Summer learning and fun on a shoestring

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ECACCross-posted with permission from our friends at Exceptional Children’s Assistance Center (ECAC). ECAC is a Regional Parent Technical Assistance Center and the Parent Training and Information Center in North Carolina serving families of children with disabilities, their teachers, and other professionals. Visit ECAC’s website at to access free publications, training opportunities, and other resources, and be sure to check out their Ask ECAC blog (


Many parents worry that the summer break from school will mean weeks of lost opportunities to learn. Worse yet, they fear that their child may actually lose skills that they have worked so hard to develop. Some parents will enroll their child in some sort of academic program, which may or may not be disguised as a “camp.” Other parents would like to do this, but lack the financial resources to make it happen. The quick tip for this last group of parents is to ask about financial assistance or scholarships that might make a big difference.

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Fixed budget? No problem.

For folks who have limited funds, it is important to tap into other resources that may be available. One of the important lessons that my own mother taught me is to not let pride stand in the way of giving your child a valuable experience. When she worked as a housekeeper in the local YWCA, she somehow made it possible for me to take free classes on Saturdays. It was at the Y that I learned how to sew, cook, dance, swim and speak French. She then talked my school into allowing me, as a 4th grader, to sit in with the 6th grade class when they had their French lessons. My brothers and I also had the opportunity to attend day and overnight camps at no cost other than our clothing and required gear. This contrast to our typical inner-city routine expanded our minds in ways that cannot be measured.

As a financially-challenged mom, I have applied that advocacy lesson to the benefit of my own children. I ask about and stay on the lookout for programs and activities in my community. My children have had the opportunity to participate in some expensive specialty programs at a fraction of the cost. There are also low-cost day camps offered by schools, park and recreation departments, churches and other non-profit groups. The Cooperative Extension Service offers 4-H programs year-round where children and youth “Learn by Doing.” During summer there are 4-H traditional and specialty camps. The Boy and Girl Scouts of America also offer summer camping opportunities, which may even be open to non-scouts if space is available. Camps give children the chance to learn about science, nature, crafts, music, sports, etc. and develop in many areas including communication and social skills.

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Ask around, you may be surprised.

Some private schools that have summer programs for academic enrichment or remediation have scholarships available for those who cannot afford to pay all or any of the cost, but they may not advertise them. Your school guidance counselor or social worker may be aware of these opportunities, as well as other programs that may be targeted toward economically-disadvantaged or at-risk students, or groups that are under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math. Some of those programs are offered on college and university campuses, making the dream of going to college seem more possible for the children who participate.

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Work with what you have!

Educational websites and software (that can often be borrowed from your public library) offer “games” that can reinforce or develop skills while your child is having fun. Even old-school activity books can sharpen a variety of skills in response to a complaint that “I’m bored!” A walk in a park or a drive in the country can lead to interesting discoveries or raise questions that you can research together (e.g. let’s find out about that bug/rock/plant/historical marker, etc.). Some businesses or factories offer tours, or at least may be willing to allow an employee to take the time to explain what kind of work they do. Local museums and zoos often have discount days and many movie theaters offer special shows for kids at low-cost and may even come complete with popcorn!

The most important thing is to not forget that learning can happen everywhere and everyday, sometimes without your child realizing it. In fact, it’s probably better that way.

Here are a few resources to get you started:
10 Resources for Learning Over The Summer

Start with a Book

Early literacy activities—in multiple languages!

And a little something special for our teacher folks:

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