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5 ways to make the summer count for students

Summer break is short, but students can have fun while they keep their learning skills strong
By Amy Jenkins, Head of Schools and Distribution, OutSchool
June 21st, 2021

Summer break is short, but students can have fun while they keep their learning skills strong

For students, summer break often feels fleeting. In what seems like minutes, sunshine and freedom are quickly replaced by books and backpacks once again. 

However, if you are a parent trying to engage your child for the summer, these same two months are anything but fleeting as you balance planning for your child with other obligations. 

And if you are a school or district leader in 2021? Summer offers two months to reignite a love of learning in students and support unfinished learning through acceleration or remediation. You also face questions about how to best help staff and students return to school after a tumultuous year.

Whether you’re working to engage kids at home, or planning for how to engage them in school, we’ve rounded up tips for schools and parents to make the summer of 2021 one that your students remember.

Schools: Focus programs on the future, not the past. Our kids are listening and internalizing phrases like “learning loss.” For some, the topic is stressful to think about. It brings up questions like, “Will I still succeed this year?” “What did I miss and did the other students in my class miss it, too?” For others it might be an excuse, “I didn’t learn it last year so I don’t even need to try this year.” 

Frame these as a way to support students in their next grade, rather than a scramble to make up for unfinished learning from this past year.

Parents: Embrace unstructured time; kids learn through play. Don’t feel like you need to plan every minute of the summer just because the mom down the street shared her spreadsheet with you. Learning through play is valuable and 26 recent studies prove it can also reduce inequality and close the achievement gap. 

If we are always saving our children from boredom, they don’t have time to create worlds, stories, and games for themselves. When we give them space, what they build just might surprise you. Say “Yes” to trips, adventures, or great classes and camps. But it’s also ok to do none of those things sometimes, too. Let pillows and blankets turn into a fort and then a city; let watercolors turn into a masterpiece, or let playing with coding actually makes that robot dance. 

Schools: Acknowledge students’ anxieties and help them manage their emotions. In districts across the country, students have had limited in-person time at school (although this varies widely by state). The pandemic has caused extreme trauma for many children who have lost family members to Covid and who have faced isolation required by quarantining. For these reasons, returning to campus in the fall will bring a host of anxieties for students. 

This summer, help learners gain their footing for fall by focusing on their mental and physical well-being. Look for online classes that support students in fostering connections with each other and their teachers over shared interests through online platforms.  Host events with teachers and counselors at your school or online. Give students a chance to express their concerns and tell them how you can support them. 

Parents: Say uncle to your employers–let them know you need help. This past year we’ve seen employers step up and support employees in new ways–shifting to work from home, allowing for more flexible hours, welcoming children and dogs into meetings, and beyond. Some employers have also added benefits like credits for kids online classes through platforms. This frees up caregivers to work while children have engaging learning experiences. But not every HR leader will think of this on their own, so don’t be afraid to ask!

[Schools] Plan to prioritize connections and interests over curriculum coverage. When making plans for the fall, avoid boring skills practice that will further turn kids off from learning after a school year filled with anxiety and disruption. 

Instead, help kids feel good about school. This starts by making it clear that it’s OK if parents, teachers, and students need to check out this summer to unwind and recharge. Then, make space to ease back into school this fall. When the year begins, make time for conversations in the classroom, so students can share experiences and feelings. Instead of diving into standards and skills, allow students to explore their interests and connect with other like-minded kids and teachers.  It is also worthwhile to remember that you can teach content and have it be fun and related to the student’s interests. 

For many of us, this year has gone slower than we could have ever imagined, with Groundhog Day-style days, false starts and stops, and times when we wondered if this pandemic would ever ease up. Yet, in the blink of an eye, summer is here. If schools, parents, and employers work together, we can make summer 2021 a time that counts for our kids.

About the Author:

Amy Jenkins is Head of Schools and Distribution for OutSchool.

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