Although it’s only the week before Easter, before you know it school will be out for the summer. When we were young many of us spent our summers hanging out with friends on stoops, in the park, at the beach or community pool, or, only if our parents or teachers insisted, in summer school. Today there is a dizzying array of summer programs available for enrollment for day, weeks, or months. These programs can help children improve academic, artistic or sports skills, enable them to travel globally, or give them the opportunity to perform community service locally and abroad. There are also many traditional sleep away camps that cater to every interest. Faced with so many choices, the impulse to throw up your hands and send your children out to play for two months can be strong. But now is the time to focus on what your children will be doing this summer, and lock in their plans.
While it may be tempting to let your children wile away the summer, studies show that the learning loss which occurs during summer breaks can have a tremendous impact on their progress when they return to school in the fall. According to the National Summer Learning Association at Johns Hopkins University, all children lose about 2.6 months of math computational ability over the summer when they do not engage in summer learning activities. Similar findings have been made with respect to the loss of reading skills over the summer. The loss is greater for children from a lower socio-economic background and alone accounts for half of the achievement gap between students from lower and higher socio-economic backgrounds.
An easy way to avoid this loss in reading skills is to ensure that your children read lots of books over the summer. Local public libraries often sponsor summer reading groups and reading contests in house and on line to encourage children with summer reading. For example, the New York Public Library has a website, www.summerreadingnys.org, filled with fun reading related activities for toddlers through teens. This site also includes resources for parents to help children keep reading throughout the summer.
Summers are also good times to let your children explore areas of interest in greater depth. In an earlier GCP post, Dr. Tammy Mann, Executive Director of the Frederick D. Patterson Research Institute at the United Negro College Fund, described using summer programs to encourage her children to explore areas (both academic and artistic) in which they’d shown an interest during the school year. Alternatively, your child can use a summer program to try things he or she has never tried before. Mann notes that researching these programs for your children takes time and effort: “It takes a lot of work—you have to look around to see what is out there and make sure that your children are able to take advantage of whatever opportunities exist. Knowing your children, and being tuned in and attentive to what will spark their imaginations are key.”
Fortunately, there are advisory services to help you sort through the choices of summer camps and enrichment programs. Two such services recommended by GCP are The Summer Lady and Tips on Trips and Camps. Ann and Dick Travis of The Summer Lady (www.thesummerlady.com) have relationships with hundreds of camp programs and can help you choose a program that best suits your child’s interests. Barb Levison and the other advisors from Tips on Trips and Camps (www.tipsontripsandcamps.com) can also help you choose from a wide array of programs to find the right one for your child. Both services are free, and provide personal one-on-one advising to help you find the camp, pre college enrichment program, language immersion, community service, or other specialty program your child would enjoy. These services contact the camps or programs which interest you and your child, arrange for them to send you additional materials, and advise you on making a choice.
The important thing is to be proactive and focus on it now, as even the local daily summer programs are beginning to fill up. Many families begin the summer camp investigation as early as January to ensure the maximum number of options for their children. It is not too late to start, but it is time to get going.