Should Summer Camp Be Educational?
By Hailey Hudson
There’s a reason kids have summer break: Doing schoolwork all year round is draining, and kids need time to relax, play, and just be kids. But during the summer months, students can easily lose the progress they’ve made during the school year if they don’t keep up with their studies. Summer camp is a fun time for many kids, but should camp be educational to help kids continue learning? That’s a topic that is highly debated by many experts.
There’s one thing everyone agrees on: Educational gains can disappear in the summer just as quickly as ice cream melting in the hot Georgia sun.
Terry Sowell of Stratford Academy’s Camp Eagle has been an educator for over 30 years and thinks that summer activities should absolutely incorporate learning. “Just as with any wellness program, [learning] needs regular practice,” Sowell says, pointing out that if students don’t continue to practice their math and reading skills over the summer, those skills won’t be as sharp when school starts back.
“Research says on average a child loses two months of reading skills over the summer months,” says Dr. Kilcrease, former assistant superintendent of teaching and learning for Bibb County Schools. She thinks it is imperative that students read every day during the summer and participate in activities that will help them practice their math skills. Some children, however, may only attend summer camp for one week—and it might be the highlight of their summer and even their year. Is summer camp, then, really the place for academics? Kids who are excited to have fun with their friends won’t relish the idea of sitting down to do homework at camp.
According to an iD Tech article, summer camp is important for many reasons. Not only is camp fun, but it also offers a structured opportunity for kids to grow. It’s a place for kids to learn unique or specialized skills—such as coding or lacrosse techniques—or a place for kids to just enjoy swimming, horseback riding, S’mores, and everything else that comes with being a kid in the summertime. Camp is also a wonderful opportunity for children to build friendships and come into their own as an individual, exploring the world without Mom and Dad around. With all of these activities and objectives crowded into the day, is there any time or place for structured academic work?
Dr. Kilcrease thinks that camps, schools, teachers, and parents might want to rethink their definition of “academic work” and recast it in a different light. “I do not believe kids need a break from academic work during the summer. I just think the academic work is delivered in a different manner,” Dr. Kilcrease says.
Family vacations, Dr. Kilcrease points out, can be an academic event. Museums, libraries, and parks all give kids opportunities to learn outside the classroom, and summer camp can do the same thing.
“Camp can get kids going, both mentally and physically,” reads the iD Tech article 11 Benefits of Summer Camp for Kids. “Have a child who loves video games? Who doesn’t? Camp will allow kids to get off of couches and into courses that teach them how to make games instead of simply playing.”
Some camps do focus on “simply playing,” however, and that’s okay—the case for fun is a convincing one as well. According to a 2011 article from the Daily Bruin titled Summer Break Should Be a Time for Students to Chill, Not Burn Out, relaxing during the summer is important because it helps students recharge for the fall semester. “Summer vacation should be just that—a vacation.”
Camps that are geared purely for fun are just as important as camps that strive to be educational. Children can still learn just as much, however, from the fun camps. Even camps that don’t bill themselves as “educational” still provide a plethora of learning opportunities because of the new experiences they offer and the new people that children will meet.
“All of our summer camps involve academics, arts, adventures, or athletics,” says Elizabeth Leslein, Center for Discovery Director at First Presbyterian Day School in Macon. “Each of [our] camps allows students to continue to grow and develop in a fun environment. Many of these camps touch on the foundations of school, reading, math, science, and oftentimes the student does not even realize they are leaning academic topics. At the same time, students are also learning character building skills and interpersonal skills which benefit them in every area of their lives.”
Just because a summer camp isn’t advertised as “educational” doesn’t mean it won’t be—even the camps that focus only on fun can still teach important life lessons. For young children, playtime is especially important; it helps them express their creativity, develop problem-solving skills, and it fosters brain development. Yes, kids need a break from academic work in the summer—but the reason they need that break is to have more time to play, which is a form of learning in itself.
So, should summer camp be educational? Dr. Kilcrease believes there is a place for both educational activities and playtime at summer camp. “Learning is a social event, and there is plenty of socializing in camp. Students will benefit from attending a summer program that has a balance with academic and fun activities.”
Elizabeth Leslein agrees. “Summer camps should incorporate both educational activities and fun. Our staff is extremely talented; they teach in creative ways that allow a student to learn and grow by not just sitting behind their desks,” she says. FPD’s hands-on approach allows students to be challenged while still having a blast. “These camps give students an opportunity to try something different and that is a great chance for students to also learn and develop.”
In the end, perhaps it’s not a question of whether camp should be educational—it’s a question of whether it already is. And the answer is a resounding yes. There’s no need for your child to be in school to learn; life is a classroom, and summer camp is one of the most fun and educational courses of all. #