. newsletter called “4 Scientific Reasons Vacations Are Good For Your Health” describes the ways that vacations can help us physically and mentally.
To no surprise, vacations are a great way to reduce stress. “A study released last year by the American Psychological Association concluded that vacations work to reduce stress by removing people from the activities and environments that they associate with stress and anxiety.” Time away from school, homework, and assignments can help students become re-energized and reinvigorated so when they return to school, they do so with a freshness that can sometimes wane after the initial excitement of school wears off. During vacations, children can create their own schedule, and not have to respond to the demands of their schoolwork.
In addition, students can catch up on lost sleep while on vacation. “Researchers say that vacations can help interrupt the habits that disrupt sleep, like working late into the night or watching a backlit screen before bed. If you have stress from work and you find your sleep is disrupted because of anxiety or tension, take time off and learn to reset your sleep pattern.” While children may wish to stay up into the wee hours every night and sleep in until the late morning or early afternoon during vacation, it is important as we approach the end of break to re-establish some healthy sleep habits like leaving the phone in another room or not looking at screens right before turning the light off. The break in time that vacations create is also a break in routine. As a result, we can use this interregnum to create new ways of being or re-set healthy habits, like going to bed at a reasonable hour or waking up a little earlier so the morning is not quite so rushed.
Time off also enables students to re-establish good study practices and maximize their productivity. Often in the past, I have explained the law of diminishing returns to students when they have crammed for a test or pulled an all-nighter and found that their efforts did not really pay off. A vacation allows us to look back, take stock of what’s gone well, what could be improved, and start the next semester on the right foot. This is very hard to do when a student is in the midst of preparing for exams, writing papers, or creating projects. Being away provides a fresh set of eyes and an opportunity to refocus and prioritize. In the process, we create a virtuous cycle of productivity and contentment. Also from the Inc. article: “Another study by the Boston Consulting Group found that high-level professionals who were required to take time off were significantly more productive overall than those who spent more time working. When you’re more productive, you’re happier, and when you’re happier, you excel at what you do.”
So, students and yes, parents, we hope you take the time to relax and restore yourselves this holiday vacation. Go see a movie together-perhaps “Frozen 2,” the newest “Star Wars” film, or “Little Women.” Read a book for pleasure. Sleep in. Head out for a walk or a hike. Revel in the break you deserve and return in January ready to have another excellent semester. We wish you the very best, and we look forward to seeing you in 2020. Happy Holidays and a Happy New Year!