Guest Post by Holly Zipperer
“Summer learning loss” or “the summer slide” is what teachers call the regression in skills which takes place in the time between the end of one school year and the beginning of the next.
Research shows that special education students, on average, experience a more significant skill loss than typical students.
Fortunately, with some planning and effort it is possible to forestall this skill loss and set up your child for a successful return to school in September.
Here are some tips for keeping your child’s skills sharp over the summer:
1. Take advantage of ESY programs if your child is eligible.
Extended School Year (ESY) programs are funded by the school district and provide academic, social, and vocational skills maintenance to qualifying students.
Eligibility for ESY programs is specified on a student’s IEP. In addition to academic and life skills practice, ESY programs can help students maintain a consistent routine and can provide recreational and social experiences. Find out more about ESYs.
2. Consider specialized summer programs.
Specialized camps and summer programs can offer opportunities for students with special needs to meet and engage with peers under the guidance of experienced staff who can facilitate and support skills development. But finding the right program for your child is key.
3. Maintain a consistent routine.
Establish a daily schedule and post a copy where everyone in the family can see it. Knowing what to expect each day makes it easier for children to behave appropriately, cope with transitions, and keep up independent living and self-help skills.
It also makes it easier to set aside time for learning activities like art or reading. Short, frequent bursts of practice are more effective for learning or retaining skills than longer, once-in-awhile sessions.
4. Take advantage of summer for experiential learning in nature.
There are many benefits to spending time outside, from the tremendous sensory input to new experiences and concrete learning opportunities. Weekend adventure camps during the summer months offer kids with special needs a unique opportunity for growth and independence.
For example the Great Valley Nature Center in Chester County, Pennsylvania hosts a variety of summer educational programs to help increase awareness and appreciation of the natural environment.
5. Keep in mind that education goes beyond academics.
For children and youth with special needs, maintaining social skills, vocational skills, and independent-living skills can be as important as academics.
There are a lot of fun ways to apply knowledge to everyday life. Whether it’s running a lemonade stand business, helping to plan the summer family road trip or making the grocery list and helping with the weekly shopping, there are dozens of creative ways to keep your child plugged into learning during those summer months.
Holly Zipperer, M.Ed. Special Ed., is the Director of Summer Matters at Valley Forge Educational Services (VFES). Zipperer is responsible for the operations of Summer L.I.F.E., Summer Voyagers, and The Extended School Year Program at The Vanguard School. She also plans and manages weekend retreats and respite programs operating when regular school is not in session. Ms. Zipperer has 20 years of work experience in the field of education.