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UMN community speaks on benefits, drawbacks of breaks from class

Lack of available research makes understanding the value of school breaks difficult.
Image by Mary Ellen Ritter

The University of Minnesota scheduled spring break for March 6-10 for its students this year, which is the only scheduled break in classes throughout the spring semester.

Many students, like third-year student Sora Kobayashi, use these breaks to catch up on sleep and relax.

“I can have a rest and no work,” Kobayashi said.

Other students, like third-year student Miral Yahia, said in addition to extra sleep, students have the opportunity to finish up incomplete school work.

Breaks allow students the freedom to catch up on sleep, get ahead on coursework or reunite with their families, according to Rhea Owens, an associate professor in the psychology department at the University of Minnesota-Duluth.

However, there is little research Owens knows of that breaks down the effects of breaks “systematically.”

“Given the limited research on this topic, this appears to be a fruitful area to study,” Owens said in a statement to the Minnesota Daily.

How beneficial are breaks?

The research available on this topic has found mixed results on the effectiveness of breaks on students, Owen said.

“A qualitative study conducted in Canada with university students found students reported a fall break to be helpful to recharge, recover from illness and catch up on sleep,” Owens said.

A different study found students reported experiencing more overall stress after fall break, despite reporting less stressors overall, according to Owens. However, students still support the idea of having a fall break.
Breaks give students the opportunity to do activities that bring them joy, as well as see family, which are both forms of mental health support, Owens said.

Some students, like first-year Miranda Piehl, said they think breaks from school can help students manage burnout while also allowing them to be at home with family.

“It gives us a chance to go home and see family, which is really nice,” Piehl said. “I haven’t personally been home, so it’s really cool to just be able to relax at home.”

According to Owens, the length of time it would take for a student to avoid burnout probably depends on the person, but the longer students are under stress, the more likely they are to experience burnout.

“It may be worthwhile for faculty and instructors to consider when they are scheduling assignments and due dates around breaks,” Owens said.

Owens said she wonders how having more frequent shorter breaks, like three-day weekends, in addition to one longer break could benefit students.

“Longer breaks likely make traveling and seeing family and friends more likely, which can be beneficial,” Owens said. “Shorter breaks offered more frequently might be helpful to allow students time to rest more often.”

The timing of spring breaks can differ

Not all colleges and universities across the country hold spring break at the same time. The University has held spring break on the first full week of March for at least the last two years.

Both Piehl and Kobayashi said they enjoy having spring break at this time since it marks the halfway mark of the semester.

Piehl said the University’s timing allows for easier trip planning for those who like to travel over break because not as many people are on break.

“It’s easier for planning trips. I know in the past, the later [break] is, then the more common the week is, and it’s really hard to book things,” Piehl said.

Other students like Yahia said they would not mind if the break was moved to be later in the month.

“I wish it were a little later, so we could hang with family, if you’ve got family with spring break at the same time,” Yahia said.

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