Summer is a time for relaxation and fun, however certain skills acquired during the school year can be lost if they are not practiced consistently over the course of the entire year. One of the first things parents should identify, are IEP goals targeted by school staff to be maintained over summer. These are the goals that will be addressed during ESY (Extended School Year) and are usually identified mid-school year in preparation for summer learning. Parents should be aware of these goals so they can continue practicing with their son or daughter at home. It is also extremely important to be aware of Specially Designed Instruction/Teaching Strategies that are identified in the IEP to support the targeted goals. These are essentially tips on how to modify tasks and environment, how to prompt, etc. that can be key in helping kids learn and maintain skills. An example may be something like providing a fidget toy to hold while practicing language and communication skills to help facilitate sensory regulation and attention.
In particular, the summer can be a great time to practice social skills at home and provide opportunities for social growth through novel situations like joining the pool, going to camp or meeting new people on vacation. At COLLAGE, a social skills program for kids and adults with varying behavioral health diagnoses, parents are encouraged to use our model at home during the summer. COLLAGE’s model consists of conversation practice, gross-motor or movement activity and a collaborative project during every weekly session.
Practice conversation with your kids at the dinner table and in the car. Stay away from open-ended questions such as “How was camp today?” Kids who struggle socially and have language/communication issues do better with specific questions. Instead, you may ask, “Did you play with Joey at camp today?” “Tell me about that, what did you do together?” Also prompt your child to gather information about others. “Now that we’ve heard about your day, can you ask your brother what he did today?” Keep encouraging follow up questions to show that a conversation bounces back and forth like a ball. When working with younger kids, practice gathering information through “w” questions such as who, what, when, where and why. Older kids should practice ice breakers/conversation starters that can be used to initiate interaction with new peers they meet during summer activities. Help your child develop and memorize a list of go-to topics that he can introduce when he meets new people such as asking about family, music, games/hobbies, sports, etc.
Get out and be active as a family. Take the soccer ball or whiffle ball and bat to the park or beach. Play together as a family and work on turn taking and teamwork. The movement is great for stimulating language and regulating sensory deficits, but don’t forget the focus is not the physical skills needed for kicking or hitting the ball. When practicing social skills it’s about being able to follow the rules of a game, not getting overly competitive, cheering others on and communicating and collaborating for a common goal.
Do a summer project as a family, or encourage your child to do a project with a friend. It should be something that can be worked on a little bit at a time that will result in a finished outcome created together. Examples might be a 1,000 piece puzzle or a long-term arts and craft project. Doing a long-term collaborative project with others helps to work on communication, problem-solving, conflict resolution and flexibility. Also, at the end of the project there is a feeling of unity and satisfaction at having created something worthwhile along-side other people. These feelings promote bonding which is at the forefront of developing all relationships. This is why kids on sports teams often become great friends with one another.
Finally, don’t forget the importance of play dates. Like anything else, maintaining social skills requires opportunities for practice. Make the time and the effort to have your child invite a friend over or ask a friend to meet somewhere. Play dates don’t need to go on for hours, and instead should be kept short and successful, especially for kids with low frustration tolerance. End it on a high note and get together again in a few weeks, then build from there over time.
Maintaining skills over summer is important for the overall development of your child, especially when developmental delays are involved. The great part about practicing social skills is that kids can have fun while doing it, challenging as it may be for them sometimes. If they are not having fun, that is a clue that they are not involved in the right type of activity for them. One final and simple rule to follow, especially if you have a child who just dreads interacting with others, is to help him get involved with something he is truly interested in. If your child loves science, then sign him up for science camp, not regular camp. If he enjoys building and creating structures (even if usually alone), don’t force him to do sports, get him into a Lego club. It’s a simple concept, but parents too often push for what they think is a typical group or activity to be a part of. Just remember, the basis of forming friendships is having things in common, so help your child find his peers! Hopefully you will see the results are worth the effort, especially once school starts again, and everything is on track.
For the past 25 years, the COLLAGE program has provided group and private social skills interventions for over 2,000 children and young adults. The program provides an extensive variety of enriching and enjoyable activities for the development of social skills in a safe and welcoming environment. An integral component of the program is the establishment and monitoring of individualized goals. This stimulating and interactive program for ages 3½ years through adulthood is part of the comprehensive programs offered by Melmark, based in Berwyn, Pennsylvania. For more information about COLLAGE please call 610-356-7355 or visit our website at www.collage-otp.org.