The break between school years can be a long one for parents and trying to determine the best way for your child to spend it has its challenges. Do you keep them home and try to entertain them between meetings, or send them off to a sleepaway camp? Perhaps summer school is an option you’ve thought about, but aren’t quite sure exactly what it entails or if it’s the right choice for your kid.
Summer school is an academic program that kids can attend over their summer break. While day camps usually include activities like swimming, hiking, or playing group games, summer school has dedicated time for reading, writing, and math. It might not be exactly like the school year, though. Some summer programs have fun activities in the afternoons and frequent field trips as well as book learning.
Parents who are considering summer school for their child might want their kid to get extra academic support or they might just want to keep the learning going. Summer school can make a big difference for kids who are struggling so that they enter the new school prepared and confident. Other kids benefit just as much from taking a break from the school routine.
Summer school has benefits and drawbacks. Read on to learn more about whether summer school is the right choice for your child.
Signs Your Child May Need to Go to Summer School
If your child is struggling academically, they may benefit from a structured summer school program. “With the COVID-19 pandemic, many students have fallen behind with their learning,” says Elizabeth Fraley, MEd., CEO of Kinder Ready, a program that prepares students for private schooling. “Many parents are looking into summer school to help their children bounce back from learning deficiencies.”
Here are some signs that your child may need to go to summer school.
They’re Behind in Math
Math is a subject that builds on the basics. It grows progressively more complex, and each new skill requires kids to draw on their previous knowledge.
If your child has not mastered their multiplication, or times tables, for example, trying to complete long division problems may prove to be more difficult. “After grade three, the intensity of math increases, and most of the remedial work I see with students is actually around third grade or later,” notes Fraley. “Math is very important to master as it only increases in intensity as students age up.”
Summer school allows your child to catch up or get extra support in the areas they need it most in, allowing them to enter the next grade with more confidence.
They Need Help With Executive Functioning Skills
Summer school isn’t limited to purely academic subjects. If your child has trouble keeping their desk clean, often forgets to do their homework, or can’t seem to carry through with studying for a test, summer school might help them improve their executive functioning skills.
“Students need support with staying organized, and through a summer program they will get more time to keep their coursework organized and work in their assignment book to prioritize and plan for both long- and short-term assignments, tests, and projects,” says Fraley.
They Struggle With Reading
In kindergarten and first grade, students are mastering the ability to read. As they progress through school, they need to make the shift from learning to read to reading to learn.
If your child is reading below grade level, summer school can help them catch up. “Learning to read and being a skilled reader usually is more time intensive compared to other subject areas like math, science, or social studies,” notes Fraley. “Reading has so many components that students need to master including vocabulary, comprehension, sight words, phonics, and fluency.”
Reasons For Summer School
Summer school has many benefits for kids.
Helps Kids Catch Up on Basic Skills
As the rest of the class progresses from unit to unit, students who haven’t mastered previous content can fall more and more behind. This might lead to low self-esteem and compound the problem.
Summer school can help your child practice and refine their basic skills so that they can keep up with the pace of the next grade. “With more focused practice through direct instruction and independent practice, students can make the gains necessary to likely reach grade level or show improvements across the board,” says Fraley.
Keeps the Learning Going
Whether or not your child is behind in school, it is important for them to keep practicing.
“Learning should be year-round,” says Allen Lee, the principal of John Yehall Chin Elementary School in San Francisco with 24 years of experience as an administrator. “In many classrooms, teachers and students have to grapple with learning loss during the first couple of months of each school year. Summer school, which does not necessarily have to be for the whole summer, can mitigate or even eliminate the learning loss.”
Summer school does not have to be the only way for learning to continue over the summer. “If parents [or] guardians can provide their child(ren) opportunities to continue their learning during the summer, then I do not think that summer school is necessary for this child,” notes Principal Lee. “Parents [or] guardians, despite their best efforts, often can’t spend a lot of time with their child even during the summer due to their busy work schedules. In that case, I do think the parents [or] guardians should enroll their child in some sort of summer school.”
Teens Can Stay on Track for Graduation
Older students will need to take and pass a certain number of credits in order to graduate on time. They will also generally need to pass a certain level in subjects such as math or foreign language. Taking a summer school class or two can help teens make sure that they complete the required amount of credits, especially if they have failed or withdrawn from any classes.
It can also be a good way for them to get ahead if they want to pursue dual enrollment classes or have an extra free period to work on college applications or military enlistment plans.
Reasons Against Summer School
While there are benefits for some, summer school is not the best choice for all children. It is important to consider the possible drawbacks of summer school when deciding whether to your child sign up or not.
Not all Programs Are High Quality
Just because a program is called summer school does not guarantee that it is a high-quality program. Kids learn best from meaningful hands-on activities. “If it only involves lots and lots of dittos and nothing else, [it] will probably turn children off to learning,” says Principal Lee. “Do your research before you sign up for something! When in doubt, you can always try consulting with your child’s current teacher to see what they think.”
Some Kids Just Need a Break
More academics is not always better. Filling in the time off from school with more school might be too much for some kids and lead to overwhelming. “Summer is a time where kids need to be kids and recharge and regroup before the school year,” says Fraley. “Students need time to transition before the school year.”
If your child seems stressed or overwhelmed by school, you might want to sign them up for a fun summer camp to let them decompress. For some kids, taking time off allows them to refresh and focus better the following school year. There’s also always the option of doing summer school for just part of the summer.
Summer School Might Not Target Social Skills Enough
Social and emotional learning is just as important as academics. It’s important to consider which areas your child needs the most support in. “For certain children who can stand making more growth on their social skills, a summer day camp may be more beneficial than summer school,” says Principal Lee.
Deciding What’s Right For Your Child
When it comes to whether or not your child should attend summer school, there is no right or wrong answer. Every child is different and has unique needs. Ultimately, you know your child best and you are the only person who can decide whether summer school is the right choice for them.
But, you don’t have to make this decision alone. It is a good idea to consult with your child’s educator or pediatrician to help you weigh out the pros and cons of summer school.
A Word From Verywell
Summer school is an academic program that takes place during summer break. It might be purely academic or it might include recreational activities as well. Kids who are behind in basic subjects, at risk of not graduating, or need to work on their executive functioning skills might benefit from summer school. It is also a way for all kids to help bridge the learning gap over the summer and prevent learning loss.
Not all kids will thrive in summer school, though. Some kids really need some time off from a school setting to feel refreshed and ready for the new school year. If the summer school is not high-quality, it may do more harm than good. If social skills are more of a concern than academics, summer camp might be a better fit than summer school.
At the end of the day, you know your child best. You can always consult with their teacher or pediatrician if you have questions about what’s best for your kid.