School is Out for Summer! Now What Do I Do? Keeping Your Cool Over the Long Hot Summer

By Executive Director of Special Education, Tamara Jackson

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All children benefit from structure, but it can be especially true for our students with special needs. Children don’t always know how to use leisure time effectively, so in order to keep your cool you will have to plan ahead. 

Summer can be hard to manage. Parents have to find the right summer enrichment program or camp program. If your student has an IEP and is eligible for Extended School Year (ESY), you may have to coordinate their schedule with the Assistance League or the La Canada Educational Foundation courses. At the end of this article I have a few cool resources for summer fun! Once you know the summer schedule review it with your child.  On “free days” it is best to still provide structure.  Having a set time to wake up and a set bed time helps children develop good sleep hygiene.  Remember, teenagers actually need more sleep than younger children. 
Try to keep isolated play and screen time (video games, computer, TV) to a minimum.  Consider a behavior system where the child earns time to engage in these activities. Remember, it can be challenging to wean children off excessive screen time when school starts back. If your child is really into “Tech,” consider some academic computer time in exchange for game-playing.  There are a lot of fun “academic” games.  Ask your student’s teacher(s) for a few ideas. 

You may be thinking; “These ideas sound fine but how do I do this without breaking a sweat?”
1.  Allow your student to choose part of their daily schedule.
2. Have the schedule written out in advance and review it regularly with your student. 
3. Have school time, camps and vacations clearly marked on the calendar. 
4. Try not to over schedule.  Children need time to decompress (even if they are having fun).

Here are some basic tips for surviving the long hot summer:
1. Structure and consistency leads to better behaved children (and happy and relaxed parents).
2.  Always reinforce the positive behaviors.  Reinforcement is stronger than punishment. I have two articles that may be helpful; Using Token Economies to Help Manage Behavior. and Point Systems & Token Economies:
 3.  Use the Premack Principal: Premack's principle suggests that if a person wants to perform a given activity, the person will perform a less desirable activity to get at the more desirable activity; that is, activities may themselves be reinforcers. An individual will be more motivated to perform a particular activity if he knows that he will partake in a more desirable activity as a consequence.  The Premack Principal is also known as Grandma’s rule. Grandma’s rule of discipline is a great way to teach children that they have an option to earn their privileges. It gives them an opportunity to recognize that they have some control over what privileges they earn and when they earn them. Grandma says, first you work and then you play. Here are a few examples: 
 “When you finish your dinner, you can have dessert.”
“When you have your sneakers and jacket on, we’ll go to the playground.”
 “When you’re done with your homework, you can watch TV.”

Cool Resources for Summer Fun:
Special Camps for Special Kids.  www.specialcampsforspecialkids,com
Need help finding different activities? Try
YMCA :  La Canada 818-790-0123  & Verdugo Hills 818-352-3255
The Summer Acting Camp is located at the La Canada Playhouse on the campus of La Canada High School.
Tom Sawyer Camp, Hahamonga Watershed Park:  Day camp w/horseback riding, swimming, sports etc. 626-794-1156
Art Center College of Design Kids Summer Workshops in Pasadena. 626-396-2319  
Astrocamp: Overnight camp in Idyllwild, CA 800-645-1423
Catalina Island Camp Learn scuba, sailing, marine science etc. 800-696-2267