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How to make summer school fun

May 15, 2023

This time of year, I get a lot of inquiries from parents about summer school. Most want to keep their student’s academic skills sharp and maintain schedule consistency, but also want to give their kids a break and a chance to enjoy their summer. 

My advice? Find a healthy balance. Keep up Nonverbal Autism Homeschool’s four-day-a-week schedule, or even drop down to three days a week, but cut back from a few hours per day to just an hour. Don’t try to cover all subjects every day or even every week. Instead, find a combination of skills that need improving and balance them with lessons that appeal to your student’s special interests.

Finally, make sure your student gets a break sometime during the summer. Our resident Special Education Teacher, Mr. Sims, advises that all students should get a two-week break during the summer, and again around the holidays. Yes, kids thrive on consistency, but everyone performs better when they take some time off to relax.

Here’s what summer school will look like at our house this year.

  1. ESY – Because we homeschool through a charter, my student has access to special education support and therapy services throughout the month of June. He loves his teacher, socializing with other kids, and he’ll even have the same aide. Signing up for ESY was a no brainer.
  2. Structured academics – We’ll finish up phonics and grammar lessons that weren’t completed during the school year, so he’s ready for new material in the fall. I’ll also introduce life skills math lessons that should keep the double digit addition and subtraction skills he gained this year nice and sharp.
  3. Unstructured academics – I’ll continue reading a couple chapters of Charlotte’s Web out loud each day, and when we’re finished, we’ll watch the movie. Then, we’ll begin a new age-appropriate novel. We’ll also keep watching Prehistoric Planet with David Attenborough on Apple TV+. My student has never been a big dinosaur guy, but the computer generated imagery is superb and he’s captivated, easily watching 30 minutes at a time without a break.
  4. Art - We'll continue working on the monthly season art projects that are included with Nonverbal Autism Homeschool.
  5. Communication skills - We're firming up plans to begin spell to communicate lessons this summer. Following the success of the documentary SPELLERS, it's hard to get into weekly lessons, so we'll be participating in some all-day intensive trainings and day camps. Hopefully by Fall we can settle into regular lessons and integrate these new skills into academics.
  6. Social skills – I’ve purchased tickets to summer matinees and we’ll see a mix of new movies (Spider-Man: Across the Spider-Verse), favorites back in theaters (Shrek) an old classics (E.T.). Movies are easier when the theater is filled with noisy kids, it takes the pressure off to keep quiet. Cheap tickets also make it easier to swallow if you have to leave before the movie is over. 
  7. Physical education – I splurged on an above ground pool this year and set it up over the weekend. Summer school plans 1 through 6 will depend on my student getting out of the pool. So far, it’s not looking too promising. ;)

Here are some other ideas you can try with your student.

Students who don't yet know their alphabet or need practice with beginning consonant sounds can work on this floor puzzle activity.

Students who haven't learned how to count or need practice with counting, addition or subtraction can try this water play activity.

Both alphabet and counting lessons can be modified to practice on the playground. Send letter magnets or toys down the slide in alphabetical order. Count the number of pushes on the swing and model asking for a specific number of pushes using AAC. 

The pool is a great place to use toys to practice positional words like in, out, over, under, in between and next to. Model the words by saying, "Okay (toy), it's time to jump into the pool! Now, go under the water! Now swim next to your friend!"

Learn restaurant skills at a donut shop or ice cream parlor. Limited choices and instant service, combined with plastic chairs and tables for easy clean up, set the stage for perfect beginner-level practice.

Host a playdate for an autistic friend from therapy or make a new friend from an online special needs parenting group. Allow the kids to simply co-exist in the same room, engaging in parallel play. 

Search for special needs events in your area this summer. Our local parks and rec hosts special needs swim night at the aquatic center once a month, Chuck E Cheese often has special needs hours once or twice a week, and many places have autism awareness events sponsored by local police, fire stations or the Autism Society.

Summer school doesn't have to look like regular school in order to maintain existing academic skills and make new ones. You can have fun and learn, too!

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