Summer has always been an important time in the lives of children—and Summer 2021 is poised to be even more critical, as families start to recover from the tremendous disruption and loss caused by COVID-19. Yet a new study finds that student participation in summer learning programs remains low, despite high parent satisfaction. In fact, for every child in a summer learning program in 2019, another was waiting to get in, according to Time for a Game-Changing Summer, With Opportunity and Growth for All of America’s Youth
, a new study commissioned by the Afterschool Alliance and conducted by Edge Research.
The new study finds that 47 percent of families report at least one of their children participated in a summer program in 2019, up from 33 percent in 2013 and 25 percent in 2008. A total of 12.6 million students—or 22 percent of the country’s K-12 children – participated in a structured summer experience in 2019. But the parents of another 13.9 million children were unable to enroll their children in the summer programs they hoped to find. Children in lower-income families are most likely to have been left behind.
Then in 2020, participation in summer programs dropped further, as the pandemic upended education and family and work life. Just 34 percent of families enrolled a child in a structured summer experience last year. Many kids who did enroll in 2020 participated virtually.
Time for a Game-Changing Summer is based on responses from more than 29,500 U.S. families and builds on household surveys conducted in 2004, 2009 and 2014. It includes national-level findings from smaller surveys of parents and program providers conducted in summer and fall of 2020 and spring of 2021. It offers a snapshot of how children and youth spent their summers before and during the pandemic and has significant implications for our post-pandemic world.
Key findings include:
- Unmet demand for summer experiences is high. Nearly 14 million children whose parents wanted to enroll them were not in summer programs in 2019. More than half of families without a child in a summer program report that, during the summer of 2020, they would have liked to have had a summer program available to them.
- There are troubling inequities in access to summer programs. While 27 percent of children in higher-income families participated in a structured summer experience in 2019, just 14 percent of students in families with low incomes did. Approximately three in four children in a structured summer experience (74 percent) are from higher-income families, compared with only one in four children (26 percent) from lower-income families.
- Cost is a barrier to participation. Two in five parents who did not have a child in a structured summer experience (39 percent) did not enroll their child because programs were too expensive. Among children not enrolled in a summer program, 35 percent of children in households with low incomes would have been enrolled in a summer program in 2019 if one were available, compared with 28 percent of children in higher-income households. Students in families with low incomes are 13 percentage points less likely to take part in more expensive summer activities, including STEM (science, technology, engineering and math) camps. The average cost reported by families who pay for activities ranges from around $758 for voluntary summer programs to more than $900 for STEM camps.
- About four in five programs (79 percent) that offered summer learning in the past plan to do so again this year.
- Parents prioritize life skills for summer learning and want it to be different than the school year. Three in four parents (75 percent) prioritize keeping their child from losing academic ground in choosing their summer activity, but nine in ten report that opportunities to build life skills (94 percent), be physically active (92 percent), and experience a variety of activities (90 percent) are important factors in selecting their child’s summer activities. Parents prioritize life skills, physical activity, and a variety of activities much more highly in selecting summer programs for their children than in selecting afterschool programs.
- Priorities vary by family income and race. Black, Latinx and Native American families are much more likely than White and Asian American parents to say that a variety of activities, snacks and/or meals, physical activity, building life skills and academic enrichment (including keeping their child from losing academic ground and STEM learning opportunities) are extremely important when selecting their child’s summer activities. Low-income parents place a greater emphasis on reducing risky behaviors (23 percentage point difference) and snacks and meals (21 percentage point difference) than families with higher incomes.
- Parents give high marks to summer programming. In 2019, an extraordinary 95 percent of parents were satisfied with the structured summer experience their child attended and 65 percent were extremely satisfied. Ninety-six percent of parents with a child in a STEM camp, 96 percent of parents with a child in a non-STEM camp or program, and 95 percent of parents with a child in a voluntary summer program report satisfaction with the experience.
- Eighty-eight percent of parents favor public funding for summer learning opportunities for students in communities with few opportunities for children and youth. Support crosses demographic and political lines, with 92 percent of parents who identify as Democratic, 88 percent of those who identify as Independent, and 86 percent of parents who identify as Republican in favor of public funding for summer learning. Support reaches 90 percent in urban, Latinx and two-earner households.
Findings from Time for a Game-Changing Summer are based on a nationally representative survey of randomly selected adults who live in the United States and are the parent or guardian of a school-age child who lives in their household. A total of 29,595 households, including 53,287 children, were surveyed in English or Spanish and answered questions regarding the summer of 2019. Data from interviews is weighted on race and income within states and by state population. The overall margin of error for child-level and household-level data is +/- < 1 percent. The survey included at least 200 interviews in every state and the District of Columbia. Data was collected between January 27 and March 17, 2020, by Edge Research.
Time for a Game-Changing Summer is a special report based on The Afterschool Alliance’s fourth edition of America After 3PM report, which provides a detailed, updated accounting of the circumstances and conditions of U.S. children during the hours between 3 p.m. and 6 p.m.
Additional information, including state-specific data, can be found at America After 3PM 2020 (afterschoolalliance.org).