What Parents Think About Summer and Summer Learning

Before the districts planned and launched their recruitment efforts, Crosby Communications conducted 11 focus groups with roughly 100 parents of third and fourth graders in three cities. This is what we learned:

Parents revealed that they were not immediately familiar with the term “summer learning.” But once they learned what it meant, their reaction was very positive. They liked that the concept emphasized a mix of fun and academics and saw it as clearly different from summer school.
Parents are very protective of their child’s summers—they want their child to have fun during the summer and a break from what they perceive to be the hard work of the school year.
Will my child be ready for next school year?
What Parents Want to Know
Will my child be ready for next school year?
Parents have a negative reaction to the term "summer school."
The idea of helping their child get ready to succeed in the next grade is very motivating to parents.
Parents believe that summer learning loss is real but they don’t see the urgency of addressing it. Only when we told them their child may fall behind over time did they recognize the need to take action. However, many parents believe they can address the problem themselves by giving their child workbooks or connecting them to online programs. Other parents believe that teachers can just play a bit of “catch up” in the fall.

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Parents may be motivated to register their child in a summer learning program, but it's the details that drive the decision: How  many weeks does the program run? What are the hours of operation each day? What is the cost? Is there convenient transportation? Who is supervising and teaching the children?
Parents specifically mentioned these potential barriers to having their child take part: transportation, hours of operation, cost, location and proximity to home, and the perceived safety of the site.
Parents routinely mentioned the importance of giving their child a say in their summer activity planning;  before they would register their child for a summer learning program they need to be convinced that he or she would like it.
Will my child have fun this summer?
What Parents Want to Know
Will my child have fun this summer?
The word “free” was not popular with parents. It seemed to suggest a lack of quality. “No-cost” was better received. The term “apply” was also unpopular because it seemed to suggest that somebody would be judging them and their child. “Register” or “sign-up” were terms that parents found more emotionally neutral.
Many of the parents in these focus groups don’t make summer plans until late in the school year. Most said they make plans in mid- to late-April and into May. Some reported making them earlier, while others said they wait as late as June.


The definition of summer learning used in the focus groups was: “A summer learning program is run by the public schools. It is free. It is a nice mix of school subjects, like reading and math, fun activities and field trips. The program helps children keep learning during the summer so they don’t forget what they learned during the school year, and it helps them get ready to do better in the new school year.”