Empowering students with language-based learning differences
The Siena School Blog
Both Camp Wildcat and my summer class were amazing. I don’t usually look forward to summer camps, but Camp Wildcat made me look forward to waking up and going to camp. —Siena Elementary Student
When the days are cold and the school year is in full swing, summer might feel like a long time away. But a successful summer plan starts in the winter. Parents with elementary and middle school–aged students might be wondering how summer school or camp can be beneficial.
Provided that there is the right balance of structure, recreation, and flexibility, summer academic programs and camps help students in terms of their academic performance and social–emotional wellness.
Benefits of Summer Academic Programs and Camps
Here are four keys for students to have a successful summer experience in summer school and/or a school-sponsored camp:
1. Summer academic programs give students a test drive of the school.
Learning about a new school over the summer can be a great trial run for students before the year starts. Maybe the new building is bigger or harder to navigate than a student’s old school, or classes use technology more regularly than students are used to. Or, a student just needs some extra time to get oriented to a new learning environment and school community.
Whether it’s one or all of these, think of summer school as a dress rehearsal for incoming students to start learning the tools, technology, and other systems that could be part of the norm at the new school. This is especially important for students with language-based learning differences, because they might want to start developing the accommodations and self-advocacy practices that a school like Siena has integrated into their curriculum, including our multisensory strategies.
As a Siena summer school teacher notes, “It’s great for new students to be around other new students before they’re around returning students once the school year starts. This makes the transition easier for new students because they’ve experienced a new school with their peers first.” Meeting some students and teachers over the summer gives incoming students a degree of familiarity with the community that will be such an important part of their daily lives once the year starts.
2. Summer academic programs help assess students' learning needs.
When students take summer classes, their teachers can start to identify their individual learning styles and executive functioning skills; this helps teachers develop learning profiles for their students to prepare for the coming year.
“Our summer classrooms provide the same individualized and research-based multisensory learning environments as during the regular school year,” notes Carolyn Bottelier, Science Department Chair and Director of Summer Programs. “Siena students can get help from teachers in a pressure-free environment to complete assigned summer work.”
Research shows that a summer academic program helps with retention, especially for students with dyslexia or other language-based learning differences. For Dr. Sally Shaywitz of the Yale Center for Dyslexia & Creativity, “If a child has been practicing a given set of words and word families during the school year, representatives of the word are beginning to find a permanent home within the [brain’s] word form area.” (See the article that quotes Shaywitz here.)
Students with dyslexia typically need more time and repetition to effectively store information within the automatic reading system; summer programs provide that needed time and repetition in a flexible, personalized environment.
3. Summer camps and academic programs support social and emotional wellness.
I was nervous at first, but the teachers and students were really nice. They made me feel like I was part of the school community. —Siena Elementary Student
Attending a summer program or summer camp as an incoming student could be especially good for anxious learners to get a microexperience of the school, their peers, and teachers. Programs and camps allow students to socialize and form community bonds to lead them into the new school year, in addition to being gradually introduced to the school’s teaching methods and overall learning environment.
As the Yale Center for Dyslexia and Creativity article notes about camps in particular, “Summer camps can also be important for dyslexic students who have deep interests that get sidelined or shortchanged because of academic demands during the school year,” which succeeds in “connecting [them] with other students who share [their] learning profile.”
4. Summer camps and academic programs prepare students for the school year.
“The key to a successful summer for students with dyslexia,” reiterates Director of Summer Programs Carolyn Bottelier, “is balance. Summer at Siena provides that balance for students.” Providing opportunities for both exploration of strengths and interests, as well as providing academic support, helps create a well-rounded summer.
An added benefit of attending summer programs or camps is getting students more comfortable navigating the school, learning the teachers’ expectations, or allowing for exposure to the school to see if it is a good fit for the student and if they will thrive in that setting.
Regardless of whether a student will attend the school hosting the summer program or return to another school, summer academic programs give them community connections, content knowledge, and awareness of their study skills and executive functioning needs. A summer program or camp could also highlight areas of improvement academically or social–emotionally for students as the new year approaches.
Summer downtime after a long school year is important, but so too is (some) summer work time to keep students’ skills sharp and—particularly for students with dyslexia—word retention active.
Resources for Students with Learning Differences
- Learn more here about Siena’s summer programs at its Silver Spring and Northern Virginia campuses.
- Siena Tutors provides individual instruction with experienced teachers to students throughout the United States in grades 3-12. Reading Rockets also has good information for finding a tutor for children with dyslexia.
- Education Consultant Ann Dolin’s website and YouTube Channel offer more resources and tips for avoiding the summer slide.
- LD Online and the Atlantic Seaboard Dyslexia Education Center (ASDEC) have a wealth of resources for families navigating academics and tutoring needs.