By Andrew Hawk
Another school year has come and gone. And it seems each one passes faster than the previous. While teachers work on recharging their batteries over the summer and administrators turn their attention to preparing for the next year, parents work to find the right balance of fun and productivity for their children. This is especially true for the parents of students with special needs. All students experience some form of regression during extended breaks from school, and summer is typically the longest break of the year for the majority of students. Most kids will regain any lost knowledge with a few days of review. However, this is not always true for students in special education, and it raises the stakes to make sure that every minute counts for their caregivers. So whether you are promoting healthy living or trying to maintain academics, here are some activities that I hope your exceptional student will enjoy this summer.
1. Summer Sports
An active body helps promote a healthy mind. Summer sports are a traditional summer activity in which special education students can participate with same-age peers. There are many offerings in most cities, including baseball, softball, basketball, swimming, tennis, and, more popular than ever . . . golf. In some cases, special education students develop a passion for a sport that can carry over into participating in sports at school. This can provide new motivation for students to work toward academic success.
2. Study Groups
Most students in general are not going to set out on a course of self-study. Collaborate with your school’s staff and see if you can facilitate a group of students who can work together to maintain academic progress. Groups such as these are also a good opportunity to practice social skills. I recommend finding a neutral, public location, such as a library, recreation center, or even a school, for the group to meet.
3. Online Resources
It has been well established that many websites offer free resources students can use to build academic skills. However, parents need to play a role in supervising kids online. If kids are left to their own devices with little or no supervision, they can get into a lot of mischief online—viewing inappropriate content or playing games with no educational value. Parents and guardians should always provide some sort of oversight when students use the internet.
4. Library Clubs
Most libraries have a summer reading program. This goes all the way back to my own childhood. Summer reading programs usually require students to read a certain number of books to win a prize (usually a free book). However, I have heard of library programs that have in-depth book studies, ice cream parties, and even author visits. It is worth taking a minute to call your local library branch to find out what they have to offer. Getting a library card is a small act with nominal expense that really gets kids excited. This is especially true for younger students who have not had very many chances to see their names in print.
5. Equestrian Therapy
Many people heap praise onto equestrian therapy. Proponents claim positive effects include increased trust and confidence, reduced anxiety, improved impulse control, and many more. Skeptics are fast to point out a lack of scientific data to support these claims, however. The fact is that the United States has many people who love animals. Capitalizing on this activity at the very least exposes students to a new and fun activity. Set up a visit to a place that offers horseback riding today!
6. Drama Camps
Drama camps are lots of work but also lots of fun. Taking part in the theater or another live performance is a great way to build students’ confidence. Theater also assists with reading fluency, since students must practice with their scripts, and aids comprehension, since students complete repeated readings paired with the visual aid of acting out the play. See if any kind of children’s theater is offered in your local area.
7. Peer Mentoring
I have found that this relationship is empowering for both the mentor student and the mentee. The peer mentoring relationship can be kept very simple. The two students could meet at a neutral location and have a conversation or play a game. Activities that the students take part in will depend on the ages and interests of the students. I recommend consulting with classroom teachers to pair kids up.
8. Age-Appropriate Work
It is always a good time for students to start learning the value of a dollar. Most children can complete some little jobs or tasks to earn money from a family member, neighbor, or friend of the family. This helps teach responsibility and offers kids a chance to be proud of themselves for a job well done.
Have a great summer, everyone!
Andrew Hawk has worked in public education for 18 years. He started as a teaching assistant in a special education classroom. He completed his bachelor’s degree in elementary education at Indiana University East in Richmond, Indiana. Andrew has taught first, second, and fifth grades as a classroom teacher. In 2011, he earned his master’s degree in special education from Western Governor’s University. Andrew has worked as a resource room teacher and also has taught in a self-contained classroom for students on the autism spectrum. In 2017, he earned a master’s degree in educational leadership, also from Western Governor’s University. This is Andrew’s first year as a building principal. He is the principal of an elementary school that houses kindergarten through fifth grades. When Andrew is not preparing for school, he enjoys spending time with this wife and two daughters.
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