The summer holidays provide time to have fun and take a break from the daily routine of school. However, research has shown that most students have a learning loss over the summer and that it can take up to two months to catch up when they get back to school. Children with special needs face additional challenges and the loss of learning can be even greater. Including fun learning activities in the summer will help children to maintain and boost their learning. In addition, everything is a bit slower in the summer and there is more time to learn new skills and build your child’s independence.
Summer learning can include important academic skills such as reading, writing and math, and is also an opportunity to work on communication skills, independence, responsibility and self advocacy.
Reading and Writing
Many of us have the time to catch up on our reading during the summer. Lounging in a chair at the beach or in the backyard with a good book is one of the pleasures of summer. Many children and youth also spend lots of times reading over the summer. However, other children, especially those that struggle with reading want to avoid reading and have no interest in books. Parents may have to “sneak” reading activities into the daily activities.
- Giving a child a graphic novels or magazines can be more appealing as there is less reading required and the topic may be of greater interest to the child.
- Actively support your child’s reading by taking turns to read, or talking about the story.
Research in promotion of boys’ literacy has found that boys may be more willing to read instruction manuals, sports stories, non-fiction, joke books or research on the internet.
In addition to helping the child select the reading material, the parent can boost literacy skills by monitoring their comprehension.
- Ask questions and have the child describe what they are reading in their own words.
- Stop reading and ask the child to predict what will happen next, or how the character might be feeling.
- Discuss new words or topic specific vocabulary to identify the meaning of the words, or look them up in the dictionary.
- Making sure the child understands what they are reading will boost their literacy skills.
There are many fun activities that can be used to boost literacy.
- Going to the library provides lots of choices in reading materials.
- Attending library activities for children that bring in guests, such as clowns or authors, to focus on particular books or genres.
- Join a library reading reward program or contest for the most books read over the summer.
- Offer rewards for reading at home or organize a contest with other children.
Cooking is a great activity to work on literacy, math and teamwork skills.
- Reading a recipe
- Finding and measuring the ingredients
- Following the cooking directions will all require literacy and math skills
Playing word games, such as I-Spy, rhyming games, songs with repetitive refrains, or spelling contests all help to build oral language skills that support literacy.
The computer can also be a good source of games that promote language skills, and there are many downloadable APPs and games that will help your child maintain and boost reading skills.
During the summer there are less opportunities for children to write and practice their handwriting or develop their creative writing skills.
- Encourage your child to write a story or make a book.
- Keeping a journal, or writing a blog, describing their summer activities or their special interest.
- Creating a scrapbook with event tickets, maps and other items to show what they did over the summer
- Writing a newsletter with short stories about family activities to share with relatives nd friends
- Use everyday activities to write words and practice spelling, including:
- Making shopping lists
- Copying recipes to share,
- Taking a phone message, or
- Using a calendar to record appointments or special outings.
A computer or a cell phone can also be used for many of these activities.
Test score results for students in Ontario have shown that many children are struggling in math. Math scores from the Education Quality and Accountability Office testing of students in Grade 3, 6 and 9 are not improving and there is serious concern about the math skills of children and youth. In addition, research has shown that math skills decline over the summer break.
For students with special needs it is important that there are lots of opportunities over the summer to practice and use their math skills. One of the easiest and fun ways to include math at home is by playing games.
- Play board games that require counting skills, matching skills or simple calculations.
- Popular games include Snakes and Ladders, Bingo, Connect Four and Monopoly all require counting, number recognition or adding.
- Improve fine motor skills by playing games with small and large pieces.
- Change the game format to suit the child. For example, Snakes and Ladders can be played on large floor mats, with a three dimensional board or on the computer.
Cooking together to make supper or bake a special treat requires math skills including measuring, counting, timing and calculations for doubling or halving recipes.
For the sports fan, statistics are an important part of the game. Children can be involved in the record keeping, counting shots, strikes, goals or hits. The serious sports fanatic may follow their favourite player over the season and track their performance against league record holders.
Money skills are an important for children and you can provide lots of opportunities for handling money and making change when out shopping or in a restaurant.
- Ordering and paying for their own ice cream provides practice at talking to store staff, paying cash and checking the change.
- Eating out at a restaurant can provide an opportunity to work with a budget to work out what they can afford to eat.
- Having a lemonade stands provides lots of math opportunities:
- Measuring ingredients as they make the lemonade
- Counting the supplies such as cups
- Handling money to make change and counting the profit.
Older children may like to organize a small fund raiser, like a garage sale or muffin morning, to make money they can donate to a favourite charity.
Some children with special needs have difficulty with communication. They may have difficulty projecting their voice, or take a long time to complete their words and sentences. A few may require Augmentative or Alternative Communication (AAC) devices. Summer, and the slower pace, provides many opportunities to practice communication skills or to try communicating in new situations. Many AAC users are reluctant to use their devices in public and rely on family members or other people to speak for them.
- Help your child become more independent in their communication by changing your response, and those of family and friends, to allow the child more time to communicate and delaying your help.
The child also needs opportunities to practice communicating with other people. Daily life provides lots of opportunities including:
- Ordering in restaurants
- Making purchases in stores
- Calling or texting friends and family.
Providing the opportunities, and encouraging communication, will lead to improvements and increased self confidence.
Independence and Responsibility
One of the primary goals of parents is to raise children to be independent adults. For children with special needs there may be additional challenges or limitations on independence, but each person needs to be as independent as possible. The process of developing independence takes many years and starts with small steps.
Over the summer consider one or two areas where your child can become more independent. Start by thinking about the things you do for your child and consider whether it is something they could do for themselves.
- Increase their responsibility for dressing or bathroom activities
- Asking your child to help more with meal preparation, make their own breakfast or lay the table
- Including your child in household chores like cleaning and laundry
- Having your child more involved in planning activities by looking up events on the computer to find out about opening hours, costs and directions.
- Start using the bus and encourage your child to be more involved in buying tickets, or planning routes.
Personal safety and safety in the home are important skills to develop.
- Develop a plan of what the child will do in different situations and then provide the opportunity to practice.
- Help the child to learn their address or important phone numbers
- Practice what to do if there is a knock at the door, an alarm goes off or if the power goes out.
Many people with disabilities need people to help them with activities of daily living. They need to learn to direct someone to do things for them. Directing a support worker requires a lot of skill. Asking for help and explaining how to provide the help takes lots of practice. If your child has a support worker, consider how the child or teen can become more involved in planning activities, or directing their care.
As the parent of a child with special needs we begin advocating for their needs soon after they are born or diagnosed. Over the years we become very knowledgeable about our child and what they need to be successful. We also learn about the health care and education system and about our rights in advocating for accessibility, equipment and support services.
Many of our children will need these same skills as adults. One of our jobs is to teach them how to advocate for themselves and allow them lots of opportunities to practice their skills. During the summer there is more time to work on self advocacy and use the skills in the community.
- Help the child or youth to understand their disability and needs
- Let them practice sharing personal information with a friend or family member about their own disability and their needs.
- At sport activities or a medical appointment, encourage the child or youth talk about their condition and their needs.
The more times they share information about themselves the more comfortable they will become at sharing the information.
Accessibility is a major concern to people who use wheelchairs, or other mobility equipment, or who have difficulty with walking. When you are planning an outing to a new location or event, involve your child in finding out about site accessibility.
- Ask the child to call the local pool, to find out what features the pool has for accessibility, including power doors, graduated entry or lifts.
- Encourage the child to do the research on-line many public facilities provide details of their accessibility, or photographs on their websites.
Your child may be prevented from taking part in an activity or attending a site because of an accessibility barrier.
- Talk to your child about how the situation could be fixed.
- Help them make a list of possible solutions.
- Looking at each solution help them identify who they need to talk to about the problem and the potential solution.
- Encourage the child to develop a plan and practice what they need to say or do to advocate for change.
Allow your child to take the lead and make a phone call or write a letter about their concern. They could also find out if they know anyone else who will be affected by the accessibility barrier and work with another person or small group to take their concern forward. Not every situation will get resolved quickly but each time your child advocates for themselves their skills and self confidence will improve.
Summer is a time for fun and relaxation, but with a little effort it can also be a great time for building academic skills, learning to be independent and responsible, and developing self advocacy skills.
- ConnectABILITY a website with resources for individuals with developmental disabilities, and other special needs, that includes:
- Visual Engine, for using pictures to create visual schedules or stories
- Workshops on Math, Money and customer Service Skills
- Communicating for Fun Calendars, Parent and Child Activity Calendars
- Everyday Opportunities to Develop Communication Skills
- Supporting Children in their Steps to Independence
- APPS for people with special needs
Find the website at http://www.connectability.ca
- Easter Seals Kids at School
- Ministry of Education:
- National Summer Learning Association has lots of summer activities to promote learning, as well as summaries of related research.