Are you hosting a summer learning program this year? Yes, summer may be months away, but now is the best time to start planning for your program.

Are you hosting a summer learning program this year? Yes, summer may be months away, but now is the best time to start planning for your program.

Bringing your summer learning program to life takes commitment, energy and lots of planning. From organizing activities to advertising to hiring staff, there are many things that go into running a successful program.

In this guide, we’ll take a look at the nature of summer learning programs, things to consider when planning your program and a timeline for getting your program off the ground.

The Difference Between Summer Learning and After School Programming

Your summer learning program will differ greatly from the rest of the year. Students will typically spend 45-50 hours a week in your program as opposed to the usual 10-15. That means the days are longer and the pace is slower. Your summer program structure should reflect that change.

The expectations are also different. Parents want safety, structure and lots of activities. Kids, on the other hand, will be looking for fun, friendship and not too much pressure to succeed. Parents and kids usually make the choice of summer care together, so keep these expectations in mind as you plan and advertise your program.

Things to Consider When Planning Your Summer Learning Program

Summer learning programs are designed to keep students interested, engaged and safe throughout the day. Here are a few things to keep in mind as you plan for your program:

Programming Ideas

Goals: Determine the philosophy of your program and what direction it should take. For example, some programs may focus on social-emotional development or STEM exploration. Then brainstorm individual and group goals for your students based on the program’s philosophy.

Themes: Choose daily or weekly themes that align with your goals. Involve students in your planning to incorporate their interests and get them excited about summer learning. You can plan activities, field trips and events based on the planned themes and use related books, movies and other resources in your program. Be creative with your themes! Examples include Mad Science, Olympics and Artful Antics. Here are 100 summer camp themes to help you get the wheels turning. 

Badges: A badge system can help keep students motivated and interested during the summer and help them set long- and short-term goals. They can also act as incentives to keep students coming back (because attendance is key!). Select badges that will accommodate the wide age range and level of ability found in a typical school-age group. Allow students to earn badges during planned activities. To begin:

  1. Plan the different kinds of badges students can earn.
  2. Plan lists of activities necessary to each badge.
  3. Plan activities to help students earn badges.

Workshops: These are a great way to keep students busy as they explore new skills and interests through hands-on activities. Workshops can be done on a weekly basis and can be provided by program staff or volunteers from the community. Some examples include sewing, dancing, karate, gardening and nutrition.

Field Trips: Plan occasional field trips that support your themes and actively involve students. Get out in the community and visit parks, businesses, police and fire departments, factories and local tourist attractions. Look for places that provide school group tours and free samples for students.

Community Involvement: You can also invite professionals from the community to explain and demonstrate their particular area of expertise to students. Parents are a good source! Examples include dancers, police, lawyers, dentists, artists, etc. Get students involved by incorporating a hands-on learning activity. For example, dancers can teach students simple choreography or lawyers can conduct a mock trial. 

Space: Students will spend the majority of their day in large groups. Plan time for students to be alone and in small groups. Spread them out so they have more room. Relieve overcrowding during meals, in bathrooms, on vans, etc. Establish rules about respecting others’ personal space and belongings. Making space can help prevent possible conflicts among students.

Outdoor Time: With the warmer weather, students will want to spend a good amount of time outside playing. While you should plan for outdoor time, students shouldn’t spend the entire day outside. Plan for indoor activities and provide water and sunscreen to keep students hydrated and protected while in the sun.  


Staffing: Summer calls for full-time, 8-hour positions instead of split shifts. If needed, look for volunteers from the school system, secretaries, teachers and older kids who may have the summer off. You can also hire college students or teacher aides for extra help. Be sure to schedule time for planning and staff meetings before and during your summer program.

Transportation: Consider using public buses, staff cars, trains or rental vans for field trips. You can also ask parents or volunteers to drive or ask a church or local company with a bus or van to donate or loan their vehicle.

Safety guidelines: Establish safety rules and procedures in order to provide a safe summer learning program.

  • Develop guidelines for the playground
  • Post a chart of emergency drills and exits
  • Post emergency numbers
  • Put together a First-Aid kit
  • Have at least one staff person trained in CPR

Food: An all-day program means students will need lunch in addition to regular snacks. Decide whether you will provide lunch or ask students to bring their own lunches. If you’re providing lunch, look for a box lunch program or summer lunch funds in your community. If students are bringing their lunches, provide parents with information on nutritious lunch ideas. Either way, make sure students have plenty of fruits, vegetables and other healthy foods during the day. 

Summer Learning Planning Timeline

Use the timeline below as a step-by-step guide for planning your summer learning program:


  • Decide central themes, slant, direction, goals and philosophy of your program.
  • Brainstorm with stakeholders (students, parents, directors, etc.) on their hopes and needs for the summer program.
  • Assess required resources:
    • Funding
    • Enrollment
    • Location/space
    • Schedule
    • Staffing
    • Supplies (food, materials, transportation)


  • Create and/or find a curriculum that supports program goals, theme(s) and philosophy.
  • Advertise and pre-register students.
  • Hire staff.
  • Arrange for field trips (reservations, transportation, etc.).
  • Arrange for special classes (that may require additional fees from parents).
  • Schedule staff training and orientation.
  • Prepare materials for planned activities.
  • Communicate with parents about start and end dates, required forms, policies, etc.


  • Summer program begins.
  • Provide orientation and training for staff.
  • Make necessary changes to the physical environment.
  • Coordinate bi-weekly check-in meetings with staff for planning, evaluation and training.
  • Assess and evaluate the quality of the summer program. Use this information to plan for next summer.

Don’t wait until the eleventh hour to begin planning your summer learning program. Start planning now in order to keep your students learning and engaged during the summer months. For more insight into planning your summer program, check out Summer Program Tips, Strategies & Activities for School-Agers 5-14 Years-Old. You can also download this Summer Readiness Checklist adapted from the book to help you prepare.

If you need learning resources and activities for your summer program, we can help! We provide a range of supplies and resources, like rainbow parachutes, arts and crafts and STEM toolkits that would be great for summer learning and fun. Shop today to find what you need for your summer learning program.