Dating from a time when many Americans earned their living as farmers, summer break was designed to give children a time to help out during the most important growing season. Even though fewer families farm today, the summer break tradition is here to stay. Today children enjoy the yearly chance to spend time outside, hang out with their friends and take a break from academics.
Many parents, however, feel a little conflicted about summer break. They want their children to have a chance to enjoy their vacation, but they also want to make sure that their children are ready for a strong start to the next school year.
The Problem of Summer Learning Loss
Researchers have found that when students stop learning for an extended period of time, they experience a phenomenon called summer learning loss. A three-month hiatus from school can cause students to forget hard-earned knowledge and get behind academically. When children return to school after a long hiatus, they find themselves struggling to catch up to peers who have stayed mentally engaged over the summer. Left unchecked, the effect tends to be cumulative, knocking children back more and more every year.
Children who experience summer learning loss risk not understanding new concepts and can even fall behind their peer group.
How Summer Camps Combat Summer Learning Loss
As a parent, you don’t have to accept academic backsliding as an essential part of the summer break. Researchers have found that keeping children engaged mentally can help to slow and even reverse summer learning loss. Non-profit organization Reading Is Fundamental discovered that summer enrichment programs cut in half the percentage of students who lose ground in reading comprehension over the summer. In a pilot program of 33,000 elementary school students, they discovered that summer enrichment programs help 57 percent of the children become better readers.
Summer camps and enrichment programs are the best way for children of all backgrounds to retain information and keep their brains challenged over the summer.
Here are 6 ways we've found that summer day camps help prevent summer learning loss in children.
1. They Offer Differentiated Instruction
No two children learn in exactly the same way. Since summer camps bring children of diverse ages and levels of experience together to develop the same skill, it's even more critical to allow children to choose their own pace and work according to their preferred style of learning.
Differentiated learning, already a central tenet of the Montessori education, is just as critical in a summer enrichment camp, where instructors have to be able to adapt their teaching to the needs of each child.
When children have the opportunity to learn hands-on about robotics, crafts and science in a summer enrichment program, instructors are able to easily assess children’s levels and shape the camp curriculum to match the level of each child. Freed from the academic pressure students often put on themselves, higher-level students also reinforce their own learning by taking on the role of mentors for peers who are less advanced. For example, in Whitby’s summer Minecraft camp, experienced players are often found teaching tactics to other students.
2. They Encourage Kids to Apply Their Academic Knowledge to the Real World
Most children don’t realize how much summer camp activities draw on what they’ve learned in school. For example, learning a craft such as knitting encourages children to use their mathematics knowledge and complex problem solving abilities to accomplish a practical skill. Playing soccer challenges them to assess a developing situation and make the best decision about which subsequent move to take. Learning chess makes children learn to think strategically in high-stress situations.
We’ve found that children in summer day camps will throw themselves into learning when they see how important it is to the project they want to complete. There’s nothing better than a 3D printing project gone awry to reinforce the importance of fractions and percentages!
When kids partake in summer enrichment programs, they are often faced with challenges they've never experienced before. During their summer camp, they'll ask (and solve) questions like:
- How can I program a robot to perform simple tasks?
- How do I build a website?
- How do I achieve balance and harmony on an art canvas?
- How can I defend my king from an opponent's move?
With the mental freedom inherent in summer, we’ve observed that kids put less pressure on themselves to find the one correct answer. As a result, they lose their fear of failure and come up with more inventive and creative solutions. If one approach doesn't work, they simply try a different approach the next time.
4. They Give Children a Chance to Move
According to a recent study conducted at the University of Illinois, Champaign-Urbana, students with a high level of physical activity had thinner gray matter than their more sedentary peers. Since thinner gray matter has been linked with stronger math skills, there’s evidence that physical movement can help kids perform better academically.
During the academic year, it's harder to incorporate enough physical activity into the average school day. Summer day camps can give parents a chance to choose a classroom-based activity for half the day, and an outdoor activity for the other half. Full-day programs often take advantage of the weather to combine active play with engagement in learning activities.
5. They Reinforce Knowledge Learned During the School Year
The best summer camps create a bridge between information kids learn in the classroom and the activities they participate in during the day camp. As an example, summer camps can promote knowledge of other cultures through art and design. They can also help students connect their STEAM knowledge with real life applications such as 3D printing, web design or film-making.
When the skills children learn in the hands-on environment of summer camp compliment what they learn in the classroom, kids have less of a chance to forget what they learn during the school year. Researchers have found that the best way to turn information into long-term memory is to repeat key bits of knowledge over time. When summer camps reinforce the knowledge that kids learn in school, children don't have an opportunity to experience summer learning loss.
6. They Promote Whole Child Development
Summer enrichment programs promote hands-on learning with plenty of time for students to create and play. They also help children develop their emotional and social intelligence as they make new friends and work collaboratively. Finally, summer camps give kids a chance to pursue their passions and learn in new ways. In many cases, summer day camps are so fun that kids don't even realize how much they're learning.
The Bottom Line: Summer Camps Should Keep Kids Learning
Just because summer is a break from school, it doesn't have to be a break from learning. By signing your child up for a summer day camp, you can give them a chance to immerse themselves in an activity that interests them, while keeping their brain engaged.
Whether your child enjoys soccer, Minecraft, creating art or robotics, summer enrichment camps are a great way to help them retain what they've learned during the school year and keep their minds sharp.