Let the Learning Continue

Summer Camps Help Bridge Academic Years

While many children look forward to the summer as a time of unstructured free play, many parents worry that, well, summer is a time of unstructured free play.  Specifically, there is concern in many families that once school is out, school is forgotten until the fall, and that lessons are lost. 

Enter summer camps, many of which are providing a range of ways for children to continue learning – and to continue loving learning.

The Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket runs one particularly innovative program that we learned about last summer.  They approached the Pawtucket School Department about forming a partnership to prevent summer learning loss.  The resulting program enrolled sixty rising middle school students at Camp Ramsbottom and Sun-n-Fun, ACA-accredited camps run by the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket.  Participants spent an hour in the morning and an hour in the afternoon with a teacher from the Pawtucket School Department reading two books; in between, they took part in camp activities related to what they were reading, led by youth development and adventure counselors.  The chosen books – Chasing Redbird, by Sharon Creech, and Jeremy Fink and the Meaning of Life, by Wendy Mass – dealt with issues like loss, identity, and relationships.  Chosen based on recommendations by local librarians, the books also incorporate plenty of material that could be turned into summer camp activities: pioneering, trail hiking, teambuilding, and visiting zoos and museums. 

In addition to keeping kids’ minds active and engaged, Joe Tomchak at the Boys & Girls Club of Pawtucket wrote, “campers had opportunities to develop socially and emotionally, to build relationships with caring adults, to learn outdoor skills and environmental appreciation, as well as to develop friendships with peers, and respect for people with different backgrounds.”

The program was funded by the Nellie Mae Education Foundation. “Summer learning is much more important than most people think,” said Stephanie Cheney, Senior Grants Manager at the Nellie Mae Education Foundation.We’re excited to support summer camps and other organizations that are strategically working with public school systems to design fun, dynamic programs that ultimately mitigate summer learning loss. The fact is that learning takes place year round, in many different environments. Summer programs are important, as they can help increase learning outcomes for all students, not just the ones whose families possess the means to engage in enriching activities outside of school. Support for these programs can also help start the important conversations that need to be had about how schooling is organized for everyone.”

Lots of ACA-accredited day camps are based on independent school campuses, which means that they have access to academic facilities, even if they don’t offer academic programs.  Greg Jutkiewicz, director of Concord Academy Summer Camp, said, that they offer specialty camps that make use of the fact of being school-based, as in ‘Bridging Math and Art Using Technology,’ as well as some robotics camps.  “I believe ‘academic lessons’ can exist in all sorts of forms, and the ‘social lessons’ of making friends, solving your own problems, learning from a young adult, dealing with emotions – as many camp people will say, I know I learned more in the summers than I did during the school year.”

Emily Parker, director of Nobles Day Camp, agreed.  “Our camp doesn’t have an academic component,” she said, “but what camp can do is make kids excited about learning.  We don’t have the pressure of standardized tests or grades on us, so kids can really explore different choices on a daily basis.  Because we’re school-based, they have access to some amazing facilities.  We can offer photography and drama and all sorts of activities like that.”  Summer camp can support kids’ efforts in school by helping them learn to live in a community and work and play together. 

Staff at ACA-accredited camps can tell you about their favorite ‘teachable moments.’  A staff member at one camp in New Hampshire recalled that "a few years ago, we traveled to another camp for a track meet.  One of our better runners found a butterfly lying on the ground; several of the younger campers gathered around as he explained that it was a Mourning Cloak, identifiable by its dark underside.  Then, he won the 800 meter event.  And now he’s studying at Oxford.  Having graduated from Harvard." 

At Moose Hill Nature Camp last summer, one of several ACA-accredited camps run by Mass Audubon, groups playing games in the pine forest noticed a lot of birds making some loud noises.  Upon further inspection, staff discovered a Cooper’s hawk nest with fledglings.  Director Kay Andberg said that they “showed the kids how to avoid that area for the next few days and weeks, but we also quietly watched from a close distance.  It was a wonderful time to get to observe the hawks, and show the kids how the parents both protect their young and teach the fledglings independence.” 

Camp can foster interest in future academic pursuits – certainly, being outdoors might create a fascination with scientific observation.  Camps in New England regularly participate in loon and butterfly counts during the summer, and campers have access to a plethora of flora and fauna to study, not to mention field trips to local museums, zoos, mines, mountains, starry nights, and bodies of water. 

Finally, the American Camp Association has established a partnership with the National Summer Learning Association, which provides services to communities, school districts, and programs to support efforts to make quality summer learning programs accessible to youth. Encourage camps with which your family is affiliated to look into their resources.

To learn more about finding camps that might help your child bridge the academic years, click here.