For many children—especially special needs children, but it can apply to typical children too—the arrival of summer can be a little stressful because it often means a huge change in routine. My autistic daughter has a hard time transitioning from our “regular” homeschool year to the less-structured summer months. We usually continue to homeschool over the summer, but because of special summer activities, vacations, and a more relaxed homeschool schedule, there are still some pretty big changes.
I put together a list of ideas that I try to keep in mind at the beginning of each summer to help her transition go a little easier. I hope these ideas are helpful to you and your family too!
- Talk about it ahead of time: One of the easiest yet most important things I’ve ever done to help my daughter get ready for the transition to summer is simply to start talking about it at least a few weeks ahead of time. I don’t go in depth or make a big deal out of it. I simply mention to her that our regular school year will soon be over, and I tell her about a few of the special things we’ll be doing that summer.
- Let your special needs child help plan a summer bucket list: If your child is old enough and is capable of giving input, it’s a great idea to let your child make suggestions for places she would like to go and things she would like to do. If this is too hard for her, make a list of activities and destinations for her to choose from. Use pictures (cut from magazines or printed off the internet) to show the choices if your child can’t read yet. Then go through the list together and make a list of the things you know you want to do over the summer. Keep in mind that you might enjoy choosing fun hobbies to work on over the summer too!
- Talk about how much school work you will do over the summer (if any): Let your child know about any school work that will be done over the summer and discuss the best days and times. For example, my daughter likes to know that we’ll do 2 hours of school work each Tuesday and Thursday morning from 9:00 until 11:00 a.m. Younger children may not need you to be that specific, and that’s fine. Older children, though, and many autistic children like to have a more exact idea.
- Keep as many routines as possible: Even during the summer, we attempt to get the children in bed at about the same time each night, and we try to get them up at about the same time each morning as much as possible. For my autistic child, we keep other routines too. One example is that she gets to play the computer for 30 minutes each morning after she brushes her teeth and gets dressed. These simple routines can make the less structured days of summer seem more familiar.
- Plan some “down days” to help keep your child from being overwhelmed: Don’t feel like you have to cram every day full of activities! For many children (and parents!) having too many places to go and things to do is overwhelming. Maybe you can declare one day each week to stay home and take a break. Maybe you and your children can read the library books you’ve checked out or play in the sprinkler or even watch a movie together and just relax. You don’t have to go somewhere and do something every single day. It’s ok to have some days at home.
- Create a calendar of activities, obligations, appointments, etc. where everyone can see it. (Or consider making a more visual schedule.): Depending on the age and level of functioning of your special needs child, you may choose to create a calendar with commitments, appointments, and activities listed on it, or you may want to post a visual schedule instead. (A visual schedule is simply a calendar or chart with pictures instead of words.) If looking at a calendar showing a month or a week at a time is too overwhelming for your child, you may want to post a schedule each evening that shows activities for only the following day.
- Try to get together with friends—especially a close friend or two—over the summer: It may be hard for your child to understand why he won’t see all of his friends over the summer like he did during the school year. Be sure he understands that families often go on vacation and do other special summer activities that cause them to be away from home. You might need to explain that his friends will be back even though they may be away some over the summer and that he will once again see his friends on a regular basis when school begins again in the fall. And be sure if at all possible to plan a few special play days when he can get together with his friends over the summer.
- Create (or let your child help create) a back-to-school countdown chart or calendar: This could be a calendar on which you mark off the days, popsicle sticks in a jar (Just start with one stick for each day of summer break and remove one stick each day.), or even a paper chain (Similar to the popsicle sticks. Just make a paper chain with one link for each day of summer. Simply cut off one link each day.). If the countdown is something your child can participate in, it will be more fun and meaningful.
While making the transition from the school year to summer may still be a bit difficult for your special needs child, I’ve found these ideas to be very helpful for my family. Some of the ideas take a small amount of preparation, but all of them can be done easily and without spending a lot of money. And your children can help with most of these ideas, which helps make the transition more real and more fun!
Do you have suggestions for helping your special needs child (or typical children) transition from the school year to summer? If so, please share your ideas in the comments!