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Summer Break Offers New Opportunities for Hands-On Learning, Offline Time for Children

By Ashton Hotard | Guest Columnist

After a challenging year of virtual, hybrid and modified in-person learning, as a speech-language pathologist, I am offering advice and encouragement to families on low-stress ways they can support their children’s language, literacy and learning skills at home this summer. 

This message is a timely one, as May is celebrated nationally as Better Hearing & Speech Month (BHSM).

Many parents have been understandably concerned about their children’s academic progress this school year, given all of the changes necessitated by the pandemic. This may be especially true for families whose children receive support services in schools, such as speech and language therapy. These services may have looked a little different this year than they typically do. I want to encourage families to use the summer season as a much-needed reset — and to rest assured that there are many ways you can support your child’s learning at home, without workbooks, learning apps and other programs and purchases that add to the family’s stress level.

This advice relates to what most children — especially those with speech, language and social communication disorders — need more of this summer. So-called “downtime” is actually time well spent when it comes to building communication and learning skills. This is true for children of all ages.

Activities Children Need More of This Summer 

  • Reading. Use this time to nurture the joy of reading. Let kids be in the driver’s seat when it comes to choosing what they read so it doesn’t feel like work. While independent reading is always valuable, children of all ages also benefit from nightly reading together with an adult. The Warren County-Vicksburg Public Library offers a multitude of resources including a children’s summer reading program and can help cater to each student’s literacy needs. 
  • Outdoor Play. Hands-on activities, no matter a child’s age, are the best way to learn new skills, build vocabularies, and boost learning through the senses. Try taking a nature walk and discussing the sights, smells and sounds. Plant a garden — outside or in containers. Start by researching your options, and then shop for materials, do your planting, and care for your garden daily. Plan a picnic — discuss your menu, where you’ll go and what you hope to see. 
  • Quality time. Many families have spent more time together than ever this year, but the quantity of this time has not always translated to quality. Focus on one or two daily opportunities for uninterrupted conversation and bonding. A morning or evening walk together, a device-free meal each day or a nightly board game are some ideas. 

Activities Children Need Less of This Summer

  • Screen time. For many children, it’s been a year of exponentially more screen time — as much of daily life moved online. Kids also have been exposed to a constant barrage of negative news about the pandemic and other issues on TV, with many experiencing online fatigue and stress. When school is out, consider revisiting boundaries around daily technology use. Talk to kids about the effects of too much screen time, how they feel after being online for a long time and other activities they can do in place of screen use. 
  • Formal work, workbooks, and “educational” programs/apps. Families may feel pressure to work with children over the summer by ordering workbooks or subscribing to online programs. However, everyday real-world activities and interactions are generally most effective. Play is one of the main ways that children learn, with direct benefits on cognitive skills, math, language, literacy and much more. 
  • Academic pressure and expectations. This school year, even the youngest of children had to deal with stress in the academic environment — from technological challenges to limited engagement with adults and peers. Although parents are understandably invested in their child’s development and academic success, try to remain positive about where your children are after one very tough year.

If you have questions or need additional support, you can find information at jubileetherapy.com or by calling (601) 852-3271.

 This column was submitted by Ashton Hotard, a speech-language pathologist who owns and operates Jubilee Therapy in Vicksburg.