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Finding a Great Summer Program: A Checklist for Parents

Early and sustained summer learning opportunities lead to higher graduation rates, better preparation for college, and positive effects on children's self-esteem, confidence, and motivation. High-quality summer programs keep students engaged in learning, teach them new skills, allow them to develop previously unseen talents, and foster creativity and innovation.

What should parents look for in a high-quality summer program?

  • Balanced programming with daily opportunities for reading, math, cultural enrichment, and recreation
  • High-interest, engaging activities
  • Positive interaction between kids and caring adults
  • A safe, structured learning environment
  • Personalized attention / Low student-to-staff ratios
  • Bilingual staff to support English language learners
  • In specialized camps, such as those for students with learning disabilities, trained staff that includes psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, teachers, or speech and language pathologists

Parents sometimes have to choose a summer program months before having the chance to visit. What questions can parents or guardians ask ahead of time to help discern the quality of a summer program, and the appropriateness for their child's needs and interests?

  • What is the program's mission? How long has the program been in existence?
  • How is a typical day/week organized? How will children spend their time?
  • What are the program hours and dates? Is before or after care available?
  • Will my child be able to get physical exercise, opportunities for cultural enrichment, and practice reading, math, and other skills? Will my child have an opportunity to choose some of his/her activities?
  • How does the program assess or track each child's progress? What evidence does the program have to show past results?
  • How does the program promote positive interaction between youth and staff?
  • What is the typical experience of the staff members who will work with my child? What training does the staff receive?
  • What does the program do to ensure a safe and healthy environment?
  • Does the program provide healthy food or snacks?
  • How does the program involve families? What type of communication can families expect?
  • How does the program accommodate children with special needs (learning or physical disabilities, those with allergies)
  • Does the program offer scholarships or financial aid? How do I know if I qualify?

The best programs focus on developing the whole child — intellectually, socially, physically, and emotionally — so that he or she is prepared for both the present and the future. For more information about what makes a summer learning program successful, visit www.summerlearning.org.

National Summer Learning Association (2008)

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