Summer Time: Pools, Sun, Fun, Relaxing and No School!
All things that mark the beginning of a great season called summer.
But the thing about summer is that without some focus on learning, most children will encounter something called The Summer Slide or summer learning loss. The term learning loss refers to any specific or general loss of knowledge and skills or to reversals in academic progress, most commonly due to extended gaps. Summer break is listed as the most commonly cited form of a break. Since most public schools take a summer break, this learning loss is “fairly universal and well-documented in the United States” (Oxfordlearning.com).
In fact, it can take up to 2 months from the first day of school to get the brain back on track, with approximately 2 or more months of both reading and math skills lost over summer break (Oxfordlearning.com)
Children with special needs can be affected even more than the above statistics that reflect those of typically developing children. Summer learning is critical as well as meeting the other challenges of summer that can begin when the daily schedule is changed, because we all know how important schedules can be.
But, no matter what the special need is, summer fun should be enjoyed as much as possible. After all, they are children!
So, how do you balance the learning with the fun? I thought I would share some of the things that have worked for us over the past summers.
For me, taking a look at the IEP goals to see which ones I really wanted to work on with Elizabeth was my first step. Was it a speech goal or was it working on a budget? Whatever the case, once picked, I could then prioritize my goals for summer as well as make plans for therapies and/or follow up work at home based on those goals.
After that was done, I made sure to contact the therapists to go over these goals and make plans for the summer work. This is also a good time to firm up times of appointments as well.
Talking to Elizabeth about her feelings regarding summer was also important. I liked getting her idea of what she wanted to do or NOT do. When she was non-verbal, talking was not an option, so we used picture charts. I have always believed in having Elizabeth be part of her plans because it shows we value her opinion and feelings. The schedule then reflects both the needs I saw and the things she wants to do. Goal number one is to enjoy her!
I have always loved making a schedule on a calendar for Elizabeth. This way she can see the entire week and month of activities/work/therapies. We use the calendar as a source of conversation and it helps her plan for what is coming next. We update it weekly, if needed, and also make a loose daily schedule because they help her plan and get ready for the day.
Something I have learned is the importance of “doing everything with a purpose.” This could mean that something as simple as playing bubbles on the driveway can be turned into some good “work” if you have your child swing the bubble wand past their midline. Or if they touch the bubbles to get a little sensory input. Or if you head to the park for a picnic, balancing a cup on a dish and eating is “work” but it is covered up by a lot of fun. And while singing in the car is fun, it can be counted as speech work. As you think about your daily plans, pause and then think about what “work” you can incorporate into the activities of the day. This mindset will help you achieve the goals you have made but not lose the fun.
I have learned the importance of keeping a record of the things you did, the successes your child had and the work they did all summer. This will help you update the school when the new year starts because even if you think you will remember all details, you won’t. (trust me on this.) I have found this update to be a great way to get everyone on the same page right away as the new school year starts.
These are some of the things we did and still do each summer but I thought it might be nice to get some “Words of Wisdom” about summer learning from some professionals. I asked three people who are quite special to us to share their thoughts on the subject and here they are:.
From Elizabeth’s tutor, Jen:
- Set up the schedule with the child, get their input.
- Use some of the child’s choices of fun things as motivation to complete work, earning stickers to get to do the fun choice.
- Read daily and do some “school time” daily. This allows you one on one time to see their progress.
- ENJOY THE SUMMER AS MUCH AS POSSIBLE!
From Elizabeth’s first (and current) speech therapist, Mary:
- Pick two goals that will make life at home easier in the long term.
- Focus on the goals daily: Integrate them into daily life (example: Money skills. Teaching the skill then practicing it at the store) this is in addition to one on one work time.
- Find a peer mentor or “buddy” to allow the child to disintegrate from always being with a parent or family. This is also based on the age of the child.
- Make sure to enjoy your child and the gift of who they are.
From Elizabeth’s adapted physical education teacher and friend, Liz
- Ask the child what they would like to do this summer
- Prepare the child ahead of time for any changes in their schedule
- Make sure all involved know the goals and have good communication with each other
- Set up a reward system and make sure your child is aware of it.
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This post originally appeared on our May/June 2019 Magazine