Ahhhh … summertime! The word conjures up dreamy thoughts of sun-filled days, barbeques, trips to the beach, and lots and lots of learning. Learning? YES, learning!

Teachers have long understood the value of ongoing education throughout the summer months. It keeps kids mentally engaged and helps guard against the “summer slump” — a learning loss that can occur when students take an extended break from school. Factor in the very concerning learning losses seen during the COVID-19 pandemic (the “COVID Slide”), and there’s never been a more vital time to keep the learning going than Summer 2021.

“This summer provides an excellent opportunity to reclaim some of what COVID-19 took away from students’ academic progress this past year,” said Carolyn Lucia, Managing Director of P12 Campuses at Fairmont Schools in Orange County, California. “Parents and educators have a chance to meet this moment in time by working toward reversing the trend. This summer matters.”

There are a host of things that can be done at home to keep kids educationally engaged during out-of-school time (OST). A quick internet search will yield dozens of great ideas. But for parents who are concerned that their children have actually fallen behind academically, or for those who are uneasy about how their kids will reconnect socially after being isolated, this is a good time to consider enrolling in proven summer school/summer camp programs. “When it comes to addressing the COVID Slide or tackling re-entry anxiety, parents need support. It’s not something they have to tackle on their own.” said Lucia.

According to the National Summer Learning Association, a nonprofit focused on increasing access to high-quality summer learning opportunities, “… this summer, more than ever, our highest priority must be on providing safe spaces with caring adults, and learning opportunities grounded in student interests that can re-spark their engagement, foster their recovery, and prepare them for returning to in-person learning in fall.”

So what should parents look for when choosing summer programs for kids? Let’s dive in.

Summer Programs for Kids: Emphasize Learning

“As a lifelong summer camp participant and professional, I can attest to the value summer camps offer to young people,” said Chris Keramidas, Director of Fairmont Schools’ Summer and Afterschool Programs. “But considering parents’ valid concerns about the learning loss which resulted from the pandemic, it’s particularly important this summer to look for a camp which offers more than just the traditional recreational activities. Parents should be seeking out summer programs for kids that incorporate a solid academic component.” As an example, Keramidas says that Fairmont’s camp includes a hands-on science lesson each day. “The kids are totally engaged and their curiosity is piqued. This allows us to weave in relevant scientific concepts during an activity. It’s kind of stealth, but kids walk away having learned something of value.”

But what about students who experienced a significant learning loss due to the pandemic? According to Kelly Robinette, Director of Data & Accountability at Fairmont Schools, a more concerted approach to academics, such as summer school, may be in order. Robinette, who steeps herself in metrics to understand student performance, said “Although Fairmont students held a steady course in their studies during the pandemic and thus avoided the pitfalls of the COVID Slide, it’s clear that a large percentage of students across the nation did not. I would counsel any parent who is concerned about their child’s academic progress to consider enrolling them in a fully-accredited, comprehensive summer school program this year. For parents whose students were fortunate enough to escape the COVID Slide, I would advocate for their kids taking a summer course or two to bolster their existing competencies and even get ahead in their studies.”

Summer Programs for Kids: Nurture Social and Emotional Wellbeing

After a year of screens and intermittent quarantines, parents and professionals alike have legitimate concerns about the social and emotional state our kids are in. Tom Rosenberg, president and CEO of American Camp Association (ACA), believes that summer camps may be just what the doctor ordered to help kids re-engage. “After such an isolating and traumatic year of disruption and loss, the [social and emotional learning] SEL outcomes that result from camp experiences will help young people prepare to thrive in school this fall.”

Jill Thomas, Licensed Marriage and Family Therapist and full-time counselor at Fairmont Schools, feels that this may be particularly true for kids who already struggle with social interaction, as well as those who are experiencing re-entry anxiety as a result of the pandemic. “It’s important that kids feel a sense of connectedness. The world of play — which is very much a part of the camp experience — is critical for children’s emotional growth. It helps them learn how to interact with each other and how to read social cues. It’s vital for their self-esteem and their happiness.”

Summer Programs for Kids: Be Safe

A safe environment is paramount in any summer program for kids. But because of COVID-19, safety is more of an issue now than ever before. Keramidas of Fairmont Schools suggests that parents only consider summer camps which are ACA-accredited, because they adhere to proven health and safety measures. A recent study surveyed 486 ACA camps nationwide and found that there were only 30 confirmed cases of COVID-19 among their 90,000 campers in 2020.

Enrolling your child in a summer school program? Be sure to understand the safety measures the school you choose has put in place. According to Kristen Jansen, Head of Fairmont Schools’ COVID Task Force, “Parents have every right to demand the safest environment possible for their kids. Ask questions. Is your school going beyond the ‘givens’, such as social distancing, temperature checks, and wearing masks? Have they invested in other things — above and beyond the basics — to mitigate spread of the virus, such as touchless bathroom fixtures or an upgraded air filtration system? Do they have a designated team of professionals which is constantly monitoring updated guidance from federal, state, and local authorities? A safe and healthy environment is of utmost importance — our children deserve nothing less.”

Summer Programs for Kids: Provide a Supportive Environment and Personalized Attention

The Weikart Center for Youth Program Quality, a thought-leader in OST, contends that an environment must be supportive in order for young people to feel empowered to learn and to lead. Kids thrive when caring adults are trained to ask, listen, and encourage. According to Gil Noam, Ed.D., founder and director of Partnership in Education and Resilience, “Creating caring, open and empathetic environments is crucial for young people’s development under normal circumstances and is even more critical under our current time of hardship. Facilitators must adopt the ‘know every child’ approach and take on more of a mentoring role for all their participants.”

The child to adult ratio plays a significant role in the ability to provide personalized attention, according to Fairmont’s Carolyn Lucia. “Even the most well-trained and well-intentioned camp counselor or summer school teacher will be at a deficit if they are greatly outnumbered by the children they are responsible for. So when looking for summer programs for kids, be sure to inquire about summer school and summer camp class/group sizes.”

Summer Programs for Kids: Have a Proven Track Record and Credentials

It’s been said that experience is the best teacher. If that’s the case, then a quality summer program is one that has stood the test of time. It’s also one that has undergone the scrutiny of being endorsed by the most reputable accrediting agencies.

Looking for a more traditional summer school experience? Fairmont’s elementary and middle school summer school programs build academic confidence, while reinforcing core reading, writing, and math skills. School/camp combinations are available for a full-day of learning and recreation. At the high school level, students can choose from a range of for-credit courses to help mitigate a learning loss, get a jump on next year, or boost their knowledge and transcripts. Small class sizes, exceptional teachers, and a robust learning platform set children up for success. Fairmont Schools is accredited by the Western Association of Schools and Colleges, and Cognia, and is a member of the National Association of Independent Schools.

Interested in learning more about how Fairmont can help you make the most out of this summer for your child? Visit here.