I don’t believe this concept is new, so I will share how our family implemented what is likely a common approach to keep children mentally engaged during the summer months between academic years. The investment during the summer helps when they transition back to school after 2-3 months of no formal academic activities.
Each parent must determine what age range is best for their respective children, as well as the subjects or activities that would be included. Of course the key factor in any such program is time. Time demanded from the children and, more importantly, time committed by the parent. Depending on how interactive the program, the time demand could be a limiting factor and potentially preclude the execution of a program at all. For us, the ages ranged from around 9 to 14 and included reading, math (algebra, geometry) and science (chemistry). My wife led the reading program, I led the math/science summer classes. The reading program was fairly straightforward – the girls were given a number of books to read, either self-selected or designated, and upon completion either wrote a report or explained to my wife what the book was about and what they learned from it. The number and type varied, but at the end of summer we went out to dinner as a celebratory event to recognize their achievement and signal the end of summer. I was not intimately involved in this program, except for the end of summer dinner, but it was a staple responsibility during the summer for the girls.
In addition to the summer reading was the math/science classes I set up. These were more formal and interactive. I set up a mini-curriculum, used a white board to teach the lessons and had tests to gauge what they learned. The classes spanned several weeks, with about 2 to 3 classes per week. I focused on math and science because that is what I knew and decided to do. I wanted to preclude the common fear of math/science that students typically have. So I made a deliberate effort to increase their confidence once they took the classes. I did not believe my girls were immune to the statistical trend of children, particularly girls and minorities, lacking confidence in math/science. The subjects I introduced were at least one year before my oldest actually took the class, as my daughters were two academic years apart. I included both in the classes and regardless of how difficult the subject seemed, I stayed on task and on them.
Admittedly, the girls were not big fans of these classes initially. Nor were there cousins who visited during the summers as they also had to attend (it was a “White House” thing). But after a few classes they settled into the reality, and even enjoyed the “father-daughter” time (as much as summer algebra or geometry can be enjoyed by a pre-teen or teen). The classes served multiple purposes for me – it allowed me to gauge their competence level in the respective subjects, build up their confidence prior to taking the classes and reduced the need for me to help them once they started the classes for real in school. I am not sure what the proper set of classes or activities any given child should be taught in the summer. I would submit whatever the parent is most comfortable with teaching, considers most important and can work into their schedule should be at the top. As a Chemist (at least someone with a Chemistry degree), math and science were in my wheelhouse. And I demanded the time from my children, and committed myself to create the curriculum, teach the classes, test the girls and interact with them after work 2-3 times a week in this respect.
I offer that summer programs be aggressively sought out to both bridge the academic years and build the parent-child relationship. But the parent must find the opportunities to achieve both of those benefits.