Making Summer Count—Weekly Camps at TNCS

No more pencils, no more books, no more . . . development?

Empty classroom, empty heads

This forlorn image is a disturbing visual metaphor for the blankness that can descend on kids’ brains without enriching activities to occupy them during extended school breaks.

Pop culture would have us believe that summer is a time of sanctioned hedonism—a 9-week-long cannonball into a pool of unrestricted play, unbroken by stints of focused study. A vacation for the brain. Such is how many of us grew up, in fact.

But before we let our kids’ hair completely down this coming summer, we’d do well to consider that more and more researchers agree that throwing academics to the wind for such an extended period is hurting kids’ cognitive development as well as reversing their academic progress. In fact, in Lasting Consequences of the Summer Learning Gap, a 2007 report, researchers not only categorically demonstrated that this regression was occurring, but also found that it’s cumulative, so that the time squandered during the elementary years shows up as marked deficits in the high school years:

We find that the . . . achievement gap at 9th grade mainly traces to differential summer learning over the elementary years.

This was the major finding from the Johns Hopkins University’s Beginning School Study (BSS), which launched in 1982 and tracked testing data, learning patterns, high school placement, high school completion, college attendance, and other indicators among a representative sample of Baltimore school children from first grade through age 22 years.

A related report from the National Summer Learning Association finds that “A conservative estimate of lost instructional time is approximately 2 months or roughly 22% of the school year . . . It’s common for teachers to spend at least a month re-teaching material that students have forgotten over the summer. That month of re-teaching eliminates a month that could have been spent on teaching new information and skills.”

Keep your kids off the summer slide!

On the heels of these sister benchmark studies, both President Obama and best-selling author Malcolm Gladwell took up arms in the fight against “summer slide.” President Obama argues for education reform with a longer school year at the heart of this platform. Noting that U.S. students attend classes, on average, about a month less than children in most other advanced countries, he said in a 2010 interview, “That month makes a difference. It means students are losing a lot of what they learn during the school year during the summer . . . The idea of a longer school year, I think, makes sense!”

In Outliers: The Story of Success, Malcolm Gladwell urges us to rethink our notion of what makes someone successful, because according to him, it isn’t usually the individual gifts a person is endowed with but rather some special opportunity that befell him or her at an optimal point. Wouldn’t it be great if such opportunities were more broadly available, such as, say, summer camp? (In point of fact, the BSS found that “unequal access to summer learning [italics mine] opportunities during the elementary school years” is responsible for most of the achievement gap. Scary.) Tying this to academic performance, Gladwell writes, the “only problem with school, for kids who aren’t achieving, is that there isn’t enough of it.”

Inquiring minds

This inquisitive little girl is all set to explore some insect life!

If, as he believes, “It is not the brightest who succeed, nor is success simply the sum of the decisions and efforts we make on our own behalf. . .  Outliers are those who have been given opportunities—and who have had the strength and presence of mind to seize them,” then let’s seize back those June, July, and August weeks and help our kids make the most of them!

How to let them have fun while they learn: summer camp at TNCS

Lisa Warren, Language Curriculum Specialist

Lisa Warren, Language Curriculum Specialist

The New Century School Summer Camp Director Lisa Warren says, “Camp is still a ‘break’ from the school year, but it keeps bodies and minds engaged in a fun way.” (You might recognize Ms. Warren from “Language Curriculum Specialist Joins TNCS.” That’s right, she’s not only the TNCS Summer Camp Director, but also the Foreign Language Curriculum Specialist as well as the Lingo Leap Program Director. That’s one devoted educator!)

As camp director, Ms. Warren developed the themes each weekly camp will be based on, making sure to include a wide variety to appeal to many interests. “I’m especially excited about the construction theme,” she said. “That’s a unique one you don’t always see, but so many kids love it.” She also provides the educational resources and some activity ideas to the instructors who will be overseeing each camp. Most camp instructors are already part of TNCS staff, so they know the ropes.

Themes will vary among the preprimary, primary, and elementary camps, and instruction will also be differentiated within each of those three strata. No matter what level your child is working at, he or she will receive individualized and group learning support. And again, even though academic engagement is the camp’s foundation, fun is at the heart of each session. See the primary session schedule at right. Themes guaranteed to keep kids’ interested include everything from Cooking/Gardening and Mandarin Immersion to Under the Bigtop. Preprimary camp will be immersion-style, and parents can choose from either Spanish or Mandarin. All camps will feature an in-class language assistant, however, so kids at all levels will have the opportunity to practice the other languages they are learning.

Primary summer camp themes

An example of themes from TNCS’s primary summer camp itinerary. Gosh, can adults attend???

The elementary camp takes a slightly different tack, comprising “specialty sessions.” These are a bit more targeted as befits the older child. Kids here can start the summer with Camp Invention, of which TNCS is proud to be the exclusive downtown provider. In Camp Invention, the brainchild of a nonprofit organization, kids are challenged with a project that they must execute collaboratively. The project goal always centers around solving a particular, real-world problem. (Camp Invention will be profiled at length in these pages in the weeks to come. Stay tuned!) Toward the close of summer, kids ages 5–11 will move into “Launch Pad Academic Bridge” camp, which is just what it sounds like: “a means to recapture and reactivate knowledge learned during the previous school year to prepare for the coming year,” in the words of Ms. Warren.

Other important camp highlights—read on!

Chef Emma Novashinski will offer a Brown Bag lunch as the summertime extension of the Kitchen Garden Tuck Shop program, available for weekly sign-up. As always, her lunch will be healthy, locally sourced, and hand-prepared. Even this will have a fun summer twist; lunches come in paper bags for easy transport to an outdoor picnic spot!

Regular camp hours run from 8:30 a.m. to 3:30 p.m. (or to 12:30 p.m. for half days). Before-  and aftercare will also be available, starting as early as 7:30 a.m. and running through 6:00 p.m.

Just as in previous years, the camp week culminates with Fridays, better known to camp attendants as Water Playday. Sounds fun, right? Kids can run and jump through the spray from a sprinkler, and a water table will also be on hand to foster those skills that any budding civil engineers, marine biologists, and geophysicists might require. (And, of course, synchronized swimmers.)

Finally, if you have any questions, please visit the website or contact Lisa Warren at

Find additional reading, including more tips for academically enriching summer activities here:

9 thoughts on “Making Summer Count—Weekly Camps at TNCS

  1. Another key finding from the BSS is that, “Early summer learning losses have later life consequences, including high school curriculum placement, whether kids drop out of high school, and whether they attend college.”

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