7 Ways to Tell If Your Child Would Benefit From Attending a Summer School
Your child probably has their own ideas about what they’d like to do for the summer holidays – the trouble is, that those ideas might involve more TV and video games than would be good for them, or more activities and meeting up with friends than you have time to supervise. With a family holiday, a week with their grandparents and some time at clubs and activities, there can still be quite a lot of summer holiday left over. How to fill it? Your child might have a clear idea of what they want, but from previous summers you might also know that by the third day of hanging around the house they’re bored to tears, no matter how appealing it might have sounded as the end of the school term approached.
One great option is sending them on a summer school. You might have considered this primarily as an option for teenagers, not for younger children, but some younger children can also benefit from a week or two having fun and learning along the way in a summer school context, whether in the company of older siblings or relishing the opportunity to strike out on their own. While it’s not an option that’s right for every child, here are a few of the signs that it might be right for yours.
1. They’re getting bored with what they’re learning at school
One of the best things a summer school can do is get your child excited about their education again. The pre-teen years can be particularly difficult because children are growing up and learning at markedly different paces, and your child might well find themselves bored in school because they’re ahead of their class, or bored because they’re finding everything a struggle.
Summer school teaching sidesteps the steady curriculum progression that your child will get at school. Because students at a summer school are likely to come from lots of different countries (at Oxford Royale Summer Schools, we had students from over 130 different countries last year), they’ll all be at different stages in their education and following different curricula. To ensure that everyone learns and benefits from their time at the summer school, the courses take a tangential approach to what your child might be studying in school, so they’ll be introduced to new and exciting material from a fresh perspective.
That might mean studying topics that they’re unlikely to encounter at all in their normal schooling or that don’t fit into the standard curriculum, or taking a different approach; for instance, at Oxford Royale Summer Schools, teachers encourage a lively classroom with discussion and debate, which can help stimulate the enthusiasm of children who have struggled with the memorisation and focus on written work that they might be used to at school. Or it might mean having the chance to do some hands-on learning in the form of experiments that help to bring new ideas to life.
2. They want to expand their circle of friends
One challenging part of the pre-teen years is making and retaining friends. If your child hasn’t yet gone to secondary school, they might well be worrying about whether there’ll be able to make friends there. And even if they have, starting at a new school combined with the onset of puberty can make friendships feel much more complicated than they used to be.
Summer schools are set up to enable and encourage the children attending to make friends. There are formal activities like ice-breaker sessions to help with this, but ultimately one of the best recipes for making new friends is spending lots of time with new people in an environment that’s new to you both, and that’s exactly what a summer school provides. Even children who struggle to make new friends at school find it easier in a summer school context; there’s less pressure from peers, and the brief duration of a summer school can encourage children to spend time with people they might not usually want to hang out with, which can help them to set aside prejudices and broaden their horizons as well.
Not only will your child find it easy to make friends at a summer school, they’re likely to make friends from all over the world, and possibly from a more diverse range of backgrounds than they’ve previously had the opportunity to encounter. That can help to make their understanding of the world and of the differences between people more nuanced and sensitive.
3. Their English could use some practice
If English isn’t your child’s first language, then a summer school can be the perfect environment in which to practise and learn. Even if your child isn’t specifically studying an English language course, with students coming from all over the world, English will be used as a lingua franca and that means they’ll have a lot of opportunities to practise! One of the difficulties with learning any language in a classroom setting is the lack of incentive to improve (beyond the straightforward desire to be a good student), but when speaking good English is essential to talking to their new friends, you can be sure that your child will have a good reason to work on their language skills.
Beyond the incentive to learn, attending an English-language summer school teaches your child the kind of vocabulary they might actually want to use to speak to their friends, rather than the artificial exercises from textbooks. They get to experience how English is used in real life, not just in roleplay exercises about “what I did at the weekend” or “my favourite subject”. This also builds confidence in English; in a classroom setting, it can be disheartening to speak up if you’re not sure you’ve got the right answer. But when using a foreign language in the real world, it’s much better to have a go and risk making mistakes than stay silent until you’re sure you’re exactly right. Using English as a lingua franca to speak with friends naturally encourages children to focus on communicating as their top priority, and not to worry too much about whether their grammar is spot on.
4. They need to get away from it all
Maybe you’re moving house. Maybe they have a younger sibling with special needs for whom summer is a challenging time. Maybe they have an older sibling trying out for a music scholarship and practising the same pieces over and over again eight hours a day. There are a host of reasons why it might be beneficial for your child to be away for a week or two, and a summer school can be a more exciting destination than – for instance – going to spend time with family members.
There might be more pressing and sensitive problems that a trip away to a summer school could help with. For instance, if your child is struggling to get along with a sibling, not adapting well to changes in the family, or being bullied by schoolmates, some time spent away can make a lot of difference; absence really can make the heart grow fonder, or at least make matters feel less distressing that were harder to escape while your child was at home. You might find that a week or two apart was all that was needed to make a sibling rivalry less fierce, or for a bully to get bored. Even if these problems haven’t gone away when your child returns from their summer school trip, you’ll have given them a week or two of respite, which they’re sure to appreciate.
5. You want to expand their horizons
A good summer school is a haven of diversity. Students will come from a wide range of different countries, with different first languages, different religions, different food, different clothing and different cultures. Your child could have the chance to meet a greater variety of people than ever before in their life. What’s more, despite all of their differences they’ll have two things in common: their age, and being at a summer school together. The pre-teen years can be time when children absorb the prejudices of the society around them and become more uncomfortable than they once were around people who are not like them. The diversity of a summer school can be an ideal antidote to this sort of thinking.
But expanding your child’s horizons isn’t just about overcoming biases. It’s also about introducing them to ideas and opportunities that they might not have considered. Right now their ambitions are likely to be parochial, defined perhaps by what they’ve seen of friends and family, or what their teachers have talked to them about. Meeting new friends, perhaps exploring a new country, and speaking to teachers whose role is to inspire them can all help to expand your child’s ideas of what their ambitions could be, and what next steps they might choose to take. This not only lets them know that the range of options for the future is greater than they might have realised, but could give them greater confidence in their own ability to achieve now they know how many varied ways there are of achieving success.
6. They’d benefit from an opportunity to be more independent
The 8-12 years are a time for children to seek out more independence. They might start learning how to prepare some meals, go out to see friends on their own, or learn to make their own way into school. Some children thrive on these opportunities to gain independence and can’t wait for the next freedom that you allow them. Others find the thought of becoming more independent frightening and would prefer to avoid it as much as possible. For the former group, a summer school can be a great opportunity to strike out on their own; you can rest assured that they’ll be fully supervised as they do so, though.
For the latter group, you might be more anxious about sending them to a summer school, and indeed they might be a good deal less willing to go. But it can be worth considering all the same. Sometimes, the difficulty a child faces in seeking out more independence is the fear of letting you down or of embarrassing themselves in front of a sibling, rather than actually being afraid of doing things for themselves; trying out greater independence in the context of a summer school can help them escape these fears and return home confident in the knowledge that they are capable of doing more things for themselves.
7. They deserve a treat
Despite the word ‘school’ in there, going to a summer school should be a treat, not a chore. The dividing line between a summer school and a summer camp is typically quite thin, and there should be plenty of opportunities to have fun outside the classroom at a summer school – plus time spent in the classroom ought to be fun as well! A good summer school will have a whole range of activities for your child to get involved with, which might be sports, music, drama or an introduction to new hobbies that they might never have tried before. There’ll be plenty of choice, so if your child is shy, bookish or dislikes team sports, they won’t be excluded – more likely, they’ll have the opportunity to make like-minded friends.
If your child is in need of a special treat this summer – perhaps they’ve had a tough year personally, or with exams – then a summer school can be a great experience that they can have all to themselves. That’s particularly the case if their home life is stressful, for instance if there have been bereavements in the family or a relative has needed care; a summer school gives your child the chance to get away from it all, mentally and physically, and spend some time enjoying themselves. Of course, they could also deserve a treat simply for being a great kid!
All images used are from Oxford Royale Summer Schools summer schools.