The inescapable 'Four Phases of School Holidays'

The four phases of the school holidays.
The four phases of the school holidays.  Photo: iStock

As school resumes, it's time for parents to step back and assess how they managed The Four Phases of School Holidays.

Did you, for instance, spend a little too long hanging around in Phase 3Three (Anger), trying unsuccessfully to get a foot in the door of Phase Four (Resignation)? Or did you pull off the unthinkable - an entire holiday cocooned in a Phase Two (Harmony) bubble?

For me, it was a textbook journey through the phases, though we did linger for five breezy days in Phase Two - a first for our family. Let's take a walk through the Four Phases of School Holidays.


Just as the joy of a warm late April day can be tainted by apprehension at the bitter winter you know will soon follow, the final week of freedom before the school holidays is often marred by a gnawing sense of dread, compounded by ones' guilt at feeling this way about spending time with their own precious offspring.

This phase reaches its apogee around 4pm after school break-up, as your children begin inexplicably lobbing psychic nail bombs at one another, neatly confirming all your worst fears about what lies ahead. I began these winter holidays feeling quite pleased with myself for having gone a full seven days without yelling at any family members. Within half an hour of the official beginning of the school holidays, I had emitted a deep, guttural howl more commonly associated with predatory animals than middle aged women in tortoiseshell frames.

The children cried and I no longer felt pleased with myself.


The most desirable phase and hence the hardest to reach and the most difficult to maintain. After the shock and despair of the first 24-48 hours, you fall into a peaceable rhythm that feels and looks a lot like straightforward contentment.


Age gaps between siblings melt away, cities of Lego spring up over the course of golden afternoons punctuated with self-made indoor picnics and quiet reading . Adults are free to continue their paid work at home, the pleasant hum of happy children in the background an unexpected and welcome accompaniment.


And just like that the white dove of peace exits the building, the sibling age gap again assumes the distance of the Nullarbor Plain , and the Lego town is furiously disassembled. Accusations fly, tears flow hot and free, and petty matters assume the importance of life and death.

This phase usually begins when the younger sibling realises that the older sibling has been hoarding all the good Lego people, and giving them all the headless ones . Like departed souls in limbo, caught between two worlds, panicked parents scramble to retrace their steps back to Phase Two (Harmony). It never works: the past, as Elsa said, is in the past.


Even Rasputin, having survived multiple attempts on his life, eventually drowned, weighed down by chains. Phase Four of the school holidays feels a bit like this.

At the beginning of the holidays, for example, you may have resolved not to spend any money on paid activities. In Phase Two (Harmony)  this stance is vindicated: "They don't need to do any costly activities, look how happy they are with their Lego village!".

In Phase Four, stances of any sort no longer exist.  You take your children ice skating, trampolining, out to lunch, and to an animals-in-action show. You buy them new pencils, in the hope that the path back to Phase Two (Harmony) might still be reached via a new box of watercolours. Every purchase brings you closer to a peptic ulcer, as during Phase Four working from home becomes impossible, what with all the racing to and from ice rinks and sushi shops; the money going out is not coming back in.

Phase Four is not without it's upside, though, as it comes at the end of the holidays, when the promise of a new term is just around the corner, and the light begins to shine through the cracks.

With the four main phases done, we now find ourselves in the final, unofficial mini-phase: delusion. On the last Sunday of the holidays, it's time to wack on your rose-tinted lenses. As you gaze forlornly at the pile of lunchboxes that will soon need daily filling and watch your children, your beautiful maddening children, argue over who can claim ownership of the basketball ring in the newly rebuilt Lego town, you think to yourself "Actually, I don't want the holidays to end".

And this, friends, is the surest sign of all that it is time for the holidays to end.