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Summer Activities for Students with Learning Disabilities

As summer is fast approaching, many students are thinking about fun in the sun, family vacations, and summer camp.   Students may consider it a time to stop learning, but research has proven that if students do not spend any time in educational activities then their learning loss can retract by, at minimum, 2 months.  This means that a student leaving the 2nd grade and entering the 3rd grade will still be on a 2nd grade level.  This is especially important for students with learning disabilities.  This loss can put the student even further behind their classmates.

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There are many fun ways that fun time, family vacations, and summer camp can be intertwined with learning.

Learning at the Beach

A trip to the local beach can be filled with learning opportunities for a child.  Children love to play in the sand and romp through the waves of the ocean.  While playing with children at the beach, they can learn about what sand is made up of, the importance of the ocean to the environment, and the math behind building the perfect sand castle.

The summer is also peak turtle nesting season.  If you are fortunate to live in a sea turtle nesting area, you can go on a nest hunt.  The nests will be marked off in the sand with information to learn about protecting the nests.  Children can then learn about the different sea turtle species, their nesting habits, and hatchlings.

Websites for Learning at the Beach

  1. Enchanted Learning Beach Activities – great activities and crafts for younger children to do while at the beach or about the beach
  2. Frugal Activities at the Beach – list of great low-cost ideas for hands-on projects while at the beach
  3. EPA – great website for parents/teachers to learn about the beach to then teach their children/students

Historical Family Vacation

If you are going away this summer, it is easy to tie in history by visiting some of the famous landmarks around the United States.  I recently went on a school trip to Charleston and Savannah where students learned about American history by visiting various historical attractions.  The students enjoyed having their ‘history book come to life.’ Many cities around the country offer educational tours of the museums, landmarks, and attractions that include the historical importance.

Websites for Historical Family Vacations

  1. TripAdvisor History & Culture Trips in the United States – top vacation options including information on places to visit in the top 16 cities for history and culture
  2. Learning Vacations for Kids –  includes tips for parents traveling with kids to encourage learning while on vacation

Summer Camps

Many local summer camps offer fun hands-on learning and activities for the summer.   Many camps also make accommodations for students with special needs.  Traditional camps are typically provided through school districts, museums, and city recreation centers.  Also look for other options at local nature centers, parks, or research other options in the local newspaper or online.  Camps are a great way for students to learn, be active, and participate in activities with children their age away from the formal school setting.  While your children will be learning things that can tie into academic curriculum, they will also be learning social skills.

Websites for Finding the Perfect Summer Camp

  1. Choose a Camp – Choose and compare camps based on location, activity, or even special needs
  2. Computer Summer Camp – Use www.internaldrive.com for information on camps all around the U.S. geared toward technology and computing
  3. Choosing a Camp – great website that provides information about the different types of camps for kids and their strengths and weaknesses

Article by Laura Ketcham

Picture by Loimere

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Summer Guidance for Students

Children with special needs or other learning disabilities usually need extra help in the classroom, but they oftentimes need help outside the classroom in social situations and other interactions with people.

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Teaneck’s Extended School Year is a six-week summer program that is offered to the special education students in New Jersey school districts. The programs focus on behaviors like nonverbal communication, problem solving and appropriate social behavior.

With students ranging in differences from all over the autism spectrum, there are many different needs and behaviors that have to be addressed. One thing in common is that all of these students need help in socializing with one another. With the help of this program, six different social skills modules will be covered.

Because social skills are such an integral part of education for autistic students, the summer program is also used to help them keep up with these behaviors through the summer months. Some students may have trouble communicating with others while some may have a harder time socializing.

A main focus is on nonverbal communication, which can alter relationships with teachers and students in the classroom if misunderstood. Combined with help from the West Bergen Mental Health Center, parents are also offered classes and guidance in supporting their children.

By combining education and health, the friendly and knowledgeable staff hopes to offer helpful and effective help to help children with special needs lead more efficient lives. Keeping up in the summer months is a crucial step in bettering social and behavioral interactions during the school year.

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Summer of Reading – Camp for Deaf Students

For students who cannot hear, sometimes learning to read can pose a challenge. Luckily, a Murray County summer camp is showing students that they don’t have to be sitting in a classroom to learn the skills necessary.

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In Sulphur, Oklahoma, campers who are deaf may have challenges for even some of the simplest tasks like painting or acting. Not being able to hear a sound is the most obvious reason for this. Even a task like reading, which can be hard enough for all students, can be ten times harder for students who are unable to hear the sounds or spoken words.

The Oklahoma School for the Deaf is holding its fifth year as the host of a summer reading camp. The goal of this summer camp is to help those students who may be deaf or hard of hearing improve their reading skills and learn new ones, all while having a fun and memorable summer.

In addition to practicing their reading and literacy skills, students who attend the camp also get the chance to socialize and interact with students who are just like them and have similar challenges or differences. It is a great way for students with these challenges to know that there are others who are just like them and that they are not alone in their differences.

In addition to their improved reading skills, the staff at the camp hopes that students leave with more confidence and self esteem. With a summer full of learning and new friends, there is no reason why they shouldn’t!

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A Summer of Fun – Camp for Autistic Children

For children who go to summer camp, it is all about having fun and interacting with their peers. For others, it is about more than that.

At the Summer Social Skills Camp, sponsored by the Autism Society of Greater Cleveland, a group of about 20 autistic children and other volunteers gather together to spend quality time over the summer months.

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Local special education supervisor and teacher Lori and Jim Wotowiec are directors of the camp. Because autism makes it more difficult for children to form social and behavioral relationships, the Wotowiecs wanted to develop a place where the children can practice these skills and form friendships.

Because the camp has peers who do not have autism, they were trained about the disorder ahead of time, so that they would be aware of how to handle a certain situation that may have come up.

Campers attended classes to practice academics, had indoor gym time, group activities, outdoor activities and lunch. Because many problems occur when there is a less structured environment, the peers in the camp who were present were able to provide real-life solutions that would help the children see how to act. These interactions were crucial in letting the autistic children build social and independent living skills.

By providing real situations and social interactions, the children get to practice real life problem solving. Just like any other child, they want to have fun and be accepted. Without the stresses of the classroom, the children can flourish and grow while having fun and gaining confidence.

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Growing Through the Summer – Special Needs Education

As most parents and educators know, students should not miss the opportunity to keep learning through the summer months when school is out on break.

At the Pioneer Education Center, in Pittsburgh, Pennsylvania, they value this belief. This school, one of many of the Pittsburgh Public Schools in Brookline, serves students from ages 5-21 with severe physical and mental disabilities. These students need an extended year of schooling because with a long summer break, they may lose valuable learning time.

garden

In this summer’s program, they have started making use of a sensory garden, which is designed to be especially appealing to people with special needs. Making use of senses of smell, sight and tough offer students a new perspective on learning.

This garden is unique. There are wheelchair-accessible swing sets, fragrant and touchable plants, a bubbling rock fountain and overhangs for shade against the sunlight. Areas for play and reflection are also included in the garden. Throughout the summer more additions will be made, like raised planters, vine-covered tunnels and outdoor musical instruments and picnic tables.

Thanks to a $100,000 grant from the Edith L. Trees Charitable Trust, the garden offers students a place to learn things outside of the classroom. Since all students qualify for summer sessions of school, they will take full advantage of this new place.

Because the summer days are shorter and focus more on physical, occupational and language topics, the garden provides a great amount of opportunity for the students. Spending time outdoors and walking through the gardens and enjoying nature give students more to look forward to during their summer days.

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Increasing School Year Academic Gains During the Summer

Research has shown and many educational articles support the fact that students can lose up to three months grade-level equivalency during the summer months off from school.  It will be the parents, camp counselors, or possibly the summer school teachers’ responsibility to help the students, especially students with learning or physical disabilities to not lose the gains that they have strived hard to learn over the past school year.

Summer Reading

Many schools, libraries, community organizations, and summer camps urge students to continue reading through various reading reward programs, summer reading & book reports, and other ‘free-choice’ reading activities.  This leads students to the possibility of making gains in reading during the summer months.  The same attention should be paid to science, math, and social studies.  One way to encourage learning in these areas is by providing high-quality fiction and non-fiction reading choices to students with a focus on science or history.  A few books that I recommend for upper elementary are Island of the Blue Dolphins by Scott O’Dell, Number the Stars by Lois Lowry, and Al Capone Does My Shirts by Gennifer Choldenko. To encourage those students who may not like reading, you can suggestthe option of reading with the aid of an audiobook version along with the written book.

Stop the Summer Brain Drain!

Another way to build gains in science and math would be to attend local area camps that have a focus on nature, science, robotics, and mathematics.   Many local area day camps have these options included with other summer fun activities like arts & crafts, sports, theater, or computers.

Parents can encourage upper elementary and middle school students to continue to learn math is by having them calculate math problems in their everyday lives.  Finding out how much a certain amount of fruits or vegetables would cost at the grocery store, figuring out tax and tips at a restaurant, or calculating out how much it would cost to fill up the gas tank at the current price of gasoline.  Depending on the students’ level, then you can increase the challenge by dividing (how much would half a tank of gas cost) or multiplication (how much would 2x as many peppers cost).  These would be easy (cost-free) ways to get your kids active in learning math over the summer.

One tip that the Family Education article on Stop the Summer Brain Drain! includes is ideas to think about when planning or taking family vacations.  Depending on the location, there will be various possibilities to plan extra excursions where students can ‘see’ history, science and math in real life by going to museums, parks, or historical sites.

Tips for Teachers

One more pro-active way for a teacher to keep students learning over the summer is by providing the up and coming students with a glance of what they will be learning in the coming year.  As a teacher, I myself like to set up the expectations.  I do this informally when I see my future students around the school.  Many students will actually start to ask me (and my current students) what they will be learning in my class.  This could be more formalized where you could send a letter home to your future students and their families about what different topics they will be covering next year in school and what they could do over the summer to prepare.

Online Learning Resources for Parents and Kids

Lastly, here are some kid-friendly and parent-friendly online resources for students to learn (and have fun) over the summer months so they come back to school prepared and ready to start on or above grade level.  Feel free to comment and share other summer learning resources for students and parents!

1.       Fun Brain

2.       Teaching preK-8:  How to Making Summer Learning Fun

3.       Internet4Classrooms Summer Activities Signup

4.       Discovery Kids

5.       Gamequarium

6.       Learning Today Free Reading and Math Games

 

-Article by Laura Ketcham

-Picture by Apenas Imagens

Learning Games and Online Summer Learning Programs by Mangomon

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Summer Tech Camps for Special Needs Students

With only a few days left until my school officially closes its’ doors until the next school year, much of the buzz has been about what the students will be doing for the summer.  Some students will be traveling while others will be spending time with family, or relaxing at home, but most of my students will be attending various summer camps.  Some of the camps are local day camps for sports, dance, or outdoor activities, while others are “sleepaway” camps in other parts of Florida or around the country.

This got me to start thinking about the different opportunities available for students with special needs to attend camps – specifically technology camps.  I was pleased to see that most of the camps, some of which I am familiar with from previous experience, provide the support or accommodations for students with special needs to attend and prosper in their camps.  Below is an annotated list of tech camps for students with special needs.

iD Tech Camps

iD Tech Camps provide both overnight and day camps for children ages 7-18.  These camps are located around the country at major universities.  The focus of the camp days include technology gaming, programming, photography & editing, 3d animation, robotics, and film production & editing.  In addition to the focus on technology, students also engage in other social activities like playing video games and sports activities.  They have instructors who are trained to assist with special needs students.  They allow aides to accompany special needs children who need assistance.  However, the special needs students who have been most successful at this summer camp in the past were students who were able to function independently during school.  They suggest calling them first to speak with the Client Services department for any arrangements that may need to be made before camp begins.

Digital Media Academy

The Digital Media Academy is located at various top-notch colleges around the country.  They offer tech camps for both kids and teens from ages 6-18.  They offer day camps and also extended “sleepaway” camp.  They offer courses in filmmaking, game design, programming, digital photography, and robotics.  For younger kids, they also offer tech camp combined with sporting activities.  They provide a low teacher-to-student ratio.  They serve special needs students and provide additional instruction to students as needed.  All of their teachers are adults, not teenagers.  There is always someone on staff who is trained to work with students with special needs.  This camp fosters parental involvement and encourages parents to see their child’s progress throughout the camp.

Think Big Camps

The Think Big Camps offers computer camps located in Massachusetts, New Jersey, Maryland, and Washington.  They offer courses in game design, animation, and digital media.  They have day camps, extended day camps, and overnight camps.  The age ranges for this camp are from 7-17.  Besides the ‘Tech Zones’, they also offer students sports and team building exercises.  They will make adjustments to the curriculum or activities for special needs students.  They ask that the parents discuss the special needs of the students before the camp begins to ensure that they can best serve the student.

-Article by Laura Ketcham

-Picture by edenpictures

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Cyber-Safety for Special Needs Students

Over the summer, many students will be spending more time, possibly unsupervised, on the Internet.  With the popularity of social networking, blogging, wikis, YouTube, and ‘Googling’, many children may be exposed to inappropriate material for their age.  Online safety should be a priority for teachers and parents to stress during this time.  A good time to cover a lesson on Internet safety would be the last few days of school, while other assignments, activities, and lessons are winding down.  Here you will find a variety of resources you can use in your classroom or pass along to parents to teach and inform about online safety.

Kids Online Resources

The Kids Online Resources provides links of relative information for safe surfing, blocking software, and filtered search engines.  The safe surfing links include resources from police departments, government agencies, and non-profit organizations about guidelines for use of the Internet by children.  It also has game links for students to play to actively learn about online safety.  The blocking software includes applications that can be installed on the computer to block and monitor child use of computers.  The filtered search engines include child-friendly search engines for finding research information and school-related materials.  Ask Jeeves for Kids, Yahooligans, and Animal Search are great resources for children to use in lieu of Google or Bing.  Google and Bing do not filter results for children.

The Teacher’s Guide

The Teacher’s Guide has a page devoted to Internet Safety.  This site provides information for parents and teachers about email, browsing the web, chatting online, parental control tools, and other online resources for further information.  Each of the sections of this site provide tips for why these technology tools are important and provide positive benefits for children along with their risks, tips for parents, and ways to be actively involved.  This site also includes general technology links about virtual field trips, interactive sites, online reference tools, software, and SMART boards.

Life Skills Activities for Secondary Students with Special Needs

Life Skills Activities for Secondary Students with Special Needs is a textbook that I found available through Google Books.  I found a very informative and fun lesson for middle and high school students to teach about social networking.  It includes brainstorming activities that correspond to a worksheet, discussion and extension activities, along with an evaluation tool.  The lesson encourages the teacher to lead a discussion with the students about the typical use of the social networking sites, the differences between the sites (what is appropriate where), along with site safety.  This textbook is a great resource for 6-12 students with special needs to learn skills for independence and life success.

Safe Kids

The Safe Kids website has a link for an online safety quiz.  This quiz is best suited for elementary students who are able to read.  The quiz asks approximately 10 questions about what are appropriate and inappropriate activities while on the net.  When the students finish, they are returned to the main page for the Safe Kids website.  This site contains comprehensive information about safety for children with various types of technology including computer, the Internet, cell phones, and social networking.

Online safety is an important lesson to include at all grade and ability levels.  Students should be actively involved in the learning about online safety as well as parents being informed of tips, sites, and other information about online safety.

-Article by Laura Ketcham

-Picture by iwannt

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Online Summer Reading Sites for Students with Special Needs

Schools urge that students continue to read over the summer to help to maintain and build their reading skills in preparation for the next school year.  Many districts also provide online reading applications, like MangoMon or Learning Today, along with reading lists with high-quality novels for summer projects and book reports.  Below is a list of websites with online reading games and activities and booklists that you can pass along to parents for summer reading for students, including students with special needs.

Education World Links for Summer Reading

Education World has a page devoted to summer reading lists.  They have compiled lists of recommended reading for K-12 students from various schools around the United States along with the International Reading Association.  They also have a site link for students to upload their book reviews for the books they read over the summer.

Sunshine State Young Readers Award Site

The Sunshine State Young Readers Award website has an updated annotated list of the top books for young readers and grades 3-5.  This list provides the titles, authors, a photograph of the book coves, and a short synopsis of the novels.  The annotated list is of books that have come out in the past few years.  They also have archived lists of previous year’s top awarded books, which would also be great for summer reading.

Emerging Reading Activities with Starfall

Starfall is a great online program for younger students who are learning to read.  This site provides interactive fun games and reading passages with promotion of basic reading skills including letters, phonics, and phonemic awareness.  This site is easy to use even for the youngest of learners and special needs students.

Kaboose Reading Games

Kaboose has a page on their site devoted to reading games.  There are games for K-5 learners.  The games include word puzzles, anagrams, spelling, reading comprehension, word searches, parts of speech, nouns, vocabulary, and even practices for foreign languages and Lexile levels.

Reading Rockets Tips for Parents

Reading Rockets is a PBS site devoted to building reading skills for children.  The have an article with great tips for parents to encourage summer reading.  They include traditional ideas like reading aloud to your child and encouraging them to read novels, but also think outside the box by including reading into your everyday activities like reading road signs or reading the signs at the grocery store.  They also encourage allowing children to read the ‘popular’ books along with books on tape as other methods to encourage struggling or uninterested readers.  They also have a Summer Reading section on their site with information for teachers, parents, videos, articles, blogs, activities, and downloadable materials.

All teachers should provide interesting reading activities, options, novels, and resources as part of a going-home package before the end of the school year.  This can help many students to maintain the skills they have learned throughout the school year and even give them a head start for the next grade!

-Article by Laura Ketcham

-Picture by Wesley Fryer

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Summer Special Education Planning – Create Now, Implement Later

The school year is winding down.  Teachers are cleaning their classrooms, taking down decorations, and handing back artwork and final assignments.  As the school year comes to a close, many teachers are a looking forward to a relaxing summer vacation most likely filled with family time and vacations.  However, I know many teachers actually use their summer time not to just re-charge their batteries for the next school year, but they also evaluate the year gone by and plan ahead for next year.  What worked?  What didn’t work?  What needs to be modified?  What new ideas can you plan for implementation in the next school year to reach your students better?  Below is a list of tech-related ideas for you to plan over the summer for a great 2010-2011 school year.

Vodcasts & Podcasts

Video tape or audio tape yourself reading the stories that you plan to read with the students in the next school year.  If you video tape you can include sign language for students who may have hearing difficulties.  This will also help students who are slow readers or have dyslexia.

Stay in Touch by Email

Administrators work all summer, and will be available by email.  If you think of ideas, lessons, or tech wish-list items for your classroom you can always email your administration and receive a response.  Many of your co-workers will also stay in touch via email.  If you have any grade level ideas or cross-curriculum plans you can always email ideas back and forth or even set up a time to meet over a relaxing lunch.

Professional Development

Many educational tech companies and non-profit organizations will hold webinars over the summer including great tech ideas, lessons, software, and hardware.   These seminars over the web are usually an hour in length and allow you connect with colleagues from all over the world.  Some organizations that have had webinars I have enjoyed include T.H.E. Journal and Tech & Learning.

Updating your Classroom Décor

Many of your classroom posters many need a bit of sprucing up over the summer.  Keeping up-to-date print-rich decorations in your classroom is one sign of a highly effective teacher.   Using a simple graphic or word processing program you can help update your “rules” posters, reading boards, interesting facts, motivational sayings, and word walls.  Many local office stores will print them large scale and laminate them at a reduced price for teachers.

The Web as an Idea Generator

Use the Internet as a tool to search for any ideas you would like to update for your curriculum.  You can watch videos online of how other teachers around the country are incorporating technology in their classrooms.  You can also read about the newest innovations about educational technology online through websites and online journals.  Lastly, you can plan day excursions in your local area to gain insight and ideas for next school year.

-Article by Laura Ketcham

What other planning strategies do you use during the summer? Please share!

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