Differences between America & Australia, Posts

Differences between America & Australia: School holidays

This is one for Captain Obvious but I can’t let this series go without discussing the differences between America and Australia in terms of School Holidays.

We’re off and running–my kids are finally back to school today–Wednesday, September 9 here in LA. They broke off school on June 10. Their last exam was June 8.

Yep, that’s three whole months—one quarter (or one fourth as the Americans like to say) of the year.

Here our holidays have nothing whatsoever to do with the terms. I find this totally weird because it’s different to how I went to school. The kids still find it strange—they have assessments and finish the term one day, then go back to school to start a new term the next day.  Not even a long weekend in between to catch their breath.

Apparently the number of school days in California is 175. This can drop to 170 for Charter Schools (sort of like a private public school but I don’t really get it. If you’re really interested you can click here to find out more). And it can drop to around 165ish at a private school. (Source).

So our year here in America looks like this:

Session one

Starts around Labour Day (I still can’t write Labor) which is the first Monday in September.

I don’t want to add up how many weeks it is cause it’ll kill me.  Let’s just say it’s around about three months.


We get two weeks at the end of the year.  They don’t call it a Christmas break here because even though they’re God loving it’s not politically correct to acknowledge the Christian calendar above all others.

Session two

Another few months of school.  Again, I really don’t want to add up the weeks as I find it horrendously long.

Holidays (Spring Break)

We can say Spring Break because it’s a season with no religious connotation.  We generally finish in mid March and come back on Easter Monday, although this year it’s a little different with Easter being in the middle of the holidays.  Here, there is no such holiday as Good Friday or Easter Monday, it’s a “business-as-usual” day for retail and business alike.

Session three

Another god knows how long few months until school breaks up in June and we get to have summer all over again.


Hooray! After three long sessions at school we need that long summer break.  I just wish we could break those “sessions” up and the holidays could coincide with the school terms.  Makes much more logical sense.

Year-Round Schedule

There are some school districts that are starting to introduce what they refer to as the Year-Round schedule—pretty much exactly like our holidays in Australia. Not surprisingly, with an entire industry devoted to the summer holidays there are many debates about whether it’s a good thing or a bad thing.

One of my friends who lives in Chandler, Arizona has a year-round schedule and she’s a huge fan. Who wouldn’t be?  Count me in.

Cut over to Australia

Yes, let’s cut back to Australia where we don’t even know there’s a name for our holiday system. We have approximately 200 school days a year, give or take. (Source: many a site as well as the Blog Teaching Challenges.)

To us we have four terms and a summer holiday. Our school year looks a little something like this:

Term one

Starts after Australia Day—either late January or early February

Around 10 weeks of school—sometimes 11 or 12 depending on when Easter falls and let me tell you one day over that 10 weeks is a killer.


We get two weeks over the Easter Break, usually starting on Thursday in time for Good Friday. Yes, in Australia we have public holidays for both Good Friday and Easter Monday making it our longest long weekend of the year. We love Easter.

Term two

Another 10 weeks of school.


Yippee! It’s the middle of the year and it’s time for a break again. This time the private schools generally get three weeks. Because my two went to single sex schools, meaning they’re at different schools, the three weeks doesn’t always match up.

Term three

Time to get back to the school year for another ten weeks of school.


It’s around late September, early October and there’s another break. If you’re lucky enough this one can also be around three weeks long (usually the private schools–the more you pay the less you go is a universal concept I think).

Term four

The business end of the year and generally another ten weeks of school.

Summer holidays

As summer is at the end of the year—December and January—it coincides with Christmas. The private schools usually finish on the first or second week of December giving them six-eight weeks off. There’s no time for camps but being a busy time of year there are plenty of Christmas positions available so many kids work. Then January is traditionally when everyone takes time off work and heads to the beach for some quality family time.


Which school year would you prefer?

I know I love my nice neat terms with a break in between to acknowledge the hard work that’s gone on through the term. Then when you come back it’s back to work. I also like the six-eight weeks: it never seems long enough but it is time to get back to school so it’s all good.

I guess it’s all a matter of what you grew up doing and enjoying. Except that we’ve got it right in Australia!

xx It Started in LA xx


PS:  Interested in what others around the world do? Here’s a website that outlines it. Quite interesting.

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  • Reply Kirsty Rice September 9, 2015 at 6:54 pm

    “The kids still find it strange—they have assessments and finish the term one day, then go back to school to start a new term the next day.” Yes! Still baffles me.

    • Reply ItStartedInLA September 9, 2015 at 7:39 pm

      Thank you!!! It’s the simple things that could make the biggest difference. Hope everything is ok in your world xxx

  • Reply Dee Kay September 9, 2015 at 9:56 pm

    One thing I’ve had to get used to in the states is how they perceive the word “holiday” – you use it as I grew up with it in Oz – holiday and vacation as synonymous. In the US, a holiday is something like Christmas, Halloween, Easter, Yom Kippur. A vacation is the two weeks off between terms. So they don’t have summer holidays, they have a summer vacation (though I should say “we” as I’ve lived in the States for 24 years now). I like the coincidence of holidays and vacations with the way the Southern Hemisphere aligns with Christmas in Summer.

    • Reply ItStartedInLA September 10, 2015 at 1:05 pm

      I love using the word holiday just to confuse ;-).

  • Reply Jess Berry April 19, 2017 at 1:50 am

    I’m an Australian teen and from watching tv and movies and talking to people I know in America I much prefer our system. 3 months off seems like a good idea in theory but I find 6-8 weeks long enough and I think I’d go out of my mind with a full 3 months off. Plus I’d die without my two weeks break between terms (sometimes they’re the only thing keeping me going). By the way thanks so much for writing this; I’m writing a story set in an American high school and I can’t tell you how hard that is when you don’t even understand their school system.

    • Reply ItStartedInLA April 24, 2017 at 10:23 am

      I agree Jess–two weeks off every 10 weeks is gold! Glad I can help and good luck with your story!

  • Reply Raewyn December 5, 2019 at 6:01 am

    I was googling the American school system compared to ours down under and I can say without a doubt that I would prefer ours for sure. The American one still confuses me a bit but thanks for the insight, I know i’m a bit late to party but this was actually the information i’ve always wondered about so this is just great! 🙂

    • Reply ItStartedInLA January 20, 2020 at 11:49 am

      Oh yeah, thanks for visiting and commenting!

  • Reply Todd S June 18, 2020 at 9:47 pm

    If an Australian student were to move to the US, when would they start a ‘new’ school year? Would they spend half their reguar school year in Australia (Terms One and Two) and then switch over for a full ‘school year’ in the US (September to June), or would they finish an Australian year in December, and then basically have eight months off before starting the next full school year in the US?

    • Reply Ana July 3, 2020 at 12:32 am

      As much as it might sound fun to have eight months off, I’d vote the first scenario, do terms 1 and 2 and then start the American school year in August/September. We deal with ‘summer slide’, being off for 3 months June July August is a lot of time for math skills etc to get rusty, it can be hard to get back up to snuff when school starts back. At home summer programs (or even paid programs) to keep kids reading etc for those 3 summer months become more and more popular, 8 months off would be a lot! You’d probably also take into consideration what grade you plan on entering when starting the American school year in September….would you be a half year ahead or a half year behind for that grade, having already finished terms 1 and 2? What you study in each grade could vary a lot from one school to the next depending on if you take advanced level classes, and a variety of other factors. Probably most important is talking to the school to sort out being placed in the grade that’s the best fit based on the student’s academic
      and social/age situation.

  • Reply khloe November 13, 2020 at 11:08 pm

    I have a friend in Australia and as an American, their school system makes absolutely no sense to me! Thank you for sharing!!

  • Reply Leah Knowling February 12, 2021 at 7:45 am

    I was just wondering about the US school terms and found your article. Very well written. Thankyou. BTW As an Aussie I think our school terms are much better and we are blessed that our seasons fit the calendar year better. However, we didn’t always have 4 terms (2 semesters). When I first went to school there was only 3 terms, possibly similar to US. I don’t really remember how long the holidays were though. They changed to 4 terms in 1981 in Qld and 1987 nationwide.

  • Reply Charlie E. July 27, 2022 at 6:07 am

    Hi! I’m not sure if you’ll see this cause this article was posted over a year ago. I’m from America and looking to go to uni in Australia. This article helped me a lot with understanding the school terms. However, what do you think the best term for me to enter would be, as an American. I’m so used to the start dates for uni being in august, but in Australia its typically February-march. I also know uni’s have different start terms, but i want to be able to kind of experience everything if that makes sense. I’m just having a hard time deciding what to do and the application process is quite confusing and having n help on it isn’t helping either.

  • Reply Roger November 8, 2022 at 9:38 pm

    I was wondering why Americans are so dumb, this makes alot of sense.

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