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Penina Rybak
BY Penina Rybak

Six Suggested Summer Activities for Group Problem Solving

Summer vacation is a great time to take a break from schedules (in moderation!), go on a family vacation, review old skills, start new projects, and basically do things a little more slowly, a little bit differently. For preschool children with Autism and special needs, changes in routine can be somewhat challenging and scary. They often result in tantrums due to difficulty with orientation to time; manifesting in difficulty transitioning and problem solving.

Since both skills are needed for social communication proficiency, and changing routines are a part of life, especially in the summer, we need to address the child’s resiliency and ability to adapt. Getting creative about “teachable moments” should thus be foremost on the minds of parents and educators alike, especially this time of year!

The process and implementation can be fun and easier than you think! The trick is teaching problem solving “in action” i.e. within natural contexts. You only need to use what’s in the environment already, or mildly tweak it for maximum impact re: the “teachable moment”. As a speech therapist, I like to suggest/plan outings and play schemas that lend themselves to facilitating resiliency and subsequently transitioning and problem solving. Here are 6 suggested summer activities I recommend, that can be done in a group, depending on cognition, using a mixture of toys and “tech”….

1. Test out your acting skills

Reenact scenes from the classic book by Margaret Miller, Where Does It Go? You can act out the scenes in real time, taking photos to create a personalized book for the children to take home for show & tell. You can find it in libraries or on many a special educator’s shelf. It’s also here on Amazon. You can use the Juxtaposer iOS App for extra learning and homework!

2. Host a Tea Party

Have a “tea party” outside using actual props (toys, real food etc.)  in conjunction with the classic iPad App, Toca Tea Party for extra practice!

3. Get to Work on the Assembly Line

Create an assembly line where the children get to make their own ice cream sundae or pizza bagel etc. (be mindful of food allergies/dietary restrictions and feeding issues!) and eat it in a different location…lots of steps to navigate! You can also use the free iOS App Sundae Maker and Email the finished product to boost episodic memory and self esteem!

4. The Art of Sabotage

Engage the children in water play using extra-large plastic bins or “kiddie” pools but secretly sabotage their instruments! Give them a pre-assigned mixture of working toys and non-working equipment: slotted spoons, cups with holes etc. and even throw in some items that don’t belong such as a sock, a crayon etc. Encourage the children to ask each other for help and brainstorm how to incorporate the problematic objects! You can record their answers using the free iOS App Furry Friend for extra fun!

5. Play “dress-up”

Use an assortment of clothes and themes. Make sure to have the children mix and match seasonal clothing and video them for later recall and discussion. You can even use the Fancy Nancy books and iOS App, either before or after the activity so it really “sticks”. Some children may enjoy reading Wacky Wednesday  or Pinkalicious and the rest of that series instead. Others may like to play with Melissa and Doug’s Wooden Bear Family Dress-Up Puzzle for extra laughs!

6. Take a Scavenger Hunt

Plan a simple scavenger hunt for a few familiar items that “go together” and one which doesn’t, in terms of texture or object function (color and shape is too concrete!). Under supervision, the children can go searching in grocery stores, book stores, libraries, play grounds, and even the car, for the desired items.

Remember to take photos and have them explain their choices. The photos can be uploaded and shared, and even colored on and exported elsewhere. You can use an iPad App such as the free, easy to use Doodlelicious which lets you draw on top of your photos and even continue the conversation long after the activity is over!

Summer is a great time to get children out and about, and give children with Autism and/or special needs opportunities to expand their horizons and step outside their comfort zones. That’s really the only way to keep learning fresh, and keep progress going. The key to each “teachable moment”  is making it humorous and fun!

Penina Rybak

Written on July 14, 2014 by:

Penina is an Autism Specialist and Educational Technology Consultant, who created the soon to be published Socially Speaking™ Social Skills Curriculum and already deployed Socially Speaking™ Social Skills Assessment Protocol iPad App. Visit her website for more information:

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