Why Summer School?

By Marijane Schafer

Studies have shown that students forget much of what they learn during the school year over the summer—as much as two months of math and reading loss. What\'s happening to students over the summer? www.usnews.com/education/blogs/high-school-notes/2011/05/20/rethinking-summer-school

Having been a “Montessorian” for over 40 years I have had the opportunity to teach and learn from hundreds of wonderful children and parents. As “they” say, “Experience is the best teacher”. That being said I would like to share with you some thoughts about Summer Vacation. I recall that I looked forward to summer vacation when I was in mid-elementary years. It was a fun filled time of swimming and outdoors. Of course it was safe to let children roam freely in the woods so many years ago. It was, however, a struggle each fall to get back to the routine of school every day.

A child’s natural development does not take time off in the summer. It is an ongoing process that is certainly not enhanced when it is not being stimulated by consistent sequential learning. To provide consistency and repetition for a smooth transition from June to September, at this age 18 month to 6 year olds, it is imperative that a child has the opportunity to repeat work learned, by being in some portion of the summer school. Some points in that regard:

• Natural periods for learning cannot be put off they are just passed by and lost.
• MCDC provides a variety of new and different activities in the summer along with academics.
• Summer School at this age is not remedial it is fun learning in a comfortable familiar environment
• At MCDC we have daily swim lessons and children who are here for 6-8 weeks become little “fish”.
• Coming to summer school for at least a month during this three month holiday makes the world of difference for a child of this age.
• At this age children take time to adjust to new camps and activities, sometimes 2-3 weeks, then that program is over and a new one begins.
• We encourage you to support your child’s development by continuing the order and ability to repeat activities available in your child’s daily life in summer.
• Extended absences from the “didactic” purposeful activities inherent in the Montessori environment can cause inharmonious behaviors to surface when children return to school.
In the early years of learning children need much more consistency than they do later on. The brain is still developing a view of the world. Long breaks in routine can cause a child to miss a sensitive period for certain learning. For instance, there is a very short period of natural sensitivity to math. First the child is fascinated with counting, and then learns there are numerals (symbols) he can begins to recognize. At the same time he is tracing the sandpaper symbols for writing. It all builds on that first spark of wanting to know “how many?” And on to addition, subtraction and fractions, there is no end to what a child can learn if the right materials and guidance is available but if he is pulled away at a crucial point, it then can become a drudgery of drilling and memorization. A parent once said to me “I learned it that way and I am ok”. True enough for some but really how many students never liked math or some other subject. Could that be because they missed the stimulation at a critical point in the early years? If the first step is missed, then the task of learning math, reading, fractions or grace and courtesy is just that, a task, not a pleasure. How do we know if that sensitive period will happen in the summer? We don’t until it is too late.

So often a child returns to school after a wonderful summer vacation and though happy to be back has forgotten things that she was learning. Consistency was broken; repetition did not occur long enough for whatever she learned to become internalized. September start of school is, for the child who has been gone all summer, a time of catching up. It often can take a month or more to get back what was lost over summer. This is time when children who were in summer school are moving on to more advanced work.

Some parents feel very strongly that summertime is sacred. Formal learning should not enter into the process. Yet many parents also express how “bored” their children get after a few days or two of nothing but time on their hands.

Do you look forward to spending the summer in the hot car furiously shuttling children from one activity to another? Why, when MCDC has planned an exciting program for the summer in an environment where these youngsters are already comfortable and do not have to take 2, 3 or 4 weeks to become accustomed.

We encourage you to support your child’s development by continuing the order and ability to repeat activities available in your child’s daily life in summer. Just because it is summer does not mean their Montessori “Casa” is suddenly wrong for them.