With the start of May, it's time to think about what your child will do for the summer, especially if they love school and crave schedules. Summer camps are booking up quickly, but even if you still have time to register, these programs can be costly, especially if they cater to children with disabilities. As a mother of two children with learning disabilities, I know that an unplanned summer can be a long, difficult stretch of time for kids. So what's a parent to do?
For families impacted by disabilities, here are five great ideas for planning a summer that keeps your child interested and occupied:
1. Homeschool, just a little.
For children with disabilities, summer time means losing some of the concepts they've learned over the school year. If your child is in elementary school, depending on the state, Extended School Year (ESY) programs can help prevent this. However, if your child doesn't qualify for a program like this, consider setting aside time every day to review skills you want to ensure they don't lose. Sit down with teachers, aides and therapists now to recommend kid-friendly activities and center it around snack time. Every year, my children receive a daily calendar of quick and easy academic and sensory activities for the summer months.
2. Make a weekly craft day.
I've recently gotten in the habit of doing a weekly craft with my kids. Initially, this was to use up the various craft toys they've received for Christmas, birthdays and other events that had been collecting dust around our house. Look for projects that are easy to do and simple to clean. Focus on what you are good at, and use it to draw out your child's interests. Remember that building skills in the small things has just as much value as a big, useful project.
3. Search for local programs for disabilities.
My family is lucky that we live in an area with several autism resource groups, a Down syndrome resource group and a support group for kids and adults with intellectual disabilities. To find groups like these in your neighborhood, get involved with other local parents or do a Google search with the name of the nearest large town and your child's disability (i.e. "Down syndrome Pennsylvania"). With so many resources at our fingertips, we have the options of lots of great activities, like BounceU outings and summer swim activities. Be sure to contact the organization to make sure that your child meets the requirements, whether they provide transportation or if they provide an aide, should your child need one.
4. Find out if respite care or summer services for children with disabilities are available.
In my area, several churches as well as several youth support groups provide free camps, free respite care and other activities for children during the summer. Call the office directly to ask about summer programs, respite care, and any activities for families like yours - they are not always listed on organization websites. It's a good idea to get on their mailing lists, too, since they tend to list activities in their newsletters. Follow local groups on Facebook or an online forum or group, such as Yahoo! Groups. You will get tons of information on activities and supports, and may even connect with other families.
5. Look into the Special Olympics.
This is a great program for kids to train for free in their favorite sport! Sports run at different times, in different areas, so you'll need to find the website of the Special Olympics group nearest where you live. In my area, children have to be at least 8-years-old and have a doctor's letter to participate and transportation is not provided, but everything else is free.
Summers can be long, hot and frustrating for a child with a disability, but a little bit of research and planning now can go a long way into making this a fun and productive summer for your child. You'll be surprised at how many activities there are, and with a little luck, you'll not only find great programs that will boost your child's self-esteem, you may even make new friends yourself!