By Rhoda Cummings, Ed.D., author of The Survival Guide for Kids with LD
Songs about summertime have lyrics that tell us it’s “time to sit back and unwind,” or that “the living is easy.” Other songs lament “summertime sadness” and “summertime blues.” If you’re the parent of a child with LD, you may have mixed feelings about the unstructured time during summer months. On one hand, the idea of a relaxing summer free of meetings with teachers, homework struggles, and concerns about behavioral issues may bring up images of long days of fun and relaxation for you and your child. On the other hand, those long, unstructured summer days are not always ideal for you or your child, and you may find yourself eagerly anticipating the arrival of the new school year with its structure and routine.
To avoid the “summertime blues” and make sure that “the living is easy” this summer, ask yourself a few questions:
- Are long, unstructured days best for my child?
- How will my child’s learning be affected over the summer months?
- Is summer school a good idea?
- What are some activities I can plan for my child that are fun and encourage learning at the same time?
- What summer activities will help my child develop independence and strong interpersonal skills?
Careful consideration of these questions can offer solutions for ways to give your child a break from the formal structure of school and academic learning, yet at the same time encourage new learning, enhance social interactions, and build self-esteem.
Are long, unstructured days best for my child?
The summer break offers valuable time for children to rest and recharge after nine long months of school. However, learning should not come to a complete halt. It’s a good idea to let your child have a couple weeks of downtime with nothing to do, but then gradually bring more structure to daily activities. Formal learning activities should be balanced with more unstructured activities such as nature walks, participation in sports, or artistic projects.
How will my child’s learning be affected over the summer months?
A great deal of evidence suggests that some learning is lost over the summer, requiring students to spend time at the beginning of the new school year reviewing the previous year’s material. For example, children who don’t read over the summer may lose fluency and comprehension skills; if they don’t review math learning, they may lose approximately 2.6 months of grade-level equivalency over the summer. If this is the case for children in general, then it is especially true for kids with LD.
Is summer school a good idea?
Summer school may be a positive experience for some children with LD. Summer school usually provides a more casual and relaxed environment for the child with LD to review difficult material from the previous year and preview new material for the coming year. Some school districts offer summer school programs, but most charge tuition or registration fees. Some children with LD may qualify for an Extended School Year (ESY) provided by the school district if the need can be documented in their IEP. Check out this link for information about Extended School Year services.
If summer school seems like an option, it’s a good idea to involve your child in the decision-making process. You want to make sure that the experience will be positive and stress-free for your child. Otherwise, he or she will be resistant to learning, and the time might have been better spent doing summertime activities that are fun and educational.
What are some ways I can plan activities for my child that are fun and encourage learning at the same time?
To prevent loss of reading, writing, and math skills over the summer, structure some time each day to work on those skills:
- Take your child to summer reading programs at the library.
- Encourage your child to read every day. In addition to books, have your child read cookbook directions for making a simple dish, such as macaroni and cheese or chocolate chip cookies, or read the directions for playing a new board game.
- Encourage your child to write letters to friends or grandparents on a weekly basis.
- Build your child’s vocabulary by giving her or him a word and asking for three synonyms for that word. Then ask for three words that are the opposite.
- Have your child design flash cards for math facts and practice them every day.
- Encourage your child to start a collection such as a stamp collection or a butterfly collection.
- Play board games that enhance thinking, such as Scrabble, Monopoly, or chess.
The following websites give lots of good ideas for summertime activities that are fun and encourage thinking and learning:
- LD Online, “Summer Learning for LD Students”
- Learning Disabilities Association of America, “Summer Activities for Children with Learning Disabilities”
- Great Kids, “8 ways to keep your child’s reading skills sharp this summer”
- LD Online, “Summertime and the Learning Is Easy”
What summer activities will help my child develop independence and strong interpersonal skills?
Since most of your child’s time during the school year is devoted to learning academic subjects, summer is a good time for your child to work on social and personal development. Here are some ideas:
- Summer Camps. For younger children and preteens, camps offer opportunities for learning independence, responsibility, and interpersonal skills. Although many kids with LD will do fine in any good summer camp, others may benefit from attending a camp specially structured for kids with learning differences. Look online for the best camps for kids with LD and ADHD. There are lots of them out there.
- Volunteer Work. Both younger and older kids with LD can benefit from working as a volunteer over the summer months. Younger children can offer to walk a neighbor’s dog, pull weeds, or check on an elderly neighbor who lives alone. Older kids can volunteer at the animal shelter, drive for an organization such as Meals on Wheels, or help out at an assisted living facility. Volunteering not only helps kids with LD keep busy during the summer months, but it also is a way for them to develop empathy for others less fortunate than themselves.
- Summer Jobs. The great thing about a summer job is that it gives kids with LD an introduction to the varied responsibilities involved in the world of work. Younger kids can make and distribute flyers around the neighborhood offering to walk dogs, mow lawns, or check on homes and gardens while neighbors are out of town. Older kids can clerk in the neighborhood grocery store, work in a garden center, or bus tables in a local restaurant.
Although it is important for kids with LD to keep up with academics, learning how to be a good neighbor and citizen through volunteering and work is probably just as important over the long run.
There are lots of ways to keep kids with LD occupied over the summer. With some planning and parental guidance, the lazy, hazy days of summer can be relaxing and stress free, and at the same time, provide kids with LD great opportunities for learning not only about school subjects but also about the social world and their place in it.
Rhoda Cummings, Ed.D., is professor emeritus in the Department of Counseling and Educational Psychology at the University of Nevada, Reno. She has over thirty years’ experience teaching undergraduate and graduate students about students with learning disabilities. The author of numerous articles and books for parents and young people, Rhoda is also the mother of a grown son with LD. She lives and writes on the Oregon coast.
Rhoda Cummings is the author of The Survival Guide for Kids with LD.
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