Any time off school, whether it is a vacation or time off due to illness, all adds up. This can accumulate into quite a big chunk of time not attending school and disruption to children's routines. For many kids, like my own son, who have complex medical needs we have numerous hospital appointments throughout the year so missing out on learning isn’t just scheduled breaks throughout the year. The summer break is the longest for us with 6 weeks off, and this may even be longer for other children.
As a Special Needs parent and like every parent/carer of a child who has additional needs and a learning difficulty, the gap between peers grows as each month passes. Having time off and not doing educational activities in a weekly timetabled routine for many children means that they may stand still and even go backwards. Not having their usual routine can be disruptive for some children and they may exhibit more behavior problems. Children with Special Educational Needs take longer to learn, acquire and develop new skills. Medical conditions and medications may also mean that they are forgetful or struggle to remember.
What is 'summer learning loss'?
Many professionals use the term ‘summer learning loss’, and it simply refers to children losing skills and knowledge they have developed over the school year during their summer holidays. For a number of children their routines are turned upside down and they aren't doing the regular activities that support their development.
The new school year can be difficult for any child, but summer learning loss can put them at a disadvantage. They have to spend time getting back to where they were before the break, while also having to push forward and make progress with the school work for the year.
It's important to remember though that everyone continually learns, just in different ways and at different times. Skills and knowledge can and do grow, it may just take a little longer. It’s also worth noting that learning needs to be applicable and relevant to an individual child, so it’s about looking at how learning can be brought into day to day life. To tackle summer learning loss, you don't have to sit your child down and complete textbook homework. A trip to the supermarket, a visit to the park, even baking a cake can be educational. It's about making learning fun to keep up their progress but have a much needed break from school work.
Summer is different for everyone
Typical teenagers have a reputation of spending most of their time catching up on sleep with late nights and even later mornings, spending their days in their room or meeting up with friends. Some kids have chores, some look after siblings, some volunteer. Teenage years for kids with Special Eductaional Needs may be that they do very similar things that they did when they were younger. They need extra support and supervision, so there may be a growing gap between their peers by their interests and hobbies.
Time out of school needs to include educational activities: reading books, play games to support turn taking, as well as maths and money. For us adults it’s fitting these activities into a daily routine so that we balance out leisure, hobbies, chores, downtime, learning and therapies. We use Special Stories with William over the summer to create stories of what he does daily. We also create personalised reading books about our summer to look back on and remember what we’ve done over the holidays.
Life is different for us all, and our children are unique. A visit to a museum may work well for one child but be a recipe for a disaster for another. So always add a pinch of reality and don’t try to compare your child too much with others. Even if you know they are the are the same age and have similar additional needs.
Our summer top tips!
- Have fun! Enjoy your time together and look to create happy memories.
- Schedule some time out to relax. And remember that how and what you do to relax may be different to others, and that's ok!
- Make a list of what you want to do over the vacation and create visual timetables. This is usually a good mix as it may include work, house chores, routine shopping and cooking, days out, sorting and cleaning and preparing for going back to school.
- Rewrite your list. Because you make a list of all the places you could visit and all of the things that you would do at the start and then these just don’t happen doesn’t mean that you have to do them this holiday. If it rains you may not be doing the beach trip or outdoor activity and if your child is ill you may have a hospital stay or be homebased more. It's great to make an initial list but re-write it as the weeks go on.
- Take photographs of what you do. It’s very easy to come to the end of the summer and think that you have not done anything especially if on a stay-at-home-vacation. Looking back on photos reminds you all of the fun times.
- Plan how you can fit in the educational activities and these may be just time to practice. Did school give you homework? Don’t leave the school bag unopened until you are getting ready for back to school, check it and see what there is.
- Find your families balance so that everyone gets something out of the holiday time.
- Find times that you can double up. When travelling, do your kids read books, sing songs, or draw? Giving children an activity that they can do whilst travelling may find you that extra 10 minutes a day practicing handwriting, drawing, reading…
- Peer learning is used a lot at school, so get your children to read to each other or make a meal a week, or make their own packed lunch.
- Remember that sometimes it’s good to do nothing to balance everything out so fit in time to paddle in the sea and count the clouds in the sky.