Every mother knows how much work it can be to figure out summer plans for our kids, mesh parents’ work schedules with children’s summer pursuits, and find fun, educational activities that keep our children active and constructively engaged when schools are out. What looks like freedom and vacation time to children requires a huge amount of preparation by moms.
For some families, summer destination or sleepaway camps, vacations or staycations fill some of those long periods when kids would otherwise be unsupervised during June, July and August, and they are often a great experience. But without summer learning programs run by school systems, Y’s, Boys and Girls Clubs, and afterschool programs that transform into summer programs, I’m not sure what we’d do. These programs make it possible for kids to be engaged in fun, safe, supervised, educational activities. Moreover, they help kids hit the ground running when school resumes in the fall, combating the “summer learning loss” that sometimes causes students to backslide on academics during the summer.
They do that by creating valuable opportunities for students to do all kinds of great things, including exploring a host of hands-on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities that most classrooms can’t accommodate; learning to garden and to cook healthy meals; and supporting their communities through service projects large and small. At the same time, of course, summer learning programs help children become more fit and physically active through sports, games and outdoor activities.
I’m lucky to have summer learning programs available, but many families don’t. In my day job, I’m executive director of the Afterschool Alliance and our series of America After 3PM studies over the years has shown us a lot about how children spend their summers, as well as their afternoons during the school year.
Several things stand out from our most recent data, which covers afterschool in 2014 and summer programs in 2013. First, we’ve got a lot of unmet demand for summer learning programs. While more than half of respondents (51 percent) to our survey say they would like their child to participate in a summer learning program, just 33 percent report having at least one child in a program. In my home state of Maryland, we’re a little ahead of the curve, with 35 percent of parents reporting that they have one or more children in a summer learning program. (You can see how your state is doing here.)
Second, parents strongly support public funding for summer learning programs. Eighty-five percent of parents support public funding, and that support is at or above 75 percent in every single state.
Despite that, there isn’t nearly enough funding for summer learning, or afterschool, programs. That will only change if we all speak out and tell Congress and our state legislators, school system leaders and others how important these programs are to our children and families.
Today is a great day to take action. It’s National Summer Learning Day, sponsored by the National Summer Learning Association (NSLA) to elevate the importance of keeping kids learning, safe and healthy every summer. Across the nation, many programs will host events to mark the date and to celebrate the outstanding work done in these programs. If you’d like to find an event in your area, consult NSLA’s map of events.
If you do go to an event, take a good look around. Chances are you’ll see, among the little ones, lots of moms who’ve found an outstanding answer to the challenge posed by their kids’ summer vacations!
Grant is executive director of the Afterschool Alliance.