Category Archives: poverty

Summertime and the Camps are Expensive: How to Keep our Kids Thinking and Learning on a Dime …

Kids playing in a lake at a church camp

Kids playing in a lake at a church camp (Photo credit: Wikipedia)

We bemoan the summer holidays as a time when students forget everything they learned in school and then need to spend September reviewing.  Research, and I can’t remember which and with the summer haze in my brain am too lazy to look up, suggests that middle class children don’t lose too much through the long summer holidays.  These kids go to camp, visit relatives, take classes and generally keep their brains ticking over.  If they aren’t precisely reviewing what they have already learned, they are at least adding to it.

Who is really hurt by the long summer holidays?

On the other hand, kids with lower socio-economic status do lose out.  Their parents are likely to both be working and are hard pressed to find care for their children, much less something stimulating.  If a parent is at home, then money to do anything extra is unavailable.  When these kids return to school, they are behind the eight ball.  They have not just forgotten over the long holidays, but they have not had any enrichment to enhance what they have already learned.  What to do?

The thing is that if you are reading this, you may be poor but you are unlikely to be lower SES.  Graduate, medical and law students may have very low incomes, the economic part of the SES, but their social status is high.  Even people who have gone off the grid or simply work the streets to help the homeless may have a minimal income but high status socially.  Even on a low income it is possible to afford a computer, second-hand or refurbished – or access one at the local library.

On the other hand, drug dealers may be rolling in dough but low in social status, although that may depend on the society they are mixing with.  They may have a computer, even a high end one with all the bells and whistles, but I doubt they are reading my blog or this post.

It is those folks who have minimal incomes and minimal status who are less likely to be able to provide camps and classes and stimulating activities for their kids.  It isn’t impossible but it is difficult.  I’m going to offer advice here, but how many people who need it, will read it?

Free Camps, Lessons and Stimulating Activities:

The best place to find a free summer camp is at a church.  They aren’t sleepover camps, they are usually half days and some do push their religion.  However, your children will learn something about Christianity, which will be an enormous aid as they study English literature.  It will also give them some insights into Judaism, Islam and even Mormonism.

My daughter went to one themed on Paul.  One day we were chatting about Paul as I walked her home from camp.  I confessed that I was not a fan of Paul as he was a bit of a misogynist.  After I explained that a misogynist was someone who didn’t like women, my daughter was quiet for a bit.  Then she pointed out that no one except Christ was perfect.  Perhaps misogyny was Paul’s flaw.  After all he did have other wise things to say.  My jaw dropped.  As I said, it is an opportunity to learn a bit and stimulate some thought.

Scouts and guides are another place for almost free camping and lessons.  One of my sons got a lot out of scouts including a couple of long camping trips.  He learned the usual skills and benefitted from the guidance of adults who weren’t parents or teachers.

Some camps will trade a child’s camping fees for a parent’s skills.  It won’t work with every camp, but it is worth trying with alternative or church over night camps.  If you can cook, do office work or general maintenance, ask.  Ask your local Y about groups that help send kids to camps or have programs for families to go to camp.

Learning New Skills

Can’t afford lessons?  Canvas other families in the same situations.  Maybe among you there are a few experts such as knitters, musicians (singers or drummers are ideal), dancers, artists (they don’t have to be famous or sell their work), woodworkers or bakers.  Arrange to have lessons for the children in your group of families.  Your kids will learn a new skill and learn to appreciate another adult.  You will get to know some other children well.

Seeing and Stimulation

            On the street where you live

Learning and stimulation are often right at your feet or your children’s feet.  Get in the habit of going for walks with your kids.  Teach them how to walk safely

Wabush Manhole Cover IV

Wabush Manhole Cover IV (Photo credit:

in their neighbourhood.  Go at their pace. They will get you seeing things you haven’t really looked at before.  The obvious things are construction sites and big trucks.  It’s always amazing how many workers don’t mind taking a couple of minutes to explain what they are doing.  My kids found manholes fascinating, too.  They were a great place to practice reading.  I also learned a bit of local history when I realised that the same foundry that made the manhole covers, made stoves in our area.

Those walks are also good exercise and an opportunity for you to continue street-proofing your children. Point out street signs, landmarks, public building and telephones. Get them to tell you how to get home.  Children who have wandered their neighbourhoods on their own by the age of ten will have a better directional sense and more confidence.  People who walk with confidence are less likely to be victimized.

            It’s a walk in the park

Having fun!

Having fun! (Photo credit: ucumari)

Of course, parks are a great place in the summer.  You take your kids to play on the playground or splash pads or swim but as a by-the-way you can get them in the habit of observing the life around them.  Try going to different parks and point out different plants and trees, birds and animals.  You don’t have


Observing (Photo credit: Adalberto Gonzaga)

to know what they are.  Keep a sketchpad or camera tucked in your bag to record what they see and make notes. Jot down their observations or if they are old enough, give them their own note pad and encourage them to keep

their own notes.  Show them how to just write down the minimum number of words necessary to remind them. When you get home, you can look them up or take another trip to the library.

            Go shopping, but leave your wallet at home

Shopping streets can be full of information.  Why do stores have big windows?  Which way do doors open?  Why?  Which colours do they see most in

a child

a child (Photo credit: sogni_hal)

store windows?  Which store windows are the prettiest?  Most dramatic?  Most interesting?  Why are there people sitting on the sidewalk asking for money?  Depending on your city, the street and the person, your child might want to talk to them.  It’s an opportunity to learn that people are people no matter how they live.

If you visit a small store when it is quiet, you could talk to the proprietor about what it is like to run a business, where his wares come from and why he decided to open a store.  You could get your children to keep track of the different kind of stores on different streets.


Museums are most wonderful when they are free.  If they are free in your town, pop in with the kids for only half an hour at a time.  Even if they aren’t free,

Young hands

Young hands (Photo credit: jepoirrier)

there is usually one day a week when they are, so that is the day to drop by.  Do a little research; sometimes there are tiny museums that are free.  Sometimes there are amazing little stores that are almost as good as museum, but first you must carefully train your children to look only with their eyes.

The best museum for kids is a science and technology museum.  Get them pushing the museum’s buttons instead of yours.  If you don’t have a zoo, the next best is an art gallery but pick the exhibit carefully.  Children enjoy bright energetic abstracts or meticulously realistic art to start with.  Let them ask the questions and make the comments before you get helpful.  You can borrow books about art from your library if you

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth

Russell Coates Art Gallery Bournemouth (Photo credit: Martin Beek)

don’t have the answers. When they get home they might want to try the kind of art they have seen.

An Exhibition

Your children might want to go around their home to pick out art and oddments worthy of display.  They can create cards explaining what each thing is and why it is so special.  Perhaps your network of teaching and learning families could add a demonstration of the skills the kids have learned over the summer.  Of course, that will call for an exhibition to which they can invite their friends, family and neighbours.

I am going to do it ALL

You aren’t going to do all of these things.  Just writing about it exhausts me.  It is a frame of mind that says there is a world of learning and fellowship and fun and excitement out there free if I open my eyes and my mind and my heart that is important.  I don’t have to be rich or educated to give my child a summer she will enjoy and will keep her mind ticking over.  I can send her back to school ready to continue learning.  It just takes some thought, imagination and planning on my part.  And maybe a little help from my friends.


Parenting (Photo credit: Leonid Mamchenkov)


The Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy: Check it Out

Sometimes you come across something that is so exciting, you just have to share.  In my explorations concerning teaching French as a second language and the situation in New Brunswick, I came across The Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy or CRISP.  The driving force in my interest in second language teaching and indeed, in all forms of education, is a strong belief in social justice.  Education can be a tool for social justice, or handled thoughtlessly, a cause of social injustice.  The interesting thing about CRISP is that education is part of the package for social welfare and equity.  Below is their mission statement and a link.


 The Canadian Research Institute for Social Policy (CRISP) is a multi-disciplinary organization dedicated to conducting policy research aimed at improving the education and care of Canadian children and youth; contributing to the training of social scientists in quantitative research methods; and supporting low-income countries in their efforts to build research capacity in child development. CRISP carries out this mission by conducting detailed evaluations of local, national, and international policy initiatives, and by analyzing large complex data bases such as Canada’s National Longitudinal Survey of Children and Youth (NLSCY) and the OECD Programme for International Student Assessment (PISA). CRISP researchers have been successful in tackling prominent policy issues, such as the effects of poverty and parenting style on children’s developmental outcomes, and the effects of reducing class size on children’s schooling outcomes, and giving them grounding in existing literature on child development and schooling. CRISP also plays an active role in the training of the next generation of social scientists in the areas of research and evaluation methods.

Does Choice in Education Divide our Children by Class?

            An opinion piece in Chatelaine by a young mother discussed choosing a good school for her child; she was talking about public school not a private, fee-charging school.  She acknowledged that the school board restricted children to their neighbourhood schools but she had found a loophole that would allow her to send her child to a better school – better as she defined it.  Better, by her definition was a school with 33% ESL students rather than 75% ESL (largely Chinese) students.  There was a spate of emails following the article from indignant women accusing her of racism, dotted with a few agreeing with her perspective. (School daze: The troublesome quest for the “better” school By Katrina Onstad  First published in Chatelaine’s April 2007 issue.

© Rogers Publishing Ltd.)

The truth is that the author is in the majority of parents in wanting to place her child in a school with a minimum of ESL and lower socio-economic status (formerly known as poor, now referred to as lower SES) students.  The difference between the author and her fellow parents is that she spoke her mind: middle and upper class parents feel entitled to have their children educated with their peers.  In order to do so, they study the rules of the game and find the loopholes.  There are three, but only two that are entirely in the parents’ hands.  The author planned to use the one of finding day care within the boundaries of the chosen school.  An expensive variation of this is either buying a small pied-a-terre or moving altogether into the right neighbourhood to provide the address in the school’s cachement area. Some neighbourhoods are actually overpriced because the popular opinion is that the local school is a good one.

 The second, where the program exists and the child qualifies, is placing the child in a class for the academically gifted.  This usually requires an intelligence level in the 98th percentile and high educational scores although the exact requirements may vary from school board to board.

The third is placing your child in French Immersion.  French Immersion is theoretically open and possible for every child but few ESL students end up in the program.  ESL stands for English as a Second Language; the Ontario Ministry of Education has changed that designation to ELL, English Language Learners.  This puzzles me as I thought all students are English language learners.  But I digress. The current belief is that ESL students will benefit from early French Immersion programs (programs staring in kindergarten or grade one) and this is supported to some extent by the literature. ESL students arriving in the middle or intermediate grades may have their hands full adjusting to a new country and new language.

Immersion is supposed to be accessible for students of all levels of ability, but the truth is that students with learning disabilities (students with learning disabilities have, by definition average to above average ability) or low ability usually find it too difficult and their parents are persuaded to move them into the regular English classes.  Teachers regularly recommend that some students not be placed in French Immersion because they can foresee the problems but the choice is the parents’.  Often a student having difficulty drops out to the English class later; he will be behind in English and, if he has a language disability, he is doubly hampered.  French Immersion may start out as a program for every child but it does not end up that way.  The result is a stream, as the author’s friend so aptly puts it, which is the equivalent of a private school in a public system and a stream for the rest of the world

That is not to say, however, that French Immersion is a better education.  First, there is always a shortage of materials in French.  Secondly, FI teachers are always the last to get workshops in the latest teaching techniques or ministry expectations, unless they attend them in English.

Thirdly, there is a shortage of French teachers due to French Immersion so non-native speakers are hired, often before completing their B. Ed.  They may have a good academic knowledge of French but their spoken French often lacks the idiom, accent and rhythms of any native speaker.  English teachers, on the other hand, often run the gauntlet of supply teaching for at least a year or longer before they are offered a job.  That is not to say that teachers in French Immersion are poorer – many are excellent – just that they are often hired untried, whereas most English teachers’ abilities are well known and tested before they are hired permanently.  At the end of the year when teachers may elect to change schools and programs, the list of open full time positions in our local board may run to about 80% French.  Sometimes, boards will put restrictions on teachers switching from French teaching positions to English because it is so difficult to fill the French positions.

Finally, students spend less time working on English language grammar, vocabulary, spelling and knowledge of literature.  In addition, there are some language transfers from French to English and a number from English to French.  These students do not have English teachers with particular training in identifying these transfers and correcting them.  They do, however, spend their day hanging out with middle and upper class children.

The regular English classes become the catchall for ESL students who did not enrol as primary students, students with learning disabilities, low ability, emotional problems, dislike of languages and low socio-economic status (poor).  By the intermediate years of grade seven and eight, these classes are more heavily weighted with children needing more attention at a time when they are least interested in school.  These classes are often large; one teacher reported a class of 34.  Teaching them is difficult and exhausting because of their varied needs.  Ordinary students slip between the cracks.

With good reason most administrations look the other way when it comes to regular English classes.  Should it be admitted that these classes are heavily loaded by students with extra educational needs, they would have to do something.  With a limited budget and the budget is admittedly limited it would mean, perhaps, cutting the French Immersion program and who wants to bell that political cat?  It would certainly mean insisting to their superiors that these children are underserved; if the truth was followed with an expectation of action, administrators at any level might find that there would be repercussions to their careers.

There is little political support for the students in the English classes.  Parents who have newly immigrated to this country and lower SES parents have less knowledge of how the system works and less political clout; unless a school board is more heavily swayed by what is pedagogically sound than what is politically expedient, these children will continue to wade in the leftovers from FI. Even under current circumstances of limited money, neither French Immersion nor the regular English stream are providing the best possible education for our students.

In the meantime we have effectively streamed our students according to class and then shut our eyes to it.  We have done what the Americans did through funding schools district by district, what the South Africans did by apartheid and what Britain did with its system of public (private) schools.  We have done it under the flag of biculturalism but with the covert intent of separating children from each other by class.  We know better and we should do better.

In other posts, I will address the question of the effectiveness of French Immersion in teaching French, whether it costs too much, what a program for gifted children should be and the politics of parents, teachers, school boards, children and public perception.  Your thoughts are welcome.

 As a postscript, I must commend our prime minister who sends his children to the local schools.  One of them is enrolled in a school I have heard referred to as an “inner city” school; parents have anxiously inquired if it was rough because it is a school of thoroughly mixed SES, races, faiths, cultures and abilities.  The answer is no.  It is a school where friendships are made across all these classes and violence is less than in some “better” schools.