Summer Learning / Ages 2-13

The Busy Family’s Guide to Summer

Summer vacation: that time of year kids look forward to and parents and caregivers dread, because, well, there’s no school. From how to avoid summer learning loss to how to find an affordable camp, here’s what we know.

Oh, summer. It brings to mind long, lazy days and kids running through the sprinklers or hitting up the neighborhood pool. Whether your child is outdoorsy or prefers reading with air conditioning, summer vacation is a special time.

It’s also especially stressful for parents—in that suddenly you have to find fresh childcare to cover your working hours, because we know “summer vacation” isn’t usually a thing for grown-ups.

You're probably wondering how to make sure your child stays safe, busy, and out of your hair during these long weeks without school. You might be thinking about how to keep their brain turned on, too. 

Here’s what you need to know as you make a summer plan:

  • Summer learning loss is real. Many students lose about two months of learning in reading and math over the summer—and it can take about six weeks at the start of the next school year to get caught up. In fact, summer learning loss accounts for two-thirds of the reading gap between higher- and lower-income ninth graders.
  • But a little learning goes a long way. It doesn’t take a lot of learning to prevent the summer slide, though. And “learning” doesn’t have to be a chore, expensive, or even all that time consuming. A couple hours a week of any brain-engaging activity—like reading a book!—can be enough to prevent learning loss. A great summer learning goal is to read five books. Any five! And don’t forget to include some math in your summer learning, too—here are some apps and games we recommend.
  • The library is your best friend. Your local library probably has a summer reading program that offers recommended books, activities, and prizes—so make sure your child is signed up! (Pro tip: Some libraries even offer summer reading programs for adults, so you can learn alongside your kid.) Also on offer from the library: movies, audiobooks, games and puzzles, internet access, and—sometimes best of all—air conditioning.
  • Family adventures don’t have to be fancy to be unforgettable. At the start of summer vacation, sit down as a family and come up with a list of summer adventures. These could be outings (a trip to the beach, a museum visit, a free concert in the park) or things you can do right at home (baking a cake, reading a novel together, planting flowers). Think about anything your family might enjoy together that feels different from your usual school-year routine. Have the kids keep track of the list, and aim to check off one adventure every week. Even with limited free time, special outings will introduce new learning opportunities that might not show up in your regular routines at home.
“At the start of summer vacation, sit down as a family and come up with a list of summer adventures. Even with limited free time, special outings will introduce new learning opportunities that might not show up in your regular routines at home.”

Of course, you’re probably going to need childcare. 

(If your kid isn’t old enough to stay home alone, of course.) Signing up for summer camp can feel like a cutthroat competition—and all the more so for the free or affordable programs. (And it’s wild how early you need to think about this. If it’s January, it’s time to start thinking about camp.)

Here’s what we recommend for finding affordable summer activities:

  • Neighborhood kid share. Do you have friends or neighbors with kids around the same age? Consider teaming up and sharing the childcare load by splitting days of the week or hours of the day. Better yet, if you know a responsible teen in the neighborhood, hire them to supervise for a reasonable hourly rate. Bonus if they have some cool athletic or art skills they can teach your kids, since younger kids love learning from the big ones.
  • City-run offerings. Private camps tend to fill up quickly and early, but summer programs run by local parks and recreation departments often have more openings, and they tend to be more affordable, too. Your school district might also offer affordable programming or summer programs aimed at students with special needs, so make sure you know what the options are in your area.
  • Churches, temples, and other houses of worship. Whether or not you consider yourself part of a faith community, many religious institutions offer reasonably priced summer programming that are open to the entire community.
  • The Y. The YMCA camps run a little pricier, but are still typically more reasonable than other options, and they tend to offer truly full-day programming that includes tons of arts and athletics, swimming, and more. Find your nearest Y here.
  • Boys and Girls Clubs. Like the Y, these aren’t free programs, but they do tend to be more affordable than many others. Find your nearest option here.

Finally, if you’re looking for online programs to fill the days between school and camp, here are a few we recommend:

  • Backyard Camp. This is a weekly newsletter with simple activities that are tailored for your child’s age, interests (like sports, arts, etc.), and whether you live in a house or a building. It’s totally free, but you do have to set up an account.
  • Outschool. These are virtual courses on everything under the sun (seriously, whatever your child is interested in...there’s a class for that). Cost varies, but it’s generally in the $10-$50 range.
  • PBS Kids. You already know PBS. Their excellent apps offer a wide range of games and videos featuring your children's favorite characters. Check out the "Parents" section of the website for hands-on activities to extend your child's learning, too.

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