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A different kind of homework

I never set summer holiday homework for the children I used to teach.   Each time I was tempted to do so, or felt the peer pressure of my fellow teachers, I remembered how dreadful summer projects used to be when I was at school and vowed never, ever, to inflict on my pupils the same pain that I’d experienced – that feeling of having a great weight hanging over me for the whole summer, putting off the work to the last few days of the holidays and then inevitably driving myself into panic overdrive.

My thanks to the BBC and several readers of this blog who have pointed me towards an antidote to this source of summer holiday student anxiety.

An Italian teacher has decided to forgo setting the usual holiday homework for his students and has instead given them a list of life advice.

Most schoolchildren in Italy are given school work to complete over the three-month summer holidays, which stretch from mid-June to mid-September. But Cesare Cata, who teaches at a secondary school in the central Le Marche region, wants his students to use their time off for less academic pursuits. “At least once, go and watch the sunrise”, he writes in the 15-point “homework” list, which has since gone viral. Students are also told to wander beside the sea in the morning “thinking of the things you love in life”, and to dance shamelessly when the mood strikes, because “summer is a dance, and it is foolish not to take part”.

Students are told to dream of what they want their lives to be

Mr Cata doesn’t want students to forget school completely, though, and urges them to read widely and use all of the new terms they learned in the past year. “The more things you can say, the more things you can think; and the more things you can think, the freer you are,” he says.

More than 3,000 people have shared the teacher’s Facebook post, and hundreds have left positive comments. “I wish I’d had a teacher like you who encourages reflection and introspection,” one person writes. The list seems to have struck a chord with many parents, who say they have shared it with their children. “Homework for life, not just for a season,” one Facebook user says, while another declares: “With a teacher like you, I would go back to school tomorrow!”

So, what are Mr Cata’s 15 summer homework assignments?

  1. Sometimes, in the morning, go take a walk along the seashore completely alone: look at the way sunlight is reflected on the water and think about the things you love the most in your life; be happy.
  2. Try to use some of the new words we learned together this year: the more things you manage to say, the more things you’ll manage to think; and the more things you think, the freer you’ll be.

  3. Read as much as you possibly can. But not because you have to. Read because summers inspire adventures and dreams, and when you read you’ll feel like swallows in flight. Read because it’s the best form of rebellion you have (for advice on what to read, come see me).

  4. Avoid things, situations and people who make you feel negative or empty: seek out stimulating situations and the companionship of friends who enrich you, who understand you and appreciate you for who you are.

  5. If you feel sad or afraid, don’t worry: summer, like every marvelous thing in life, can throw the soul into confusion. Try keeping a diary as a way to talk about how you feel (in September, if you’d like, we’ll read it together).

  6. Dance, shamelessly. On a dance floor near your house, or alone in your room. Summer is dance, and it’s foolish not to take part.

  7. At least once, watch the sunrise. Stay silent and breathe. Close your eyes, be thankful.

  8. Play a lot of sports.

  9. If you meet someone you find enchanting, tell him or her as sincerely and gracefully as you can. It doesn’t matter if she or he doesn’t understand. If they don’t, she or he wasn’t meant to be; otherwise, summer 2015 will be a golden time together (if this doesn’t work out, go back to point number 8).

  10. Review your notes from our class: Compare the things we read and learned to the things that happen to you.

  11. Be as happy as sunlight, as untamable as the sea.

  12. Don’t swear. Always be well-mannered and kind.

  13. Watch films with heartbreaking dialogue (in English if you can), in order to improve your language skills and your ability to dream. Don’t let the movie end with the final credits: live it again while you’re living and experiencing your summer.

  14. In sparkling sunlight or hot summer nights, dream about how your life could and should be. During the summer, always do everything you can to avoid giving up, and everything you can to pursue your dream.

  15. Be good.

I reckon this is a pretty brilliant list – and one that I would have been happy to have given to my pupils.   Actually, it’s a list of advice I’m going to try to follow myself this summer – and into the autumn and winter too…

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