Making the Most of Your Summer Fun(ds)—Creating Connections with Students and Families

April 16, 2024

This is a guest post from AASA 2023-24 president, Gladys Cruz.

April is “go time” for summer learning! It’s time to launch professional development, send out student acceptance letters, finalize lesson plans, plan field trips, and order supplies. In this home stretch, don’t forget to work in fun and focus on building and maintaining relationships with students and families. While high quality lessons and smooth logistics are essential to a great summer, go beyond the basics to create a warm and inviting climate and culture for students, staff, and families that will keep them feeling connected. Consider the following ideas for engaging students and families as you round the corner to a successful summer.   

Host a welcome event for families: To build excitement for the program and share important information, host a spring welcome event for families. Preview the kinds of learning, enrichment, and field trips (including hands-on activity demonstrations) students will participate in during the summer. Invite enrichment and field trip partners to take part, and bring the theme to life through décor and music. Share a family handbook and go over any “must-know” information like the attendance policy, transportation, meals, permission slips, etc. If possible, offer food and child care to make it easier for families to participate.  

Plan and advertise incentives: With many competing priorities (vacations, family time, sports, and other camps) strong attendance in summer learning is not a given. However, incentives work, especially those that reward the whole family. Incentivize enrollment and strong student attendance with raffles and recognition for students and families alike. Ask local businesses like restaurants, family friendly attractions, gas stations, and grocery stores to donate gift cards. Plan to recognize students for their attendance through vouchers or “bucks” to a school store or other perks like a pizza party. Create buzz about prizes through social media posts.

Bring the culture to life: If you haven’t already, form a Culture Committee to establish the program’s daily rituals and traditions that will set it apart from the school year and bring the “camp” element into the school building or summer program setting. Camp culture can include daily rituals like morning assemblies, spirit sticks, shout outs, and plenty of chants and songs. Create class unity through team names and friendly competitions, or use all-camp meetings to build camaraderie across classes and grade levels. Decorate program spaces in alignment with the program theme, and consider program apparel or “swag” that creates a sense of belonging among staff and students.  

Explore this sample culture resource from the Summer Learning Toolkit:

Pittsburgh Positive Site Climate Strategies: Describes core elements of program culture and tips for implementation.

Plan to share photos and highlights during the summer: Keep families engaged throughout the summer with regular communications that highlight all the fun students are having and all of the new experiences they are gaining. Updates can be shared through social media, text messages, or an email newsletter. Before the summer begins, identify who at each campus will be responsible for taking and sharing photos and videos and crafting updates for families, and secure the proper photo and video consents from families as part of the enrollment process.   

Host a culminating event/showcase for students and families: Save the date now for an end-of-summer culminating event for families. Provide the opportunity for students to showcase their learning and celebrate their accomplishments with their families. If time and resources permit, consider including a water day, field day, dance party, or other activities as part of the culminating event. 


There is a lot to get done over the next few months, but don’t lose sight of the importance of relationship building with students and their families! Focus on these connections to create a warm and inviting summer culture for all. 

This blog is part of a Summer Program Planning series that draws from evidence-based practices culled from RAND research commissioned by The Wallace Foundation. Each suggestion is accompanied by concrete resources from the online Summer Learning Toolkit to provide just-in-time support throughout the school year for your district’s summer learning team. (Check out the May, June, July, August, October, November, December, January , February and March blog posts for more summer advice.)

For more, share Eight Key Summer Learning Practices for Elementary School Districts with your summer leadership team.