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Jessica Parnell
BY Jessica Parnell

5 Ways to Balance Summer Learning and Summer Break for Homeschoolers with Learning Disabilities

Summer is here, and for many families it will bring a much-needed and deserved break. When we hear the word summer, we often think of popsicles, firefly-catching, days by the pool, and school-free vacations that bring our family together and remind us of our own childhood. Many of us long for summer days all year round because of the freedom and fun they bring to our family and lives.

But while summer certainly should be a time for a more relaxed schedule, increased family time, and lots of fun, taking three months completely off from school comes at a high price, especially for students with learning disabilities. Taking the whole summer off tends to be a bad idea for any young learner, but the results are disastrous for those who struggle to retain information or who have extra learning needs.

How do you get homeschoolers with learning disabilities who have struggled much of the year to do school during the summer without ruining their summer break (and yours)? Here are some tips for beating that summer learning loss without sacrificing the relaxation and togetherness that summer often brings.

1. Skip the word school.

The specter of school may be the biggest obstacle to learning during the summer months. The first step to relaxed summer homeschooling is to remove the idea that it’s school at all. For most kids with learning disabilities, the very word increases stress. It’s most likely been a long, hard year, and though you may have ended well, your child is in much need of a break.

Be sure to take a few days or weeks to relax a bit and prioritize recuperation. But when you’re ready to move into summer learning, you’ll need to take a different approach than you did during your normal school year.

2. Think more fun, less lessons.

Now that you’ve banished school from your summer vocabulary, find other ways to change up your language. Summer homeschooling should be about relaxed learning that engages your student’s whole body and makes the most of the weather. For some, this means one hour a day of workbooks; for others, a fun online class. Whatever you do, be sure not to refer to it as “summer school” or “homeschooling” so that your kids don’t start groaning before you’ve even opened a book.

Get outside as much as possible and approach each learning session with a relaxed, summer attitude. See if your therapist, reading specialist, or tutor will meet you at a park or work with your child outside. If it doesn’t look like school, it’s instantly more fun!

3. Involve your child in planning.

When crafting your summer homeschooling plan, it’s super important to get your student’s buy-in so he or she will be motivated to learn. We’re all more likely to be willing participants in something we’ve had a hand in putting together! Sharing power and planning will give your learner a sense of control and ownership, which can be especially motivating for students with learning disabilities who often feel a bit out of control with their struggles.

Start by having kids make a list of things that interest them, then turn those interests into goals for learning. For example, if your child says that she loves animals, have her pick her top five animals to learn about during the summer months. Find some books about those animals, watch a film about them, let her draw the animal in its habitat, and then take a trip to the zoo!

If you’re looking to stop summer learning loss, much of your summer learning will look like review. In this case, workbooks like the Summer Bridge series can be helpful. Maybe you’re hoping to gain some ground on a tough subject, fine-tune motor skills, or address reading struggles. Be honest with your child about your summer goals and create a plan together that includes fun and the necessary tutoring, therapy, or reading support.

If tutoring or therapy is part of your summer plan, schedule something fun right before or after the session. Stop by a park that’s on your route, plan your trips to the library before the appointment, or pick up a favorite snack on the way home. This will be a bright spot in the day that your student will look forward to, and hopefully that will overshadow any negative feelings about the session.

4. Create a summer challenge.

In my home, when I make anything a game or competition and include a reward, my kids engage much more and complain much less. This is especially true for students with learning disabilities. Rewards are huge motivators for those who often find learning frustrating and have to work harder than their peers. Why not create a contest for your homeschooler that incorporates your goals and ends with an awesome prize? Be sure to wrap your challenge around the goal you’ve agreed upon together and give a great incentive (like a trip to the water park or tickets to a ball game) as a reward.

Make progress toward the reward visual with a poster or chalkboard, and create smaller goals that lead up to the victory so that your learner doesn’t become frustrated throughout the process. Younger learners may benefit from smaller goals and rewards. Making summer learning a fun challenge will not only encourage your learners to stay focused, you’ll all enjoy sweet success and make memories that will last much longer than the summer months.

5. Simply shift your schedule.

The draw of summer is ease of scheduling and flexibility. This is often why summer homeschooling is so dreaded, because it feels like the normal school year. Turn this on its head by rearranging the schedule. This will look different for each family, but the concept is the same: make time for fun and loosen the reins on your timetables. Allow your learner to decide when to complete work or schedule therapy or tutoring sessions. Make it work for your family based upon your summer bucket list and schedule, but be sure to work in relaxation and fun and base it on a schedule that’s mindful of when learning is best for your homeschooler.

While some students can relax and take the summer off, students with learning disabilities need to continue working toward goals during the summer months to be ready for the next school year. The cost of summer learning loss is simply too high for our exceptional learners. That’s why spending even one hour a day actively learning, reading, or working toward goals is so critical.

Homeschooling during the summer doesn’t have to be drudgery. Change your language and approach, share in the planning, and challenge your homeschooler to achieve with a sweet summer reward, and summer learning will be smooth sailing. Your student will be engaged, and you’ll thank yourself for summer homeschooling when your student is ahead and ready to go come fall. Want to see more benefits? Download a summer school white paper on “7 Benefits of Summer School.”

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Jessica Parnell

Written on June 21, 2017 by:

I’m Jessica Parnell — mom, homeschool evaluator, teacher, and president of Bridgeway Academy. In my 20+ years of experience as a homeschool mom and evaluator, I have had the privilege of meeting homeschoolers who take a variety of approaches to their education. It is their many stories and successes that inspire me in my own homeschooling, and I love to pass on the knowledge that I have gained from them to other homeschooling families. When I’m not writing or teaching my children, I like to ski, write, and participate in triathlons. I graduated from Kutztown University with a Bachelor of Science in Education and a Masters in English, and I am currently pursuing a degree in Neuroleadership. To explore homeschooling options or to talk with a homeschool specialist, call us today at 800-863-1474! We would love to share our expertise and ideas for more accommodations and modifications with this free resource.

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