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Every mother knows how much work it can be to figure out summer plans for our kids, mesh parents’ work schedules with children’s summer pursuits, and find fun, educational activities that keep our children active and constructively engaged when schools are out. What looks like freedom and vacation time to children requires a huge amount of preparation by moms.

For some families, summer destination or sleepaway camps, vacations, or staycations fill some of those long periods when kids would otherwise be unsupervised during June, July, and August, and they are often great experiences. But without summer learning programs run by school systems, Y’s, Boys and Girls Clubs, and after school programs that transform into summer programs, I’m not sure what we’d do.

Summer prepares them for fall

These programs make it possible for kids to be engaged in fun, safe, supervised, educational activities, often at little or no cost. Moreover, they help kids hit the ground running when school resumes in the fall, combating the “summer learning loss” that sometimes causes students to backslide on academics during the summer.

They do that by creating valuable opportunities for students to do all kinds of great things, including exploring a host of hands-on science, technology, engineering and math (STEM) activities that most classrooms can’t accommodate; learning to garden and to cook healthy meals; and supporting their communities through service projects large and small. At the same time, of course, summer learning programs help children become more fit and physically active through sports, games, and outdoor activities.

I’m lucky to have summer learning programs available, but many families don’t. In my day job, I’m executive director of the Afterschool Alliance and our series of America After 3PM studies over the years has shown us a lot about how children spend their summers, as well as their afternoons during the school year.

A majority of parents want public funding

Several things stand out from our most recent data, which covers after school in 2014 and summer programs in 2013. First, parents strongly support public funding for summer learning programs. Eighty-five percent of parents support public funding, and that support is at or above 75 percent in every single state.

Second, we’ve got a lot of unmet demand for summer learning programs. While more than half of respondents (51 percent) to our survey say they would like their child to participate in a summer learning program, just 33 percent report having at least one child in a program. In my home state of Maryland, we’re a little ahead of the curve, with 35 percent of parents reporting that they have one or more children in a summer learning program. California is ahead of the curve with 46 percent, but hardly fulfilling the need. (See how your state is doing.)

Although National Summer Learning (June 19) has passed, summer’s not over. Today is just as good a day to promote the importance of keeping kids learning, safe, and healthy. Across the nation, many summer learning events are taking place. More than 725,000 youth have been served across the country in fewer than 800 programs. Check the National Summer Learning Association’s map for events in your area, and add an event; it’s not too late. Take the pledge to keep kids safe and learning during the summer.

Also, examine the need for after school programs in your area. According to the America After 3PM 2014 report, 19.4 million children nationally are not participating in after school programs but would if they were available.

Despite the need and support, not nearly enough funding goes for summer learning or after school programs. That will only change if we all speak out and tell Congress and our state legislators, school system leaders, and others how important these programs are to our children and families.

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