3 Common Misconceptions About Summer Learning

Teacher and students building a robot.If you’re thinking about making the switch from a summer reading program to a summer learning program, you might be feeling a little overwhelmed by all the information and opinions out there. So let’s start simple and talk about the difference between the two and then debunk some myths or misconceptions.

What’s the Difference Between Summer Reading and Summer Learning?

A summer reading program emphasizes reading for pleasure and focuses around literacy learning and development. The challenge is that most participants are already strong readers or enjoy reading. By evolving your program into a summer learning program, you can appeal to more kinds of learners. Rather than eliminating or de-emphasizing reading, summer learning places equal value on other learning activities and experiences. This opens your program up to a far wider audience and provides a platform for you to make an even larger impact in your community.

You might be thinking that this just sounds like a summer reading program that offers activities and programs other than just reading, but the key difference is the intention behind the program and how it is presented to participants. Summer learning is intended to expose kids to different kinds of learning that can happen in myriad ways. This means that there isn’t necessarily a one-size-fits-all solution.

Now that we’ve established our working definition, let’s talk about some of the misconceptions around summer learning.

1. It feels like school. Summer is supposed to be fun.

When kids get out of school for the summer, there is a lot of pressure to keep activities for them fun and engaging because they deserve the break from academic pursuits. But it’s a misnomer to think that all learning has to feel like school. If programs and activities are presented using an open-ended discovery-, inquiry-, or project-based learning approach, the results can be very fun.

For example, by putting out some batteries, light bulbs, and various conductive and nonconductive materials, you can let kids explore how to make the bulbs light up. Once they have figured out the basic principles, challenge them to see how many bulbs they can get to light up at once. Then, extend the activity by having them make a building or city out of boxes and lighting them up. Kids are informally learning some basic science, engineering, and design concepts through a fun, engaging experience.

2. I’m not a teacher, so I am not qualified to run a summer learning program.

Hearing words like “instruct” can leave some librarians doubting their capabilities. So let’s reframe the thinking about how learning happens. Historically, learning happens in classrooms and other formal environments when teachers and instructors share information with students and then assess the students’ learning. This is called directed learning or teaching. In fact, because school is still so heavily directed, open-ended, exploratory learning is not something kids get to do as much.

But informal learning environments are not held to so many restrictions. If you think of yourself as an informal educator, you can offer more open-ended opportunities. This means you don’t have to be the expert but can instead come with a basic knowledge of what the kids will be exploring and then discover alongside them.

Make a Bigger Impact with Your Summer Programming

Learn how your library can boost excitement and reach a wider audience by making the switch to a summer learning program.

3. Summer learning takes more resources than what our library has to give.

Summer learning only requires more resources if it is run separately from or in addition to a summer reading program. Here are some suggestions for simplifying summer activities to save on resources:

  • Have you noticed a drop in attendance at performances but an increase in attendance at hands-on activities and programs? Reduce the number of performances from outside contractors and put the money you save into more or better program supplies. Or you might hire temporary staff to help with creating and running more hands-on programs and activities.
  • Do kids seem less enthusiastic about tracking and logging reading than they have in the past? Try offering a community or age-group reading goal rather than individual ones. Use circulation reports to track the numbers and offer large incentives that benefit your whole community. Examples include offering video games or yard games for check out if the goals are met. This reduces staff time and energy in assisting patrons with tracking and incentives, freeing staff up for other activities like developing programs, activities, and challenges.
  • Track programs and activities on the same logs you use for tracking reading. Add some extra squares for “attend a library program,” “make something at the library,” or “register for a library workshop.” By tracking programs on the same logs, you cut back on the amount of paper you use and the amount of time it takes to design multiple logs. It also simplifies summer for your patrons because they only have to keep track of one sheet.
  • If you want to eliminate paper waste completely, use a tool like Wandoo Reader so that patrons can log their reading and participate in library-created challenges online.

Are you already making some moves toward summer learning? Share your ideas in the comments below or connect with us on Twitter.


Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag

Erin Hoag is the Learning Content Manager at Demco. She has a master’s in library and information studies with a focus on child and youth services. For over 10 years, she has worked in informal education, developing and running programs in museums, libraries, and community centers.