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Summer learning programs for kids who learn and think differently

By Julie Rawe

At a Glance

  • Many districts are trying to make summer school more fun and engaging.

  • Some kids may be eligible for special education services during the summer.

  • Summer learning options can range from pricey specialized camps to free programs at public schools or libraries.

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Even when school is out for the summer, kids can keep learning through a summer learning program. Summer can be a great time to learn new skills and keep old ones from getting rusty. 

This may be especially true in 2021 as schools start to make up for learning time that was lost during the coronavirus pandemic. States and local school districts got a big funding boost in March when the American Rescue Plan was signed into law. This emergency funding includes billions of dollars that must be spent in certain ways:

  • Addressing the impact of lost instructional time, using summer programs and other evidence-based initiatives

  • Providing summer enrichment programs

  • Meeting the needs of students with disabilities

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Some summer programs focus on academics. Others focus on enrichment, like arts or athletics. And many programs offer a mix of both. 

Summer learning can help struggling students catch up — and hopefully have some fun along the way. Explore summer learning options for kids who learn and think differently.

Dive deeper

Reinventing summer school after COVID-19

Many school districts are expanding their summer learning programs using funding related to the pandemic. Some districts are making the programs available to all kids. Other districts are inviting large numbers of kids. For example, Tennessee’s Knox County invited three-fourths of its K–7 students to attend an optional summer learning program.

Many school districts are also trying to make summer programs more fun and engaging. They want kids to want to go to summer school. Check with your district to see what’s available.

Learn why it helps kids to keep working on skills during the summer .

Traditional summer school classes

Some struggling students may be required to attend summer school. These remedial courses are designed to close the gap between what students know and what they’re expected to know. The courses often target reading or math skills. 

If a summer remedial program is optional, ask how much time is spent in school each day and whether any fun activities are included. Then think about how much a child needs or might like the program. 

Learn more about remedial programs .

Compensatory services for kids with disabilities

Some students with disabilities qualify for extended school year (ESY) services in the summer. These services are usually given when a student is likely to “regress” or lose skills without summer services or classes. For some kids, ESY might mean a social skills program. For others, it might mean speech therapy or reading skills sessions. 

Not all kids with disabilities are eligible for summer ESY. That’s because not all students are likely to lose skills over the summer. But this year, many kids may have a different option for summer learning.

Because of COVID-19, many kids with disabilities have fallen behind this year. Remote learning was a big change. Many students did not receive services or accommodations for part of the year. 

That’s why kids with IEPs and 504 plans may be eligible for “compensatory services” to make up for what they didn’t get during remote learning. Compensatory services aren’t the same thing as ESY. They should be given when the school didn’t provide the required services described in a student’s IEP or 504 plan. 

There’s more funding for compensatory services because of the pandemic. Some of this money can be used for services over the summer. 

Some districts are still figuring out how they will decide who needs compensatory services. Check with your district to see what the process is. 

Consider requesting an IEP meeting or a 504 meeting to see about adding compensatory services this summer. And learn how schools decide who qualifies for extended school year services

Specialized summer learning programs

Some summer learning programs and sleepaway camps are tailored for kids who learn and think differently. These programs aren’t part of public schooling and can be pricey. But many may offer scholarships.

To find nearby programs, ask a local private school that specializes in teaching kids with ADHD and dyslexia. 

To find camps for ADHD and other challenges, go to the American Camping Association. Scroll through the dropdown menu in “Disabilities and Other Special Needs.” 

Summer enrichment beyond the classroom

Learning doesn’t have to be about academics. Some states partner with Boys and Girls Clubs and other groups to provide free or low-cost summer enrichment. 

Search online for “summer learning classes” or “summer enrichment programs” near your home. For example, your local zoo might have weeklong programs that introduce kids to zoology. Or a local theater might have performing arts classes for kids.

Key Takeaways

  • Summer programs include extended school year (ESY) services, summer school, or other local classes.

  • Summer ESY is optional.

  • Summer learning can be important. But so is starting school relaxed and rested.

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