Summer Programmes: What Are They Good For?

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You see, I want to talk to you about long (summer) holidays and children. When I was a child I used to welcome the long vacation at the end of the academic year with mixed feelings. There was the feeling of being free from school work and having the opportunity to play, like a caged bird that has just been freed from captivity. Then there was the other issue of having too much time to do ‘nothing’ and having to consume foods at an alarming rate that I couldn’t achieve. But there was something that I was able to do along with my other childhood friends – we were able to play in unregulated and unstructured play environments. So we participated in sporting activities like table tennis and football. We also played different card and board games; through these unregulated and unstructured activities we developed many life skills like communicating, cooperating, coping with: setbacks, losing and winning, decision making, confidence building and conflict management.

Fast forward from my childhood and all I see is the explosion of structured and regulated fee paying summer programmes. So I started asking myself a simple question – where’s the fun and joy in being a child, if all a child’s developmental activities are all planned in advance by the adults in the child’s life? How would the child be able to self-discover some valuable life skills independently without having an adult hovering around him/her? Maybe families have found themselves in situations that do not make it possible for them to have their children around them within safety reach while exploring their surroundings unhindered by any adult’s structured or regulated activity.

If you’re a summer programme organiser, I want you to know that the purpose of this blog post is not to ridicule your programme but to put things in perspectives as I see them. However, I need a small favour from you – kindly provide, at least, a slot in your programme to a child from a socioeconomically disadvantaged background within the community your programme will take place in, and if it is that your programme will take place in a remote location, please offer your programme’s scholarship to a child in a public school from a disadvantaged background or one that lives in an orphanage.

Sometimes when issues like this – the summer programs’ phenomenon – come up, I try to ask myself if I’m not just been nostalgic about my own childhood memories? This line of thought looks plausible on the surface but digging a bit deeper, there seems to be the general perception to me that some families feel that getting their children engaged in summer programmes means offering them the best life chances out there. But isn’t this way of seeing childhood influenced by the ‘potential’ economic benefits that such decisions will offer the child in the future, in terms of ‘admission’ or ‘job’ opportunities, than the skills or knowledge the children will acquire from these programmes.

Now, don’t get me wrong, aspiring for these two goals for your child is worth all your efforts but what I don’t think is worth a child’s childhood experience is monotony. I would rather a child maintain a balance as much as possible between living and enjoying the present and preparing for the future than to live a life structured just around material aspirations. However, children should be encouraged to enjoy every moment of their childhood while in school or at home.

Perhaps, you’re wondering if I’m oblivious to the realities on ground or just being ridiculous, well I know times have changed and you can’t just afford to have your child alone unattended to due to many reasons and I appreciate that, and that’s why I think summer programmes are inherently not wrong or bad in principle, but I want you to do me a favour by taking a step back and analyse your family’s situation and look for that programme that will most likely fulfil your child’s developmental needs before you enrol him/her on any, that is if you have not committed yourself financially to any by now. For instance, if you think your family’s activities are already very academic focused, I will encourage you to explore programmes that will offer your child more non-academic based activities and vice-versa. Likewise, if you think your child needs activities that are focused on working in a team as against working individually, then I would suggest you explore activities that are team focused as against those that are personalised, for example: football as against tennis. And if you have the means to take them to places of interest, then that would be great as well. Also, remember you can take your child on a trip to the village or another town or city for a valuable holiday experience. Whatever you do, please make sure you and your family stay safe.

You can read “How To Engage Children During The Holidays” for ideas on family activities to do, and make sure your child avoids the summer reading slump by integrating reading into your family’s summer activities.

You can read more on summer holidays and children’s educational experience in the articles listed below:

Lessons from Camp: Free from school-year demands, summer camps are a key venue for social-emotional learning

Reclaiming Downtime: For parents, a recipe for injecting a bit more “lazy” into the remaining days of summer

Summer Learning Happens at Home: New research suggests it’s family involvement, not camps or trips, that keeps kids primed for learning all summer

Summer by the Book: Closing the gap by helping families build a tradition of summer reading

Eight ways to keep your kids smart over the summer break

Preventing your kids’ summer reading slide

Pupils struggling with reading need early intervention, not a three-month summer school

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