Navigating Summertime Experiences in 2020: Helpful Resources and Support for Program Providers

Image of elementary age child doing crafts outdoors

Last summer was pretty great. My 13-year-old son took a math class and attended a soccer camp at the local high school, led by the high school team players. My younger son, then age 12, worked stage crew on a youth-led production. Then, in July and August, they went to their favorite place on earth, a YMCA camp in northern Michigan, where they forged lifelong friendships. As the world continues to experience the coronavirus pandemic, this summer will likely be very different, and not just for my children.

"Summer provides a unique window of opportunity during the year to engage families and leverage the strengths and resources of families, communities, and other stakeholders to improve the education, health, safety and well-being of children and youth.”
Shaping Summertime Experiences: Opportunities to Promote Healthy Development and Well-Being for Children and Youth, National Academies of Sciences

As a researcher who has studied out-of-school time experiences, I know just how important these opportunities are for my children and children and youth around the country. Summer is a great time for children and youth to develop and explore their interests—and have fun.

Summertime experiences usually include both structured and unstructured time for learning and development. Structured opportunities include day and residential camps, such as district-led summer learning programs, and specialty camps like the ones offered by the SeriousFun Children’s Network. Children and youth also participate in programs on nature and science, technology, engineering and math (STEM); summer school, where they catch up on or dive deeper into core subjects; and sports and recreation programs for physical activities. For older youth, Summer Youth Employment Programs provide practical experience that they can draw on as adults.

In a typical summer, the demand for structured summertime experiences far outweighs the availability. For youth who live in poverty and/or in rural areas, these issues of access are even greater. This year, when the coronavirus has had a significant effect on our daily lives, summertime programming is a question mark both for families and program providers.

Whether summertime programs can open and operate this summer depends on where they are located, the policies of their parent organizations, and their budgets, which dictate not only what they can offer but also their staffing and other operational necessities. Seasonal hiring by organizations operating summertime programs is risky at best this year.

Many organizations offering summertime programming are dependent on fees or per-participant reimbursements and have been experiencing financial uncertainty during this time. Some organizations have faced the challenge of having to keep select programs open for children of essential workers, while also furloughing significant numbers of staff. Public agencies’ budgets are also tight, and many major jurisdictions have proposed funding cuts to Summer Youth Employment Programs. One bright spot is that corporate sector philanthropic investors—like JP Morgan Chase, a longtime supporter of summer youth employment programs—remain committed financially to quality summertime offerings.

Support and Resources for Summertime Program Providers

In the midst of these challenges and the general flux of what this summer might be like across the country, here are some resources for those who intend to provide summertime programs in-person, online, or in a digital format.

  • Federal re-opening guidance from the Centers for Disease Control and Prevention. All summertime programs should adhere to these standards.
  • Tip sheets on summertime programs and camps from national organizations like the National Summer Learning Association and the American Camp Association.
  • Evidenced based-strategies, such as those included in this toolkit, so that both summertime programs and schools can ensure all young people have opportunities to learn and develop. Summertime is a critical time for learning and development, now more than ever, and partnerships between summer programs and schools are key. 
  • A list of hands-on activities for children and youth included in this toolkit from 4-H, which is aimed at helping both parents and summertime program providers.
  • State level guidance on summer programs through your local Statewide Afterschool Network. For example, the Georgia Statewide Afterschool Network is leading a multistate project to create a toolkit that will help afterschool professionals support participants’ learning and development.
  • Various resources and support at the city level, such as through organizations like Boston Afterschool and Beyond. In a webinar, Chris Smith, president and executive director of that organization, and I shared findings from the National Academies of Sciences, Engineering, and Math report on summertime experiences. We also had a candid conversation about how COVID-19 will affect summertime experiences in Boston.