It was last summer, and we were packing up the car - but not for a family trip across the country. We were packing up our daughter Hannah to head off by plane to her second summer at Concordia Language Villages, a camp program focusing on foreign language immersion. The summer before, we took her older sister to the Governor's School program at a Pennsylvania college campus. And before that, her older brothers had both attended these intensive summer programs on different campuses in the state.
I've sometimes thought it's a bit ironic that I like summer academic programs so much. After all, I don't send my kids to the school five miles down the road for five hours a day, but I will send them off across the country to attend a two-week camp in French, or to learn about international studies at the University of Pittsburgh, or to study computer science at the University of Wisconsin.
In all the ways that matter, these summer academic programs are different from public school. There is no compulsory attendance law forcing children to attend them, for one thing! For another, they are focused on a specific academic area, and expected to show results. Parents wouldn't pay to send their kids to an academic camp otherwise. (Even if the camp is free, travel to the camp is not!) Academic camps also tend to be a lot more fun than "real" school, because otherwise kids would fight to not attend. Finally, most academic camps have no delusions of grandeur. They do not try to educate the "whole child" via a barrage of unwanted social services and political indoctrination. (Exception: those run by government agencies may have some of this, especially those aimed at "gifted" kids: be sure to check out their proposed teaching content and worldview first.)
My kids and many other homeschool teens I know have really benefited from these unique opportunities. Now is the time to start planning ahead for your own kids to jump off on their own in a summer academic program.
Now, don't get me wrong - I'm not really an advocate of "year-round homeschooling"... at least not if that involves doing the same type of thing all year. Summer is different - the weather makes everyone want to get out, go traveling, do something new and untried. My kids are very reluctant to imagine July doing typical daily math lessons, inside at home! But to take part in a special summer program involving new people, a new place, living off on a college campus or in the wilderness . . . they are very ready for that!
Prepares Them for College
Summer programs have a special plus for homeschool kids aiming for college. My three older kids all felt much more ready to jump into college life after being away from home for a while in the summer. And with each program they attended, they were able to meet professors and teachers who were very willing to write positive letters of recommendation to help them move to their next step in life. Jacob used a letter of recommendation from a summer math program at Rose-Hulman Institute of Technology to apply for next year's program at Kutztown University, and met a professor there (who just happened to be a homeschool dad) who wrote him a letter to help him get into the PA Governor's School for Sciences. And then his teachers from the Governor's School helped him get into Carnegie Mellon University's very selective School of Computer Science, where he's now a senior.
Jacob also got the chance to see what college life was like - including eating food service meals (made him appreciate home cooking for sure!), getting to figure out dorm life (and how to do his own laundry), meeting a wider range of people than he would have run into through our homeschool network, and having challenging profs and advanced technical equipment. All of my kids had plenty of times for active fun at all their programs too. Even the most intense and organized programs planned in "mandatory fun" for everyone - square dances, mixers, trips to local movie theaters, informal frisbee games or juggling bouts, mock Olympics, talent shows, and more.
When applying for some summer programs my kids had to write personal essays, fill out extensive applications, and pull together lists of special honors and awards and interests - especially for selective (and free!) programs like the Pennsylvania Governors Schools. This made college applications go much easier - they already had experience in it all, and they weren't starting out "from scratch" in their senior year wondering where to start in drafting an engaging essay about themselves.
Finding Summer Academic Programs
So how do you find out about the thousands of terrific summer academic programs out there? First, you need to be resourceful and keep your eyes open. You might see info in your city newspaper, your favorite homeschool magazine, in the college mail that starts poring into your home once your kids take the PSAT, or on a bulletin board at a college campus when you're attending a lecture with your kids. You can call up area colleges and see if they offer anything in the summers for kids. You may be surprised at what is available very nearby. Probably most helpful today is to learn to use the Internet. I'm including below some general websites that can help you connect into a range of different types of summer programs. Happy hunting!
Governor's Schools. Almost all states now offer summer Governor's Schools programs, and most have dealt with homeschool applicants. Usually these publicly funded programs are free to accepted students - that's one of the reasons we've liked them! How to find out if your state has a Governor's School program? Check out http://ncogs.org/web/ This is the site for the National Conference of Governor's Schools, and you'll find direct links to each program [under the "Programs" tab on the main menu]. And if you find that your state's Governor School does not yet allow homeschool students to apply, then you know you have your lobbying work cut out for you!
Summer Math Programs. Here is a site with terrific links to all the major math summer programs - http://www.ams.org/employment/mathcamps.html Although set up by the American Mathematical Society to help their members find summer work teaching at math camps, you can use it to find where your kids might want to go for a real "upgrade" of their math thinking. Direct links to summer math programs all over the US. At least one homeschool grad is now teaching at the Ross Math Program held each summer at Ohio State University, one of the programs listed on this comprehensive site. Noah Snyder of York, PA, first took part at Ross when he was in high school at home, and I don't think he's missed a year since. He's now a senior at Harvard and helping to write the problems for the summer courses. A really intriguing sounding math camp I found on this list is the one-week All Girls/ All Math program held at the University of Nebraska Lincoln, where girls are taught by women math professors and grad students, and work in a cooperative atmosphere on challenging work in codes and mathematical chaos. And the http://www.mathcamps.org website from this list has a neat and challenging application quiz. Even if your kids don't want to even think of applying, I encourage you to check out this quiz and see what real problem-solving fun is all about!
Also Check Out:
http://www.summercamps.com This well-organized site helps you find all different sorts of summer camps, with handy categories that help you zero in on academic camps or special interest camps. Gives basic info (price per week, camp location, and focus of the program) and a website link to the camp. Includes study-abroad high-school options.
http://www.petersons.com/summerop/ Great database on summer programs of all sorts for kids and high-school students. Petersons also publishes several excellent guidebooks to summer opportunities - you can find them with a simple click on this site.
http://www.concordialanguagevillages.org This is the place to look for summer language camps. Concordia College in Minnesota hosts camps for all ages in almost every language you'd want. Besides the typical French, Spanish, and German, you'll also find Japanese, Norwegian, Korean, Chinese, Russian, Finnish, and more, with each language meeting at a different camp location. Our daughter Hannah has attended the French camp for two summers, and loves it. A total immersion, fun-filled program, with emphasis on using spoken language all through the day while learning about the cultures where the target language is used.
http://www.eskimo.com/~user/kids.html This is the site for the Gifted Resource Page. It has links to all the major regional talent search programs in the country. Many of these talent search programs offer special summer opportunities for bright kids. Usually these programs require qualification through standardized testing. For more information about Talent Searches, including exact program requirements and how these apply to homeschoolers, see Volume 1 of Mary Pride's Big Book of Home Learning series.