Summer School – Make it Fun!

by Thom Smith

Most of my friends who aren’t educators have no clue what I do. And when I attempt to explain to them the trials and tribulations of education, the usual response is, “Well, at least you have the summer off!” No, no I don’t. And neither do millions of teachers across the country. We simply can’t afford to take the summer off. It is what it is.

If you’re in the same boat as me, you have two choices: teach summer school, or get a part time job elsewhere. After several months of your daily routine, I don’t blame you for wanting to take a vacation from the classroom. But I can also attest that teaching summer school has resulted in experiencing some of the best educational moments of my career – and it can be the same for you!

Summer school is what you make it, and you can make it a lot of fun! Let’s be honest – kids would rather be home during the summer, and so would you. So since both parties are of like mind, why not take that into consideration when approaching summer school. What would make summer school not only a tolerable experience for everyone involved, but an enjoyable experience? How can you take the “lemons” of summer school and turn them into a summer of “lemonade”?

In order to create a pleasurable AND productive summer school adventure, there are three main actions I take which have proven to be successful for my students, my colleagues, and myself:

Create a Theme

  • Creating a theme for summer school is easy, and it creates more of a “summer camp” feel for students. Again, in most circumstances, they don’t want to be there. If you come up with a high-interest theme, however, you will definitely garner some buy-in from your students.
  • How do you choose a theme? First and foremost, it depends on the cognitive level of your students. Next, it depends on the interests of your students. Third, don’t make it about you – don’t just choose what you love to teach. Think about what increases your students’ attention during the regular school year, including “non-academic” topics. Two examples:
    • For younger students, consider an animal theme for your class. To make things more intriguing, consider teaching about animals that also show up in Minecraft. Kids love animals, and you can read about them, write about them, and complete math problems that include them!
    • For older students, you could consider a “summer sports” theme. To make things more appealing, have students choose one athlete they can learn about all summer. This would involve students researching, reading, and writing about their favorite athlete. Also have students study their athlete’s stats and “do math” by presenting them with potential scenarios.

Set Specific Goals

  • Make sure to set specific goals for you and for your students.
    • What do you want to get out of teaching summer school? Consider the following goals for you:
      • Refine your art of teaching – summer school provides a wonderful opportunity to practice new methods of teaching, and try new tools and curriculum.
      • Reset your love for teaching – summer school provides you with the ability to focus more on each individual student. It also presents you with more freedom to choose what you would like to teach and help students learn about.
      • Relax while teaching – less grading, less meetings, less students (usually), less interruptions, less prep…need I say more?
    • Why are your students attending summer school? They struggle with something, so consider the following goals for them:
      • Find joy in learning – summer school classes often have smaller class sizes, so find out what your student wants to learn about on day one, and not only integrate it into your lessons, but discover ways to make the learning experience more engaging and personalized.
      • Find success in learning – summer school classes are often students grouped together with similar academic skills. Summer school students quickly recognize that they are not on the “bottom tier” of their class, and immediately begin to develop a newfound confidence. Plus, we as teachers can more easily provide differentiated instruction that enables students to experience more consistent success.
      • Find rest in learning – summer school has less stressors than the regular school year: shorter days, smaller class sizes, high expectations coupled with the daily ability to achieve, as well as a summer day camp-like atmosphere created by their educators (hopefully). Summer school is an opportunity for students to experience less anxiety than usual in an academic setting.

Understand its Purpose

  • Students are in summer school for help and encouragement, and you are the one with the important responsibility to help and encourage. For whatever reason, whether a cognitive delay, a reading disability, struggles in math, difficulties with behavior…your summer school students have specific needs that require your dedicated assistance.
  • Summer school is not about obtaining higher test scores, achieving a specific grade, or competing with classmates – it shouldn’t be, anyway. Summer school is about maintaining positive and productive learning experiences for your students. Summer school is about providing more time for your students to read, write, participate in math, and feel successful doing so.
  • Summer school should be a low-stress, low-pressure, high-interest learning environment for your students.

Lastly, if you are NOT teaching summer school, but you ARE a parent or homeschooling parent, learning should not stop on the last day of school. Summertime can provide amazing opportunities for your children to maintain progress in learning, and cultivate a love of learning:

  • Oftentimes families have a more relaxed schedule in the summer, which can provide kids with more time to read a book of their choice, or explore areas of interest that include learning about history or science. Kids can keep learning about math, too, while engaging in collaborative activities like cooking, baking, shopping, gardening, and home renovations.
  • And do your kids want to use more technology over the summer? I’m fairly certain I know the answer to that question. So let them! But how about letting them play more educational video games? How about letting them watch more movies or television shows, too, but with more science or history-oriented topics?
  • Last summer here in New Hampshire was a wet one, but more often than not our summer days are gorgeous. Get your kids OUTDOORS. “Learning by playing” is not just for preschoolers. Have kids bike, hike, camp, swim, fish, climb trees, build forts, grow a garden…the opportunities to grow in knowledge and physical health are almost endless, and often right outside your front door!

Summer school teachers – enjoy the many opportunities you have to not only help your students grow this time of year, but to grow personally and professionally. Families not experiencing summer school – learning should never take a vacation, so don’t let it!

Thom Smith

Thom Smith Thom Smith is currently a fourth grade teacher in New London, New Hampshire. He has experience as an educator at the preschool, elementary, middle, and college levels. He has also been an administrator at the middle school level. He has an Early Childhood Education Degree, Elementary Education Certification, and a Masters in Educational Leadership. He is also a Christa McAuliffe Sabbatical recipient. He is a lucky and grateful husband, and a father to eight wonderful, rambunctious children. When he isn't spending time with his family or students, Thom loves to write poetry, hike, bike, and enjoy the vacation world that surrounds him in the Lakes Region of New Hampshire.