Ah, summer school. No, not the classic 80’s comedy, but if you’re looking for a movie to watch you can check out the trailer here.

Summer school is a program that provides lessons and activities during summer vacation. These are often used in elementary and middle school to help kids get back on track, including addressing those persistent learning gaps. Participation in summer school has been shown to have substantial learning benefits. A 2016 study, the largest ever study of summer learning, found that kids attending at least 20 days of a five to six-week (~75% attendance rate) summer program saw gains in Math and Reading that lasted until the end of the following school year. Even more impactful, the academic advantage for kids that attended at the same rate (at least 20 days) for a second summer saw gains in Math and Reading equal to 20-25% of a full school year of instruction.

In this post, we will explore why participation in summer schools isn’t more widespread and how parents can rethink this beneficial program.

In theory it sounds great; in practice parents’ lives are busy

Kids are typically recommended for summer school programs if they need additional practice to progress to the next grade level. One of the primary causes of the need for extra practice is chronic absenteeism during the school year. If kids struggle with chronic absenteeism during the school year, what’s to say that will change during the summer months?

For most parents, their working lives don’t stop during the summer. It often comes down to the age-old question of: "How do I juggle work and family?" So while the benefits of a summer school program may be understood, effective time management also plays a vital role because trying to get their kids to and from those programs can be difficult given the parents’ work schedules and a jam-packed family calendar of household events.

There is also the social stigma associated with summer school. Every parent wants what is best for their child, and sometimes it’s tough to accept that your child may need additional practice. Kids themselves can also have an aversion to summer programs because they don’t want to be made fun of by their peers.

Lastly, family schedules can make it tough to follow through on summer school programs. For some parents, summertime is a welcome break when they plan family vacations. Picture this, the summer is approaching, and you have spent a lot of time and money booking a much-deserved family vacation. And with only a few weeks left in the school year, your kid’s teacher tells you that your child would benefit from enrolling in summer school or that you may want to consider holding them back from advancing to the next grade level (where was the "heads up" during parent-teacher conferences, right?). Regardless, this can be incredibly frustrating and can put parents in quite a bind.

The right way to administer

According to the American Federation of Teachers, quality summer programs consist of the following components:

  1. Small class sizes: essentially, small class sizes allow for more individualized instruction and greater opportunities to differentiate based on needs
  2. Aligned to needs: This is especially true for literacy. Assignments that are aligned with a child’s needs and interests can provide the greatest benefits
  3. High-quality instruction: This includes qualified teachers based on grade level and subject-matter experience.
  4. Site culture: Unfortunately, some school settings are ripe for bullying and physical fighting. Being able to administer a summer learning program in an orderly setting can have an impact on the learning outcomes.
  5. Consistency: This goes back to our opening point about at least 20 days of participation within a 5 to 6-week program.
  6. Sufficient duration: Following on the consistency point, and drilling down deeper is the amount of actual instructional time. Some research recommends 70 total hours of instruction throughout the summer. Assuming a five to six-week program, that would equate to ~2 hours per day of instruction Monday through Friday or ~1.5 hours/day for an entire week.

The best of both worlds

The benefits of summer learning programs have been well documented. What’s also evident are the difficulties many parents experience when implementing a summer school program.

We believe that Beehive can offer a simple solution. With Beehive, parents can maintain flexibility in their lives, whether it be the working household or the family looking to take a break and travel during the summer months. Parents and kids can implement self-paced Growth Plans to help close learning gaps or to stay on track. And while we recommend at least 30 minutes per day 3-4x per week, nothing prevents families from accelerating this and putting in place a more robust learning program. See our list for top learning apps for kids to help reinforce what your child learns during their summer program.

Summers should be a fun experience for the entire household, and Beehive hopes to maintain that while also allowing kids to continue to learn and thrive.