The Benefits Of Summer Programs For Children

The Benefits of Summer Programs for Children

Summer programs for children can provide many benefits, yet equal access is often a challenge. Child and Family Social Workers, who often work with families and children in multicultural urban communities, can help increase access to quality summer programs for children who can benefit most from them.

Summer programs benefit children by supporting consistent achievement of developmental milestones, improving social skills through continued contact with other children and adults, providing a positive outlet for energy and emotions, and decreasing the “summer slide” which negatively impacts learning.

Who is attending summer programs?

The need for quality summer programs for children is getting more attention, as noted in The New York Times, Education Week, and a 2011 report published by the RAND Corporation, all of which emphasize that such programs help bridge the summer educational gap.

According to the National Association of State Boards of Education, 75 percent of U.S. students don’t participate in any summer learning programs, despite evidence that supports the benefits. Those who do attend often come from families with higher incomes. These parents may enroll their children in various learning enrichment programs, including summer camps, which may even include summer tours.

Children who may benefit most from summer programs are disadvantaged children from low-income families, who are found to lose more academic and social development over the summer than those from higher-income families. Researchers theorize that such students don’t have the same level of support available to maintain their progress over the summer months. In addition, such programs are highly beneficial to disabled children who can benefit from a structure that is tailored to their individual needs. Unfortunately, the cost of summer programs, which can be prohibitive for low-income families or those with other financial burdens, often acts as a barrier for the children who would benefit from them the most.

What defines a summer learning program?

In the past, summer learning was associated with low-achieving students sitting through hours of “catch-up” material while their higher-achieving friends enjoyed carefree hours of summer leisure. But today, summer learning programs exist in many different forms and are based on purpose, provider, requirements for attendance, length and setting.

According to the NASBE Guide, “summer learning programs” differ from the traditional “summer school.” The RAND reportcites nine elements that are common to quality summer learning programs:

  1. Smaller class size (no more than 20 students per class)
  2. Differentiated instruction
  3. High-quality instruction
  4. Curriculum aligned with school year
  5. Comprehensive programming
  6. Comprehensive programming
  7. Encouraging and supporting high attendance rates
  8. Appropriate duration of the program
  9. Parental involvement
  10. Effective evaluations

Quality regarding curriculum, staffing, practice standards and quality assessment tools vary depending on funding types, program focus and whether there is a connection to an umbrella organization. In 2009, the National Summer Learning Association launched the New Vision for Summer School Initiative that developed nine effective summer program principles to guide quality summer learning programs.

How do we get kids into summer programs?

In many states, local efforts to get kids into summer programs have been more active than initiatives at the state level. But state-level awareness and intervention is beginning to take hold, as state boards of education are embracing the New Vision for Summer School: Nine Principles as a comprehensive template for development. In addition, the Wallace Foundation is in the midst of a $50 million summer learning initiativeto improve and evaluate summer programs for learning in six cities across the country through 2014: Boston; Cincinnati; Dallas; Duval County, Florida; Pittsburgh; and Rochester, New York.

Social Workers can help connect families with these resources in a variety of ways. According to a Wallace Foundation Report, cost and proximity are key factors regarding summer programs for children from low-income, urban families. In addition, such programs are difficult to find, since information is usually not concentrated in one place.

To increase access, Community Social Workers can help support and improve such programs, while Child and Family Social Workers can work with individual families to gather resources and provide information about available programs, funding options for attendance and provide additional support. Together, the combined efforts of those who care about children will result in improved access to quality summer programs that benefit all by making the most of the summer months.

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