As we return from our spring break vacations, or staycations, we begin to have hope that we will once again see our yards and that summer will come.

While that is exciting, it does involve the challenge for parents of figuring out what their children are going to do and who is going to supervise them all summer.

We tend to put most of our energy into the latter question: Can we find baby-sitters? Friends? Relatives? Can we get time off work?

While that is important, the first question — what are the kids going to do? — is equally important. Having some structured activity time with adults and peers has been found to be key in preventing summer learning loss, i.e., forgetting chunks of what was learned during the school year.

Thinking of summer as the time for some experiential learning to back up what has been learned in school can provide direction in planning your child’s summer. According to the Association for Experiential Education, a few principles are:

• Experiences are structured to require the learner to take initiative, make decisions and be accountable for results.

• The learner is actively engaged in posing questions, investigating, experimenting, being curious, solving problems, assuming responsibility, being creative and constructing meaning.

• Learners are engaged intellectually, emotionally, socially, soulfully and/or physically. This involvement produces a perception that the learning task is authentic.

• The results of the learning are personal and form the basis for future experience and learning.

Children can get these experiences in structured programs such as special-interest day activities and summer camps, church camps, Boy Scouts, organized sports, etc. Learning new activities and exploring interests help children discover who they are and build relationships with peers and adults.

An essential component of our treatment and education programs at Red Top Meadows is our summer wilderness backpacking trip. It lasts 25 days and incorporates the principles outlined above. The gains students make are noticeable.

However, it certainly does not require an intensive wilderness experience for your child to continue to learn and grow throughout the summer. Making some consistent family time — which not only provides supervision and prevents learning loss but also helps develop family bonds and support — can have a big impact. Whether it is a summer vacation across the country or around town or exploring Flat Creek or playing games in your yard, spending the time together and incorporating a few of these experiential learning principles will help prevent learning loss and make important connections and memories for your child and you.

Human Service Council organizations that serve kids have a variety of programs that will provide the experiential learning experiences and the supervision you are looking for. Some of these options include:

• Teton Literacy Center’s Summer Literacy Adventure Camps and tutoring are for students entering first through eighth grades. Dates vary depending on grade level, but all are free. Register by calling 733-9242.

• Teton Youth and Family Services’ Jackson Hole Leadership Program is for ages 10 to 16. Through outdoor activities, the program offers fun, fulfilling experiences for young people. A number of phases of the program have been created for kids who are older or younger or have participated in the program in previous years. Application materials and program information are available at Registration starts Monday. Call or email with any questions, 733-6440 or

• The Jackson Community Counseling Center offers summer day treatment for kids. The program runs from 9 a.m. to 2 p.m. weekdays for two weeks at the beginning and end of summer and is geared toward children in kindergarten through third grade. Participants must be clients of the counseling center. Call 733-2046 for information.

• Check out Camp Jackson under youth programs on the Teton County/Jackson Parks and Recreation website ( for day camp activities and schedules.

• Look for the Summer Guide at Teton County Library, which will be an extensive list of children’s activities, including arts, music, camping and sports. The guide will be available at the library Monday. Or you can email Isabel Zumel at

If you find programs you think would be a great experience for your kids and they are interested in getting involved but you cannot afford the fee, the Community Resource Center offers the Jackson Hole Scholarship Program. The scholarships give students a chance to participate in programs that provide supervision, fun and new skills, all of which reduce the risk of summer learning loss.

Funding for this program is provided through grants from the Community Foundation of Jackson Hole and the Teton County Recreation District. For information call the Community Resource Center at 739-4500.

Bruce Burkland is chairman of the Human Services Council and executive director of Teton Youth and Family Services’ Van Vleck House, Hirschfield Center for Children and Red Top Meadows.

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