Finding a Great Summer Program: A Checklist for Parents

Early and sustained summer learning opportunities lead to higher graduation rates, better preparation for college, and positive effects on children's self-esteem, confidence, and motivation. High-quality summer programs keep students engaged in learning, teach them new skills, allow them to develop previously unseen talents, and foster creativity and innovation.

What should parents look for in a high-quality summer program?

  • Balanced programming with daily opportunities for reading, math, cultural enrichment, and recreation
  • High-interest, engaging activities
  • Positive interaction between kids and caring adults
  • A safe, structured learning environment
  • Personalized attention / Low student-to-staff ratios
  • Bilingual staff to support English language learners
  • In specialized camps, such as those for students with learning disabilities, trained staff that includes psychologists, social workers, occupational therapists, teachers, or speech and language pathologists

Parents sometimes have to choose a summer program months before having the chance to visit. What questions can parents or guardians ask ahead of time to help discern the quality of a summer program, and the appropriateness for their child's needs and interests?

  • What is the program's mission? How long has the program been in existence?
  • How is a typical day/week organized? How will children spend their time?
  • What are the program hours and dates? Is before or after care available?
  • Will my child be able to get physical exercise, opportunities for cultural enrichment, and practice reading, math, and other skills? Will my child have an opportunity to choose some of his/her activities?
  • How does the program assess or track each child's progress? What evidence does the program have to show past results?
  • How does the program promote positive interaction between youth and staff?
  • What is the typical experience of the staff members who will work with my child? What training does the staff receive?
  • What does the program do to ensure a safe and healthy environment?
  • Does the program provide healthy food or snacks?
  • How does the program involve families? What type of communication can families expect?
  • How does the program accommodate children with special needs (learning or physical disabilities, those with allergies)
  • Does the program offer scholarships or financial aid? How do I know if I qualify?

The best programs focus on developing the whole child — intellectually, socially, physically, and emotionally — so that he or she is prepared for both the present and the future. For more information about what makes a summer learning program successful, visit

National Summer Learning Association (2008)


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Interesting article, I usually just sign my kids up for the local library summer reading but that can be pretty lame and just comes down to me begging them to read. I have to do all the homework on the books, because if they don't have action my 11 yr old wont read it. I've found Dark Fate Falling (The Gateway Discoveries series) has lots of action along with educational and kid issues. For just plain fun my son also likes the Septimus Heap series. I think I'll be doing a little more research on the summer reading program instead of just begging this year!

For parents looking for an interesting summer reading opportunity for their children in the Washington, DC area, you may be interested in West River Camp's ( summer reading program. My brother, an award-winning, experienced teacher will be leading the program based on the children's book Believing In Horses, based in Maryland. Camp is for boys and girls who've completed 4th and 5th grades, and includes a field trip to a local working barn. Fun and learning all in the same place!

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