Change can be hard! This is especially true for children with developmental differences, who may struggle to adapt to a new daily routine. For many, the predictable environment of school helps them feel safe and in control. A change like summer vacation, which disrupts a child’s daily routine, can lead to feeling unregulated. Below are tips from our staff about how to prepare for the end of school, and set your family up for a smooth summer.
Decide on a daily structure and follow it as closely as possible
Whether you plan to send your child to camp or keep them home with you or a caregiver, daily structure will help them maintain a sense of control and safety throughout each day. When children 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 children, 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 they can follow along throughout the day and know what’s happening next. Some things to keep in mind: Similar wake-up and bed times, mealtimes, activity times, and play times.
Children 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) are home with your child, create opportunities for play. Follow their lead, interact with them, 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 children play outside, they’re encouraged to use their imaginations—exploring and creating games with what they find. This type of play is excellent for children who struggle with motor planning or sequencing of ideas. For or those who are highly active, getting outside provides a way to expend energy. For children who are low-arousal, it encourages them to move around. When children do not get enough outdoor play, they may be 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. We also get that technology is a part of modern life. Still, we strongly advise that children younger than 2 use no screens at all, and that older children 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 electronics is that they isolate children and interfere with meaningful human interaction. At ICT we believe children thrive within warm, caring relationships with plenty of face-to-face interaction. There is one exception: Video chats, 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 peers and build their social communication skills. To keep that going, we encourage you to set up play dates for your child 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 them 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!