Should My Child Go to Summer School?

When summer school might be a good idea, and when it's not

Girl in classroom wearing backpack watching classmates
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If you're considering summer school for your child it's likely for one of two reasons: A teacher or learning professional suggested that she would benefit from some extra classroom time, or you're hoping to give your kid a head start on next year. For some kids, summer school can be a positive learning experience. For others, it may not be the best way to encourage summer learning or to prevent the inevitable summer brain drain.

When Summer School Isn't Negotiable

There are circumstances in which your child will have to go to summer school whether you (or he) like it or not. Here are some of the more common situations in which summer school is no longer optional.

  • A Non-Graduating Senior. Though your child may have marched with his graduating class, it's not all that unusual to find out after the fact that he has actually failed one of the core requirements for graduation. If your new graduate wants his diploma and/or to move onto college in the fall, he'll have to retake the course over the summer to obtain the credit.
  • A Student in Danger of Retention. Schools try really hard to make sure students aren't retained (or "held back"), but sometimes if a child missed a lot of school and doesn't do well on the end-of-the-year assessments, it has to be considered. One way to avoid this is to see if the school has a summer school program or can recommend a private one that can help your child catch up. If your child is in the later elementary grades or middle school, it's a good idea to consider it. Once she has a good relationship with her peer group, it will be hard if he's unable to continue on with them. However, before agreeing to summer school, make sure both you and your child know when and how a final decision about moving forward will be made.
  • An IEP that Specifies Extended School Year Services. This is dependent on your child's disability and how significantly it may affect her learning. If your child is at risk for extensive summer learning loss or will lose educational ground with the change of routine, her team may decide that it's in her best interests to continue some sort of programming or services over the summer. Though not technically summer school, ESY is really important to make sure your child is making progress toward the annual goals on her IEP.

When Summer School Might Not Be Necessary

Just because someone suggested summer school, doesn't mean it's always necessary for your child. While some children may benefit from the extra learning, it may be available in a different way, such as private tutoring or homeschooling programs. Here are a few cases in which summer school isn't a bad idea, but might not be completely necessary.

  • Trouble or Deficits in One Subject Area. If your child is at grade level (or above) in most subjects but has difficulty in writing, for example, a comprehensive summer school program isn't always necessary. His teacher may be able to provide some suggestions for enrichment activities over the summer or recommend a tutor to help him gain some ground.
  • Accelerating By a Grade. This is better known as skipping a grade. Of course, if your child is skipping a grade, you may wonder why she'd need any type of academic support over the summer. After all, if she's smart enough to skip, she's got to be a grade level, right? Not necessarily.

More About Skipping Grades

Many schools won't accelerate students anymore, preferring to tailor their programs to their needs instead. Some of this has to do with the social issues that kids who skip grades face, if not immediately, then down the line when a year makes a big difference in maturity.

But some of it has to do with the fact that it's not unusual for kids who skip grades to have learning gaps that show up later on. It's not their fault, it's just that there are some skills that they didn't haven't a chance to learn.

To see if your gifted child could benefit from some summer programming, ask the school district if they'd be willing to test your child with the end-of-the-year performance exams for the year your child is skipping. This will show you where her weaknesses lie and how significant they are.

Alternatives to Summer School

  • Private tutors.
  • Specific prep courses (such as SAT, ACT, or PSAT prep courses).
  • Programs at commercial learning centers, such as Kaplan or Sylvan.
  • College or university-run camps or summer programs.
  • Other structured summer camps. Many areas offer camps that cater to a wide variety of interests, from equestrian camps to LEGO camps to photography programs.