Schools out for the summer! Now what?
Before you know it summer will be here and school will be out. That means a lot more freedom to fill your days. How can you make the change easy on your kids?
To ease the transition here are some tips to help those long lazy days of summer not feel so long.
Scheduled Summer Activities
Having a break from a 7 hour school day is nice in the summer. With the warmer sunny days, kids want to be outside and have fun. They don’t always know how to fill their time though. Luckily scheduled activities are a great way to keep boredom away. Most activities keep kids learning through the summer too.
It can be hard finding things for your kid with autism though. Not all programs can handle kids with special needs. Staff don’t have the training or the spaces aren’t the best environment. There are options out there though. Here are some ideas to look at:
- Summer school classes through your school district
- Summer programs at children’s therapy clinics
- Sensory friendly activities at local libraries or museums
- Day camps that offer 1:1 staff for kids with special needs
- Adaptive sports activities
- Swim lessons with smaller class size
- Sensory friendly sports like gymnastics, ninja warrior, martial arts or swimming
Create A Summer Routine At Home
Several of my past clients had difficulty in the first few weeks of summer. They went from having a regular routine at school to nothing. It’s common to think kids will go with the flow and just throw them into the mix.
Kids on the spectrum need a routine. While you don’t need to follow a strict schedule it is a good idea to make your day predictable. That way your child will know what to expect and can help your day run smoothly. Here are some ideas to create a regular routine at home:
- Wake-up at the same time every day
- Follow the same get-ready-for-the-day routine
- Create a flow to your day be scheduling things like screen-time, outdoor time and play-time
- Have designated snack and lunch time
Summer Break Rules
You probably have certain house rules that are already in place. You may need to add a few more to the mix. For example at my house screen time isn’t an issue during the school year. My kids are too busy with school, homework and other activities. When they are home with more free time they need screen time limits. Summer break rules to consider:
- Limits on amount of snacks
- Screen time
- Designate boundaries for riding bikes, walks and playing outside
- Daily reading or learning activity time
- Implement chores
Messes can pile up when kids are home for the summer. They also want and need things throughout the day. We can clean up after them and wait on them hand and foot and drive ourselves crazy. Or we can teach them responsibility and the concept of pitching in and helping out.
Giving kids more responsibility is a great way to keep them learning in the summer. It’s a good idea to keep the tasks simple and age-appropriate. Assign duties that you know your kids can complete without issues. Here are some simple chores kids can do:
- Make bed
- Put dirty clothes in the wash
- Pick out own clothes
- Clear dishes after snacks or meals
- Pick-up toys at end of the day
- Water flowers or garden
- Help put groceries away
- Set the table
To help you keep everything organized use visuals so you and your kids can refer to it. Teachers post things so kids know how to use them. Visuals are also reinforcing for kids with autism. Here are some ideas for visuals:
- Daily schedule
- Summer Rules
- Chore chart
- Getting ready for the day checklist
One visual I like is a “when can I have screen time” sign. Last summer I implemented this visual to let my kids know when they could have screen time. I listed things they needed to do before they got screen time. The list included getting ready for the day, playing with a toy, playing outside, reading, and completing a chore.
Rewarding kids for good behavior and helping out is a great thing to have in the summer. Getting praise for doing good things and motivation to help out makes everyone happy.
You can keep rewards simple like an ice cream outing, trip to a favorite park or pick out a toy from the dollar store.
A reward program I did with a social skills group I ran in the summer was the “Filler Up Cup.” I drew 3 lines around a cup. My children got a bead to put in the cup for doing good things. I gave them beads for showing random acts of kindness, completing activities and or having a great day. As the cup got filled up to each line they got a reward. Other incentive programs include:
- Sticker chart
- Give treat tickets or vouchers
- Extra screen time
- Pick favorite meal or restaurant
- Date day with mom or dad
With any of these ideas, there is room for flexibility. You don’t have to follow schedules to-a-tea. Impromptu plans come up. Some days might be rough and you need to lower expectations. Or it’s a rainy day and the best thing to do is have a movie marathon and eat popcorn all day.
You will have an awesome summer trying these 6 effective strategies!
Elizabeth Purpero is a licensed school counselor and licensed professional counselor-in-training. She has her master’s in counseling psychology. Elizabeth has worked as an autism therapist with children and teens. During her career, she has worked in intensive at-home therapy programs utilizing ABA and play therapy along with OT and speech therapy techniques. She has also worked as a mental health therapist helping clients address their mental health issues as it relates to autism. Elizabeth’s background working with the autism community has greatly helped her work with students in schools too. She has helped teachers implement effective strategies, create goals for IEP’s and make classrooms more sensory-friendly. Mark Twain once said, “Write what you know about,” and Elizabeth enjoys writing about autism-related topics and providing additional resources to help those impacted by autism.