I’m sure that the last day before the holidays became an occasion to celebrate ever since the first school opened its doors. From bringing in your ‘favourite game from home’ days to ‘ditch the school uniform’ days and other great traditions, children everywhere rejoice in the forthcoming promise of freedom.

But this year; this unexpected, terrible, yet oddly eye-opening year, things have changed.

No one can deny the damage that has been done by the pandemic, and the personal loss of life, livelihood or security suffered by many.

But as with every great challenge in history, we also learned a lot and may even come out better for it in the end.

My daughter also started Reception last week and bounced out of bed on her first day, the excitement was there for her Mom and me to see. And I can imageine this scene was the same for most parents, never has there been a more anticipated start to a new academic year.

Home learning is OK, and completing coursework in your pyjamas at your definition of a reasonable time is cool too.

But it can be a pretty lonely way to learn.

Cornerstone of Society

Surely, of all the things that we do as a nation, and as human beings, providing education for our children has to be among the most important. And ‘attending’ school does so much more than just teach English, Maths and the Sciences.

It introduces children to life’s richest experiences.

The quip about school being a waste of time because algebra or the formation of an oxbow lake will never be useful life skills is wasted on me.

Children do need to learn stuff, yes, (and relevance does matter) but that is not where the biggest value of going to school lies.

Three non-curricular benefits from attending school

Here are my top three things children gain from going to school (aside from the contents of the academic curriculum):

Play respectively: Children can be horrible to each other (so can grown-ups). But they can only learn first-hand, in real-life situations the value of friendship by meeting other children. School can be a place for bullies to grow, but it can also be the place they learn to behave and come part of a team. We can’t always control the bad influences, but a healthy group environment might just contain or even tame them.

Energy outlet: Our bodies have been designed for activity. We were not meant to sit around, looking at electronic screens and eating junk food. And for children, in particular, using the pent-up power inside of them is the release they need to fulfil their potential. I believe that the frustrations, tantrums and boredom that brings the worst out of our children stems from not doing enough exercise. All that energy has to go somewhere.

Mental wealth: Healthy relationships are built on more than just texted words, digital pictures and telephone conversations. Human connection and interaction are vital to mental health in people of all ages. The latest science suggests that young people, in particular, are more at risk from the effects of missing social engagement than they are from superbugs and viruses. So returning to school is a significant step forward in our society’s return to normal, or finding the balance of ‘new normal’ that tomorrow holds.

There are, of course, other benefits and knock-on effects I could mention here: but I’d be interested to know what you think; as parents, teachers or students?