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Summer Camps: Balancing Academics and Play

Graduation caps have been tossed, classrooms have been tidied, bulletin boards covered, technology devices returned, and storage cabinets securely locked. Schools around the world have closed their doors for the summer, signaling the end of another academic year and the start of a long-awaited break.

For the next two blissful months, children get to embrace the true essence of childhood—play. Summer is here, and with it comes the freedom and joy that kids have been eagerly anticipating. Yet, for many, this seasonal shift brings more than just a break from the classroom. It ushers in a new set of scheduled, adult-supervised lessons and activities: the adventure of summer camp. The challenge many founding international schools face is maintaining an exciting environment, ensuring student retention, and building a reserve fund for ongoing repairs.

As a Head of School, I questioned myself about: Should these schools require their students to attend the schools summer camps to enhance their second language, increase reading or math skills? Should the school require both local and expatriate teachers to work at the summer camp? Do we need to be the solution for parents’ childcare? Is this healthy for the children to return to the same environment for summer camp?

Let us go back and look at the concept of summer camps, aimed to prolong and protect childhood innocence. Camps became places where children could explore individual passions–the arts, sports or outdoor life–in contrast to the presumed rigidity of school curricula. One of the most significant aspects of summer camp is the sense of community it creates. Campers form close bonds with their peers and counselors, developing friendships that can last a lifetime. They learn important social skills like teamwork, communication, and conflict resolution while living and playing together in a supportive environment.

In many countries, summer camp has primarily evolved from a need for supplemental care during the summer months while parents are at work. If you are fortunate to be a child of international educators, your summer vacation might be spent traveling, visiting relatives, or hanging out at home, playing with other children, and decompressing from the 9–10-month hustle of school and tuition classes after school. However, for students whose parents are not educators and do not have the summer off, summer camps become an essential option. Today, there are various reasons parents look to schools for summer camps for various reasons, including childcare, enrichment, and socialization.

The Covid-19 pandemic highlighted the crucial need for social-emotional learning breaks for children. Many of the behavioral and academic problems observed in schools stem from an overemphasis on learning and a lack of play. Research shows that younger children have a higher need for play, while older children benefit significantly from opportunities to develop independent thinking and socializing.

By understanding these needs, summer camps can be intended to offer a balanced mix of academic activities and play-based learning, ensuring a holistic development approach that addresses both the educational and emotional needs of children. What is play? Play is education and sport. Free play promotes the child’s creativity, autonomy, and confidence. When children are given active free play outside, studies show that children have better control over their emotions and impulses after preschool. The higher in age, children who are given choices on types of interest of play, display increase problem solving skills and helps the child learn about natural consequences. For older children this building of confidence and independence, encourages children to learn about their own limitations and physical abilities.

As much as I have learned as a founding school leader, summer camps are valuable but so are the benefits of down time for staff. I am a firm believer that children and staff need a break. If schools must run a summer camp, here are a few ideas or options to think about. Have the school higher outside agencies that run summer camp programs. These program run independently from the school, allow the school to be used as the base and recruit their own staff. Offer other schools to come in and use the campus for educational conferences, training program, University cohort classes or local events. Lease out the dorms for language programs. Having these options allows founding school leaders to properly plan for the needed repairs, restructure, enhancement and betterment of the schools’ founding principles, values and mission and vision.

Make the right choice and move away from relying on the schools staff, students and community stakeholders to run summer camp. Academic learning will be around for our students for the next 15 years of their primary and secondary educational pathway. My advice to founding school leaders, we know social emotional health is vital for all community members of the school. It has been proven that downtime allows the brain to recharge and enhance cognitive functions, improve memory, and boost creativity. After all, schools need rested staff and students upon returning to the start of the new school year. Make the best move, offer summer camps under your terms.

Ever wish of having invaluable insights and support while embarking on the journey of first time leadership, or perhaps academic training to open a founding school? Look no further! International Educational Consultants brings years of extensive experience in higher education, private, public, and international schools, along with a vast network of experienced colleagues, to work directly with you.

Contact Dr. McFarland at International Educational Consultants to leverage her expertise in addressing your leadership training, mentoring, school policy, startup school queries, or just overcoming challenges of day to day operations. We offer Webinar training sessions, idea-sharing, attentive listening, and face to face workshops. Connect today with International Educational Consultants.

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