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Summer Break From Learning Disabilities


Summer Break from Learning Disabilities

Taken from an article that appeared on Ynet on 29.7.09

(Free translation by Oren Rosenberg)

The summer months are an excellent opportunity for children with learning disabilities and ADHD to get out for a break from their disability and to have a good time, because they deserve it. This is how you'll help them do it.

Among all families, whoever they are, the summer break without the regular activities (preschool, school, after-school clubs) - is likened to a "pressure cooker". For families with children with learning disabilities, ADHD, behavioral disorders, and special needs of different types, the coping is difficult and more complicated than normal.

"We recommend to remember that we're talking about a break for the children with all of its implications", offers Maly Danino, executive director of Nitzan. "Children with special needs experience difficulty in dealing with the academic tasks during the school year. Further, studies suggest that for children with learning disabilities and ADHD, there are also more social and emotional difficulties than children without special difficulties. In other words, the school year for these children brings with it a heavy dose of coping. Now, that we've reached the summer break, this is the time for resting and recharging the batteries for the next school year. If there is a summer test that needs to be prepared for or an assignment from school, then it's a good idea to set aside preparation time and to leave a relatively long period of time for vacation afterwards."

Now, that we've defined the summer break as a time for vacation, Danino recommends that the family should make a joint decision that the break should turn into a strengthening family experience. This is an opportunity to strengthen the parent-child bond without topics like: studying, homework, tests, and achievements interfering in the relationship between the parents and the child. On normal days, the family is busy in its regular routine, but during the summer break it's possible to do things that aren't usually done together.

  • Talking with the Children

How much do we really speak with our kids? Many times the answer to this question is almost never. The conversations that parents have with their children are usually connected to school and their performance in school. Most of these conversations are usually a monologue, the parent speaks, explains, clarifies, and the child listens.

Then, all of a sudden, there is no school. This is an excellent opportunity to improve the relationship. To spend more time together and to speak with the children, for example, to ask the child what he likes to do, what's easy for him, what are his dreams, what would he wish himself for the next year, how does he sum up last year, what was difficult for him? It's worthwhile to try to learn the way the child thinks and to pay attention to him for real, without judging or criticizing. The more the child believes that his parents sincerely want to listen to him and that his opinion is important to them, the more he will be courageous to express his most secret thoughts and will see them as an address for his support and sharing.

  • Activities They Enjoy

This is an opportunity to take advantage of the time to do things that as parents we don't usually find the time to do. For example, a mother of an eight-year-old child with a social disability, who has difficulty understanding social situations, reported to Nitzan's experts that she didn't understand why her son watches over and over again the re-runs of the reality program "Survival". She wondered what her son finds in this show and was even angry with him for the many hours he wastes watching it.

Recently, she decided to watch together with him one of the shows and as a result of this she learned what the value of this show is for him. As a result of the mutual viewing, they discussed what the meaning of betrayal between friends is and they spoke about the phrase "to stick a knife in the back" and its meaning. The mother understood that through the program her son learns to interpret social situations, learns ways of how to get by in challenging social groups, and basically he understands through the program what is social survival.

In a similar way, parents can play with their child a computer game that he likes and try to understand what he likes in the game, to express interest, and to ask questions. In this way we connect to the social heroes of the children, get to know them, and understand their world better. From every television show, from every game or computer game, it's possible to take out of it content for learning and conversation that will enrich and deepen the connection between our children and us.

  • Allow the Children to be Creative

This is an opportunity to reorganize the house with the help of the children. It's likely that the children will have solutions that are more creative and successful than ours for reorganizing the furniture in the living room, or for placing the dining room table, the television, and even the cabinets.

Similarly, this is an excellent opportunity for renewed thinking about division of tasks in the home and the children's involvement in the functioning of the home. You can let the children try each day a different chore so they can choose the chore they like most. In general, it's possible to turn the chores into an experience. You can clean and organize the house together while listening to music that the children like and also to cook together with the children or to try new recipes.

  • Keeping a Routine

Specifically during this period of time, it's important to try to keep a set routine of waking up in the morning, doing a common activity, nap time, time set aside for watching television and for computer games and of course a reasonable bedtime. Keeping a set routine, more or less, allows a continuation of planned organization at home and it's important to strengthen the feeling of control for the children and parents. A set routine contributes to an atmosphere in which the events are more or less expected, except for those we don't have control over.

Even if the daily routine changes over the summer break, we can create a new routine in which its clear to everyone how the daily schedule is handled and what is expected from every member of the house.

  • Strengthening the Connection with the Extended Family

The summer break is an excellent opportunity to strengthen the relationship with the extended family. Within the daily routine, many times we don't have the free time to get together with extended family, and now during the summer break everyone is free and are happy to find the time to spend together. This is a good opportunity for your children to practice social skills in a secure and receptive environment, without any worry that this friend or another will reject him. Within the family, we allow ourselves to behave much more naturally and to be much more forgiving with one another. This is a wonderful opportunity for your children to gain confidence and to improve their social skills.

  • Traveling to Vacation

If there's been planned a family vacation, it's possible to include the child in getting ready for it: look together on websites of hotels, present out loud the considerations for choosing one hotel or another, including financial considerations. This is an excellent opportunity for your children to practice together with you how we group together the advantages and disadvantages of every possible choice and how we choose between different choices.

When we're getting ready for the trip, you can plan the list of items to take together with the children and even pack the suitcases together. For children with difficulties in management skills that are seen in tasks involving organization and planning, these tasks can help considerably.  Help the child to plan the process, teach him how we choose what to take with us to vacation, give him responsibility for packing his belongings, for example clothes, and organize the suitcase together with him - what do we place first and what next? How do we make sure that there will be enough space for everything we want to take? And so on.

  • Keeping a Daily Journal for the Summer Break

It's worthwhile to encourage the children to write during the vacation a daily journal, which will help them improve their ability to express themselves on the one hand and interpersonal communication on the other hand. It's possible to integrate in this calendar pictures from experiences during the break or reminders.

And of course, since we're living in the computer era, this activity can be done with the computer. There are nice formats of picture albums on the internet, which can be used for this purpose.

  • Reading

It's important to continue to read as much as possible. And now, when there's a little more time, you can go back and practice things that you've read before when reading before going to sleep. Parents can read to children and the children can read to the parents, each one reads a page/paragraph according to his ability. It's possible that each one will read one of the characters in the story and even to act it out. You can request from the older children to read to the younger children, and if it's possible, the other way around as well.

  • Baking and Cooking

These tasks are joyful and fun, and also a bit dirty. The results are tasty foods that everyone likes that were made together. And from an educational level, there is a lot of math in baking and cooking: calculations, measurements, etc. Similarly, there are coping strategies to deal with complicated tasks: following directions, setting preferences, deciding what's more important and when, watching over the time that passes and more. And in the end, also on the creative side there is something to be said: decorations, setting the table, folding the napkins in a creative way, etc.

  • Theatre, Dance, and Museum

What's your opinion about something new? Something that's not customary in the daily life of the family. How many times were you this year with the children in a museum? Were they recently at an authentic theatrical production, concert? Maybe to bring them together with music from a different type than which they're use to. And what about ballet and dance? Are they familiar?

  • Painting and Sculpture

Even with limited means, it's possible to do at home all sorts of creative, special activities. Drawing and painting don't have to be kept only to the art teacher. One can do sculpture with dry wall which is simple and easy. There are many creative games for the family at a reasonable price. Also the "Do it yourself" department in stores is very successful of late.

  • For Struggling Students

 They also need a vacation and maybe even more than anything else, but in order to start the next year on the right foot, it's a good idea to recommend to them to begin remembering about school actively two or three weeks before the beginning of the school year. If there's a private teacher then maybe it's a good idea to start meeting in order to go over material that was learned in the previous year (especially in English and Math). It a good idea to become familiar with the learning program, to read a bit from the books/chapters with which they will begin the year with in the highly verbal subjects such as Tanach (Bible Studies), Literature, and History. In short, try to interest them in the coming year so that they'll start on the right foot.

  • Vacation Day for Parents

An idea, which allows the parents a break and renewed physical and emotional strength, it's a fun day for the kids at their friend's home. At a time of economic recession, this activity has many advantages: the child enjoys from social interaction and the parent renews his strength repository. A recreation day is much cheaper than alternative activities and allows variety during the routine of the break.