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Why An Academic Summer Program?

By: Jenny Whichard ’92, Director of SummerEdge
A teacher and a group of students in a classroom. A teacher and a group of students in a classroom.

When selecting a summer camp, your first inclination might be to steer away from academics for fear of putting your child in an environment filled with too many anxiety-laiden rigors and not enough fun. But not all academic summer programs are about sitting at a desk all day and putting pen to paper anymore. Fortunately, camps today are moving away from the one-size-fits-all model, combining learning with movement, art, hands-on experiences, outdoor activities and more. Gone are the days of having to choose between what’s fun and what’s educational. With that in mind, let us delve deeper into the many benefits of an academic summer program.

Preventing the “Summer Slide”

The “summer slide” is a term you may or may not be familiar with but most likely have already experienced. It refers to how, over the summer, children may forget what they have worked so hard to learn during the school year. Just like the muscles in our body, the brain has to be continually exercised in order to stay in optimal condition. Three months is a long time to be out of school so it is only natural for some backsliding to occur. Academic summer programs help children’s brains stay active, keeping everything they learned the previous school year fresh in their minds over the summer. Sometimes new topics may even be addressed as a way to prepare students even more for the upcoming school year. Children return to school in the fall retaining more of what they’ve learned, more confident in their skills, and ready to pick up right where they left off.

Depending on your child’s experience at their own school (and particularly during the pandemic) they may or may not have had access to teachers or supports that most benefit them. Summer is also an excellent opportunity to seek out those experts in education who can fill in any gaps and provide reinforcement. Even if your child has been receiving appropriate support, maintaining that support over the summer is vital so that they are ready for the school year to come.

Developing Connections in a Safe Environment

Summer academic programs provide opportunities for group activities in which campers can participate with their friends while also allowing them to make new ones. They can do so in an environment where it feels safe to take risks. For example, a shy camper placed in a small group of peers might feel more comfortable sharing their thoughts than they would if they had to raise their hand alone in a large classroom in front of everyone. There are also counselors and adults at camp to guide and support campers.

Another benefit is that academic camps can mimic a school day: they are predictable and familiar, making anxious campers feel more comfortable and relaxed. Specifically, a benefit of SummerEdge at McLean School is the small sizes of our groups which makes it feel like a safer space for our campers. Amanda Flores, one of our previous student-counselors who is now a SummerEdge teacher, says, “SummerEdge provides campers with a unique opportunity to meet friendly faces that they might see in the upcoming school year. Along with creating new connections, our academic programs help our students ease into and become familiar with a fun and engaging learning setting. One of my favorite experiences is witnessing the kids build up their confidence and develop new friendships with their peers!”

A group of happy students.

Discovering New Ways to Learn With New People

At McLean School we believe that the “right” way to learn is different for every child. Depending on where your child goes to school, they may or may not have access to classes with differentiated learning/teaching techniques. But camp is an excellent time to test the waters and help determine how your child learns best. At SummerEdge we offer a wider variety of multi-sensory programs that may interest your child, focusing on building 21st century skills. Our STEM Camp, for example, is not only content-specific but it also lends itself to collaborative work with peers. Weekly themes that change all summer introduce new concepts to campers that they can take their time exploring.

Building academic confidence can be a bit of a bumpy road for students. These challenges can also be subject-specific. Attending a summer program where campers are able to focus on one academic subject at a time can help to reduce anxiety and forge self-efficacy. Our Intensive Programs are designed to do just that in an enriching and active learning environment. We allow our campers to face their challenges with a growth mindset; this is embedded in McLean School’s philosophy of which SummerEdge is an extension. We believe that although some academic paths may be more challenging for our campers than others, working towards success with a positive outlook in a supportive environment will lead to success.

When selecting an academic summer program for your child it is important to choose a camp that has high standards for their team quality and education. At SummerEdge, we care deeply about our staff and their success is of the utmost importance to us. With a majority of McLean teachers, students, and alumni, our highly trained team excels at connecting with and instructing our campers.

Getting Ahead

Summertime allows children to focus more of their attention on their passions–current and newly found. If there is a particular subject that they enjoy and want to excel in or simply explore more deeply, a summer enrichment program can be a great option. Students may also use this time to earn academic credit for a class that would help them towards graduation. For teens, the summer is a great time to earn those SSL hours via programs like our Community Service Camp. Rather than chipping away at service learning hours over several months or years, they can earn a minimum of 15 hours in one week at camp. Summer programs like our Study Skills Camp can also teach students valuable life skills such as time management and executive functioning.

The End Result

After completing an academic summer program, students return to school in the fall better prepared and more eager to tackle the beginning of a new year. Among the top benefits families have reported from their children attending SummerEdge was an overall boost in their child’s self-confidence. When teachers believe in and encourage them, children are better able to learn. Sometimes all it takes is a smaller environment with creative and dynamic teachers who specialize teaching children the way they learn best. At an academic camp, children can achieve all of the education and social benefits we’ve discussed while also experiencing everything that a traditional summer camp is all about: having fun, making new friends, and creating happy memories that will last a lifetime.