After an unexpected school year and ongoing closures of some traditional summer camps and social activities, many parents and caregivers are looking for extra support for their kids. Months of distance learning, paired with normal summer learning loss, can bring academic, social and emotional challenges.
As children settle into new summer routines, parents also may notice a need for therapeutic support. While conventional summer learning loss may impact all children, those who regularly receive additional therapies during the school year could be missing out the most. Speech, language and occupational therapy often are essential for children with special learning needs, but typical children also may regress in these areas when not engaged in regular classroom activities.
With locations in Lyndhurst, Akron and Westlake (coming in 2021), Julie Billiart Schools (JB) are a network of Ohio K-8 schools for children with learning differences. Expert speech and occupational therapists from JB give helpful, at-home tips for parents to work on fine motor skills, language processing, and expressive and cognitive skills this summer.
Victoria Kuzyk, M.A., CCC-SLP, Speech/Language Therapist, JB Akron
JJ Schweikert, MOT, OTR/L, OTPP, Occupational Therapist, JB Akron
Michelle Jarosz, M.A., CCC/SLP, Speech/Language Therapist, JB Lyndhurst
Cathy Parrino, MOTR/L, Occupational Therapist, JB Lyndhurst
Though Kuzyk believes that skill maintenance should be encouraged, she also acknowledges that kids need a summer break. She encourages functional learning through everyday activities. Practice expressive and receptive language by asking your child to answer the “wh” questions (who, what, where, when, why).
Put Zoom or Facetime to Use
Playing games like “I-Spy” or describing what you see on a walk are other ways to assist the development of skills. Additionally, Kuzyk believes that Zoom sessions with family or friends are good ways for children to practice conversation. “It’s a really great platform because they can focus on three important social skills: eye contact, turn taking and topic maintenance.”
Make Dinner More Social
Jarosz assigns a three-month summer calendar of daily activities to her students. She encourages parent participation and involvement, and states that “dinner is the perfect time for social language.” Cooking also can accomplish OT goals. According to Parrino, “cooking is a motivating life skill that includes the need to calculate math, read, and use all of your senses in the process.”
Use What’s on Hand
Many simple activities in the home can address occupational therapy (OT) needs when school is not in session. Acknowledging that not every household has OT items, Schweikert recommends adapting household items that you already have on hand. This increases interest because the children are using items that are familiar to them while exploring a new purpose. Not everyone has an OT ball or stress ball at home, but simply picking up cotton balls, or lining up candy, can make a fun and functional activity.
Keep the Brain and Body Challenged
Schweikert also encourages the use of chores to target fine motor skills and other OT goals. “Ask your child to go outside and water the garden. Limit the screen time. Get outside and keep the brain and the body challenged in other ways,” she says.
Send a Letter
Parrino says, “Students can practice writing neatly on lined paper, sending letters to friends and adding messages to homemade cards. Adding (the child’s) interests to activities such as coloring in the lines on a picture of their favorite character using broken crayons (to increase hand strength) makes a challenging visual-perceptual and hand strengthening task fun and motivating.”
All children can use these summer tactics in any setting to combat summer learning loss. Parents, why not utilize the remaining days of summer to design activities that target your child’s needs and interests? Prevent regression, have fun together, and prepare them to be in optimal shape come September.