June 19 is National Summer Learning Day, a time to reflect on what summer learning means and what summer learning loss implies. In a March 2009 interview in support of year-round schools with OnPoint Radio, U.S Secretary of Education Arne Duncan referred to summer vacation as “an inexplicable, counterproductive, anachronism that takes youth out of an educational setting for two to three months every year” (Duncan, 3/5/2009). He went on to imply a year-round school year would remedy the losses reflected in self-confidence, and most notably, test scores.
As a father and CEO of the American Camp Association® (ACA), I know that there is a way for children to avoid the dreaded summer learning loss while also gaining new skills, forging new friendships, and most importantly, having fun. There is a place our children can go to have valuable life experiences, to grow as individuals, and to become better versions of themselves. That places exists, and it’s called camp.
As a former teacher, I cannot dispute the facts about summer learning loss, but it wasn’t until the fall of 2014 that the concept hit me on a personal level. At a parent/teacher conference, my daughter’s second grade teacher presented my wife and me with a line graph. This graph displayed my daughter’s academic growth through the years, and I couldn’t help but notice something peculiar. The graph, which indicated consistent improvement throughout, featured a small section where my daughter’s growth seemed to stall.
I pointed to that flat segment of the graph and asked her teacher what that plateau symbolized. She answered; ‘This line represents what happens to kids in June, July, and August. The scores indicate that your daughter’s learning process did not progress during these summer months. For many children the process doesn’t just stall, it slumps.”
We were happy to hear that our daughter’s traditional learning process didn’t regress. To us, however, this excellent educator was missing a huge point. We believe there are more things to learn beyond what is taught in school. Because we are committed to the growth of our children’s whole selves, my wife and I send our daughters to camp during the months they are not in school.
Children spend the majority of the year in the classroom, training their brains to learn in a specific way for up to ten months at a time. These young minds grow accustomed to this kind of stimulation, and then suddenly it’s over. During the months that make up summer vacation, some children who are no longer exposed to the daily rigors of the classroom experience a downward slide in performance that becomes evident when they return to school in the fall.
Research consistently shows that engagement in positive out-of-school activities can predict academic success. Students come away with higher test scores, attendance, homework completion rates, and grades. Even better, greater involvement in extracurricular activities is also associated with better academic adjustment, social and emotional competencies, and a positive peer context (Fredricks & Eccles, 2006). In short, stemming summer learning loss through out-of-school programs and activities isn’t just about ensuring higher test scores for children, it’s about developing the whole child.
We rely on schools to teach our children the proficiencies necessary to perform well academically. For life skills like resiliency and teamwork, skills that will make our children the best people they can be, that partnership, for us and millions of other parents, shifts to camp. In the summer, when children are away from school, camp can serve as the catalyst for their continued growth, while helping to avert summer learning loss and ensure future academic success.
Secretary Duncan himself recognized the educational benefits of summer camp experiences for children during a Q&A session at Columbia University’s Teacher’s College in October of 2009, clarifying his position on camp and similar programs from months before. He said; “This is not about replacing summer camp. I don’t worry about the kids that are going to summer camp. I worry about the millions of students who don’t have the resources to go to camps” (Duncan 10/22/2009).
The American Camp Association is committed to making camp experiences available for all children. In order to do this, ACA works with camps to provide camp scholarships so more children can go to camp. As we at ACA reflect on the positive impact that camp has on the development of a child, we urge you to do the same.
Consider how your children spend their summers, and ask yourself, how is my child learning? Are they growing, learning life skills beyond arithmetic and reading comprehension? What our children learn in and outside the classroom will have a lasting, positive impact on the rest of their lives. To commemorate this National Summer Learning Day, I will be dropping my children off at camp, where they will be exploring nature, conquering new heights, developing self-esteem, and gaining a sense of independence and community.
Tom Holland, former Chief Executive Officer for the American Camp Association.
Duncan, Arne (March 5, 2009). http://www.onpointradio.org/2009/03/education-secretary-arne-duncan
Duncan, Arne (October 22, 2009). Transcript of Major Policy Address. Columbia University Teachers College.
Fredricks, J. A., & Eccles, J. S. (2006). Is extracurricular participation associated with beneficial outcomes? Concurrent and longitudinal relations. Developmental Psychology, 42(4), 698-713.
Photo courtesy of Sanborn Western Camps in Florissant, CO.