From September through June, children spend most of the day in school, so when the last day of school arrives, they are ready for their summer fun to start – things like going on family vacations, weekends at the beach, hanging out with friends, playing on a community sports team, and possibly summer camp!
For children and teens with special needs, who still require a fair amount of supervision, summer fun can also be combined with positive learning experiences and adventures. It just takes some careful thought and planning.
The goal is to provide a welcome break from the daily routines of the school year and provide a chance for these kids to try new things, become more independent and have fun doing what they LOVE instead of what they “have to do.” So – how do we make this happen?
Here are some helpful tips for a successful and rewarding summer:
Ease into the Transition:
- Maintain your schedule: Try to keep to your typical schedule as much as possible – predictability is key to successful transitions.
- Make it Visual: Post a “Seeing is Believing” display on your fridge with the schedule for the day and pictures of any special activities that will take place so that your child knows what to expect and can get excited about the day ahead of time.
- Make Plans: Try to schedule activities early on and add them to your visual calendar to keep everyone on board with the day’s events.
- Maintain a “Behavior System” that works with your child’s strengths: Choose 2 or 3 positive behaviors over the summer and work on reinforcing them with positive feedback. One good approach is to have your child choose a goal to work towards and then create a reward chart that tracks his or her progress and makes it real and tangible.
Selecting a summer program(s) or activities that is right for your child is the first and most important step in planning a fun and enriching summer. When exploring your options (including Extended School Year programs) it is critical to consider your child’s age, interests, personality as well as programs that will provide the appropriate level of support (including group size and staffing) that will enhance year-round learning.
And remember, the benefits of summer camping are the SAME for all children, whether they have special needs or not. These benefits include:
- Increased independence and confidence
- Activity and exercise
- Developing friendships
- Positive teen and adult role models
- Respite for parents
Questions to Ask:
Once you narrow down your choices, how do you ultimately pick the program that’s right for your child?
Here are some important questions to ask that will help you with your decision:
How long has the camp/program been operating? What’s the camp’s philosophy? Does it fit with your goals for your child?
Will the structure of the program help my child make friends or socialize with other children?
How long are the sessions?
How old are most of the staff members?
Do staff members have a background working with kids with special needs?
What’s the staff-to-camper ratio and what’s the staff turnover rate?
What type of certification do the staff/counselors have?
What kinds of training is provided for staff?
Do the counselors have first-aid training?
Is it possible to arrange for a one-on-one summer shadow buddy?
How structured is the daily schedule? Can campers choose which activities to participate in?
How accessible are buildings, trails, pools and waterfront, transportation?
If physical accessibility is an issue, what’s the layout of the camp?
What’s the camp’s transportation system like?
What medical care is available?
If your child needs a special diet, can the camp provide appropriate meals? If not, can you provide food for your child?
If your child has behavior problems, are camp staffers trained to handle such problems?
There is an abundance of camp options available today and the good news is that there are many great choices for kids with special needs – from highly specialized camps to regular camps that have everything they need to accommodate kids with special needs.
The JCC is fortunate to have both and provides a full range of summer camping and programs for all children that meet their interests and provide Funtime in the Summertime. Please check our website for information about all the options and there is sure to be one that will work for you!
Written by Shelley Levy
Director, Guttenberg Center for Special Services