Summer School: A Venue to Fulfill Many Needs

14 April 2010

As published in the April 2010 edition of Utah Family Magazine. 

Summer School: A Venue to Fulfill Many Needs
Joyce Sibbett, Ph.D.
President, Dancing Moose Montessori School
Associate Professor of Education, Westminster College

Summer school is distinct from the regular school year. Children need and deserve a change in routine. Nevertheless, summer serves a critical purpose for children to continue to reinforce skills and acquire new understandings. It is a perfect time for children to participate in more relaxed activities that integrate skills across the curriculum. Ideally, children should

• Be engaged in a variety of creative arts that apply across the curriculum, including, art, music, drama, and dance.
• Enjoy activities that are unique to summer. For areas of cold winter climates, this should include ample time to enjoy warmer outdoor activities.
• Have opportunities to visit local sites that intrigue them.
• Engage in social learning, such as playing games with their peers.
• Read books as part of their daily routine.

On the opposite spectrum, summer can be a time when children become bored, and achievement gaps widen. According to Rothstein (2006), achievement gaps grow the most during summer vacations when middle-class children have experiences—reading books, going to camp, visiting museums, and traveling—that reinforce their school-year learning, while lower-class children fall behind. Summer school provides an opportunity to narrow achievement gaps by providing comparable experiences. Rothstein further emphasizes that art, music, drama, dance, and physical education teachers should be more numerous in summer than in the regular academic year.

While summer school is often a resource for working parents who do not want to leave a child at home, bored, and at risk of finding trouble, it is also an ideal resource for parents who want to retain and bolster learning and skills developed during the school. This goal may be more important than ever in the current climate of federally-mandated testing of No Child Left Behind. Jack Jennings, president and CEO of the Center on Educational Policy, suggests that summer has moved from a remediation program to a focused skill-building program, especially in reading and math. He states that it is "becoming more focused on developing academic skills, plus test-taking skills" (Buchanan, 2007).

School districts have new incentives for providing summer programs. The guidelines of No Child Left Behind require districts to meet Adequate Yearly Progress, and summer school can be a good resource for helping students to improve scores and schools to meet their benchmarks. This is not unique to Utah; school districts across the country are taking advantage of the summer months as an opportunity to supplement regular academic programs.

Some summer programs are specifically targeted at reviewing core subjects of reading and math; others are more generally designed to complement core standards. Both approaches are viable for helping students retain and bolster knowledge, but summer school is a perfect time to integrate subjects in project-oriented curriculum that has a different "feel" from the regular academic year. As Rischer (2009) comments, the summer school environment should be "much different from the regular school year....Students attending summer school need more one-on-one, teacher-supported instruction." This is true for children of all ages, but it is critical for early childhood programs.

An example of this project approach to summer school is the Dancing Moose Montessori School curriculum, which organizes the summer program in units that include thematic field trips. Children learn from a variety of resources that emphasize art, music movement, and creativity with field trips that enhance their understanding. The day is scheduled with plenty of outdoor activities that invite children to explore nature and participate in summer-exclusive work like gardening. Children have ample opportunity to read and do math activities, but these activities are accomplished in conjunction with the thematic units. They are important learning opportunities for all children, but they are especially important for children whose family might not have the time or opportunity to provide these opportunities outside of the school setting. While the activities do not directly teach to national tests, they provide opportunities for children to remain active, engaged, and productive. Children strengthen academic skills as they build their self confidence and love for learning. A key ingredient to success is a low student-to-teacher ratio.

Summer school should be an attractive option for children—something they can look forward to. It should also be attractive for parents as an investment in learning and growth for their children while they are having fun. The one thing summer school should not be is a poorly-staffed place where children are bored and disengaged. As the summer months approach, it is a good idea for families to look closely at programs that entice children by appealing to their interests.

Buchanan, B. (2007). The boys and girls of summer: Does summer school really work? (2007) Education Digest 73 (1) pp. 31-35.
Education Digest (0013-127X)
9/1/2007. Vol.73,Iss.1;p.31-35
Rischer, A. (2009). Strategies for a successful summer school program. The Education Digest 74(9) pp. 34-36.
Education Digest (0013-127X)
5/1/2009. Vol.74,Iss.9;p.34-36
Rothstein, R. (2006). Reforms that could help narrow the achievement gap. WestEd. San Francisco, California.

What Our Parents Say

  • Jamie & Ken B:  Too many great things to narrow it down to just a few lines! But we'll try!  We love that all the teachers and administrators are always smiling and positive - it sets the stage for a great learning environment for our child and let's us know that they truly care about all the children.

  • Keith W:  Moving here from the east coast, we were concerned about finding the proper level of education for our daughter. Dancing Moose was just opening and when we did our tour, Dr. Joyce impressed me with her professionalism,enthusiasm, and academic prowess. We started our daughter in the toddler class and never looked back. Now, four years later we have both our children in Dancing Moose and could not be more pleased. Not only is the education second to none, and I would apply that not to only utah, but the entire country, the family atmosphere is phenomenal. I would recommend Dancing Moose to all toddler to 2nd grade children.  I can not understand why anybody would go anywhere else.

  • Alexis J:  Aislynn loves going to school at Dancing Moose, she's excited every day to tell me or any other adult near her what she did in school that day.  I love the flexibility the teachers are allowed, how every student gets to work at their own pace and none of them seem overwhelmed or bored.

  • Cherie M:  I commute everyday to the Dancing Moose, usually about 20 minutes each way from my Holladay home. Though commuting is not my favorite activity, I have found it is worth every second of my time. My son, Liam Emsley, is so happy when I pick him up and drop him off, sometimes I have to convince him it is time to leave school and go home! The state of the art facility is top notch, the teachers are warm and friendly, the school lunch/snack program is the best I found when I was researching school options. Needless to say, I am a big fan of the Dancing Moose!

  • Michelle M:  Our family loves the Dancing Moose Montessori for so many reasons.  The most important reason, is that our son absolutely loves his teachers and the other staff. We love the diversity and acceptance of students and staff and we also love that the Moose is community oriented and working on a "green" future. 

  • Shannon C:  Transplants to UT from OR.  This is our second year at DMM.  We feel safe, comfortable, love coming to school everyday to learn from a FANTASTIC curriculum,  really enjoy the flavors from Chef Renee, organic gardening and most of all the consistent unconditional love from each teacher with our little ones!  Thank you Dancing Moose for providing my children a great early childhood educational experience!

  • Christian M:  Dancing Moose distinguishes itself in the quality of academic education the school provides to young children, and also in the environment it creates for learning to occur.  Perhaps most-importantly, our son loves it!

  • Chris P:  Some of the things I like best about Dancing Moose have nothing to do with what goes on in the classroom.  I like that the place is wind powered, has a community garden and has a chef making food from scratch every day.  These are manifestations of values which I hold dear.  I am happy that Dancing Moose shares these values.

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