Carrie has four daughters and runs Write On! Workshops--a summer writing camp for children.

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Planning Summer Activities That Boost Learning

Today is May 1st. About right now, I start to get nervous about the big change just one calendar page ahead and ask:  What are we going to do all summer? 

These nerves are fueled by a finding I read some time ago in Malcolm Gladwell’s book The Outliers. One boundary breaking point Gladwell makes for us moms is that the difference in student test scores is mostly visible when the tests are given right after summer vacation. Those students who are engaged academically during the summer, score high. Those students who don’t have opportunities like that, suffer. Everyone makes progress during the school year, but then there are those pivotal summer months–and the cycle begins again.

What this means for me is deliberately planning our summer activities.  We can do a lot in three months to bolster our children’s education. Here are some things that have worked for us:

Summer University Majors  

Each summer, I help my girls choose a “summer university” major (and sometimes a minor) to focus on during the summer months. I tell them that this is their chance to explore topics and interest they don’t have time to explore in the school year.  Together we make a plan for how they plan to learn about this topic and brainstorm ideas for a “final project” such as a poster, a book, a work of art–anything they come up with. 

That might sound hard, but it isn’t really. For example, one summer my daughter wanted to “major” in Harry Potter. She read as many of the books as she could and did a final project by making a stand up poster about JK Rowling. Another time, a daughter wanted to “major” in the American Flag. At the end of the summer, she made a little American Flag fact book.  One summer, a daughter did something similar majoring in famous American women. They’ve also majored and minored in sewing, gymnastics, magic tricks, cooking, composers, writing fiction, and water coloring.

They are loosely “required” (it isn’t that strict of a university) to present their final project at a Sunday dinner at the end of the summer. university post

Lots of Field Trips

Once I tutored a boy whose counselor had recommended he spend more time at the zoo, museums and other places to help him build his general knowledge of the world. The counselor said he needed more experiences to help him reference his learning. The more places our children visit and experiences they have, the more “hooks” they’ll have to hang new ideas in science and social studies and in all of their subjects. Thinking of it that way makes me more determined to be deliberate about scheduling summer field trips.  A great resource for summer field trips is Michelle Powell’s Enjoy Utah! website. I’ve lived here my whole life and discover all kinds of new places we need to visit from browsing her site.

Summer field trips work best for me when I commit with friends. One summer I got together with two other moms and we scheduled one field trip a week for our families to do together. This made the field trip interest level go up about 500 percent for my (5)

Summer Camps

For my children, summer camps have been an excellent way for them to discover new interests that they might never have had the chance to discover otherwise. I sing praises to University of Utah Youth Programs for introducing my oldest to film. It was her week long camp at the U of U’s Spyhop that opened up her interest in making movies.  It was a week long camp at the U of U’s art frenzy camp that introduced another daughter to her love for art. I am also a big fan of Write On! Workshops summer camp at Westminster College.  Many parents give this camp credit for helping their children develop their confidence as writers as well as giving a boost to children who are already passionate about writing and need a place to shine.  One other suggestion is to check out the myriad of affordable summer course listings in the  Granite Peaks (9)


Sometimes we overlook the fact that we as parents are one of the best resources our children have for learning and growth. It is easy for me to get into a frenzy of summer planning and not leave enough time for sitting on the lawn and reading library books together or working together to figure out what to do with all those summer tomatoes in the garden. Part of deliberate summer planning should also include leaving open time to just be together. We don’t have to “outsource” their whole summers. Our children can learn a lot from making dinner with us, riding bikes with us along the parkway, or having us sit next to them during a summer piano practice. Summer months are precious and the years where “true” summers exist for our children pass by quickly.  I hope to schedule (and unschedule) this time with great care.

More on Today’s Mama

Simple Ways to Boost Your Home Learning Environment

Praising What is Working: The Part We Sometimes Forget

Summer Writing Camp for Children and Teens


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Comments (1)

  1. Raejean 05/09/2013 at 9:02 am

    It’s so good to know that I’m not the only mom who focuses on learning in the summer. We do weekly “summer camps”, but I like your idea of focusing on one main thing each summer.