Transitions can be hard for kids (and their parents!). This is especially true for children with developmental and behavioral challenges, who may struggle with being flexible in the face of a new daily routine. For many of them, the predictable environment of school helps them feel safe and in control. A change like summer vacation, which is highly disruptive to a child’s daily routine, can be difficult. Below are tips from our staff about how to set yourself and your kids up for a summer that is as smooth as possible, and allows for continued learning.
Decide on a Daily Structure and Follow it as Closely as Possible
Whether you decide to send your child to camp or keep him home with you or a caregiver, daily structure will help him maintain a sense of control and safety throughout each day. When kids know what to expect, they are less anxious and more available to learn.
Daily structure does not need to be rigid! The important thing is to do similar things in a similar order each day. For some kids, it might be helpful to go over the daily routine each morning. If your child benefits form visual cues, write or draw the daily routine and post it in a central part of the house so that he can follow along throughout the day and know what is happening next. Some things to keep in mind: Similar wake-up and bed times, mealtimes, activity times, and play times.
Kids learn through play; it’s what interests them, motivates them, and provides opportunities for creativity, language development, sensory motor development, and acquisition of social skills. If you choose a summer camp, look for one that incorporates plenty of play. If you or a caregiver is home with your child, try to spend as much time as possible playing with her. Follow her lead, talk to and interact with her, and have fun! Playing with your child is one of the greatest learning opportunities you can provide.
A Special Note About Outdoor Play
Outdoor play is very different from indoor play, and it’s crucial to development. When kids play outside, they’re encouraged to use their imaginations—exploring and creating games with what they find. This type of play is excellent for kids who struggle with motor planning or sequencing of ideas. In addition, for kids who are highly active, getting outside provides a way to expend energy. For kids who are low-arousal, it encourages them to move around. When kids do not get enough outdoor play, they are prone to tantrums, meltdowns, or lack of motivation.
Minimize Screen Time
We know this can be tough, especially during the summer when the days are long and giving kids a device provides quiet time and a break for parents. We get that, and we get that technology is a part of modern life. Still, we strongly advise that kids under 2 use no screens at all, and that older kids use them for no more than 30 minutes a day. This article, by our founder and one of our veteran therapists, has great information on why it’s important to manage screen time.
A main reason we discourage excessive use of TV, smart phones, tablets, computers, and video games is that they interfere with meaningful human interaction. At ICT we believe that children thrive within the bounds of warm, caring relationships with plenty of face-to-face interaction. Screens isolate children (with the exception of video chats with friends and family, which can be wonderful when a parent is working late or a grandparent lives far away).
Organize Play Dates
During the school year, children have ample opportunities to interact with other kids and build their social and emotional skills. To keep that going, we encourage you to set up play dates for your children during the summer, especially if they are not attending summer camp. Depending on your child’s developmental level and unique needs, you may want to facilitate these play dates to help him stay focused and interactive.
A Note About Caregivers
If your child will be with a nanny, babysitter or other caregiver during summer days, we encourage you to work closely with that person to develop a daily structure that he or she can easily adhere to. You can offer suggestions for art projects, books to read together, and places to play outside.
We wish you a very happy summer!