How to Plan the Best Summer Schedule for Special Needs Kids

A girl sitting in bed doing school work on a laptop with headphones on which is part of her summer schedule.

As Summer is fast approaching, common questions educators receive from parents are: 

  • What is the best Summer schedule for kids?
  • Should my child do school work over summer break?  
  • Will my special needs child fall more behind if he takes a break for the Summer? 

The school year is packed with activities and seems to fly by, but that “busyness” is also full of routines and schedules. 

While we don’t always realize it, that schedule provides much-needed consistency for children and even parents, even if jam-packed!

 

The Problem With Having No Summer Schedule

As Summer begins so does…

  • Sleeping in
  • Staying up late
  • Loads of free time
  • Irregular trips and excursions

Unfortunately, this often creates disorder in homes, especially for younger children with special needs. 

Let me start by saying this is one of those “all about balance” situations. Yes, a short break is essential and can be very good for allowing your child to regroup, decompress, and destress. 

On the flip side, maintaining some structure with your child’s Summer schedule can help your child feel less anxious and overwhelmed. And expecting your child to do some school work during the Summer is equally significant. 

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Summer Break = Summer Regression

Too much of a break requires a lot of catch-up in the Fall. 

This is both in terms of academics and merely adjusting to expectations and the habit of completing work again.

This may sound less than helpful so far, but let me assure you that the tips below can help you find this balance. 

The goal is to ensure that your child gets a break. But also to not have the “Summer Slide.” You want your child to maintain all he has learned from the previous school year when he starts back up in the Fall. 

 

Easy Tips To Creating A Summer Schedule 

#1 Make the Summer Schedule WITH Your Child 

Yes, you read that correctly…enlist your child’s help in making the schedule. This can be a fun activity you do together. 

First, brainstorm the “have to do’s” and the “want to do’s” and create a list for each. List everything such as: 

  • Chores 
  • Pool time
  • Scheduled camps/activities
  • Lessons
  • Therapy sessions
  • Playing with friends 
  • Feeding the family pets
  • Family Mealtimes

Next, organize it together by day. List approximate times and maybe even add a block for “surprise activity” or “free time.” 

You can make this Summer schedule as specific or as general as possible. Everyone just needs to know what is on the list for each day. And it is important to have a guideline for consistency. 

It’s probably a good idea to put a weekly planning session into the schedule. For example, set aside an hour on Sundays for a family planning session. 

#2 Designate Break Time vs. School Work Time 

The next thing you want to do is determine what school work and breaks will look like over the Summer. And try planning “brain breaks” into your day. 

This can be as simple as:

  • An hour of school work per day Monday-Friday 
  • One week of “vacation” per month 

Or it can be as detailed as a daily schedule with some “off” days thrown in. You have to decide what works best for you and your child. Make sure you do include whole days off. 

Days off are necessary to ensure that your children “feel” the break. Keep in mind that this will look different for children of different ages and those with different strengths and needs.

 

#3 Set Expectations 

After you determine what the work/break times schedule will look like, setting expectations is the next most significant piece to finding balance. This will ensure as minimal push-back from your child as possible. 

Once you have the schedule defined, talk to your child about it. Again, it is important to have a conversation with your child regardless of age. 

If you share upfront what the expectations are, it will help everyone. The less uncertainty, the better.

 

#4 Make it Visual 

Next up is deciding on the best way to make sure everyone knows the schedule. A visual schedule helps younger children or children with reading difficulties understand through images. Here are a variety of visual schedules to give you ideas of what they can look like. 

Ideas for Visual Schedules

  • Whiteboard or chalkboard
  • Weekly grid on a poster board and use post-it notes 
  • Cheap calendar (you can let your child pick it out at the store)
  • Print out something online to hang on the fridge (your child can check it off after it’s complete) 

A visual schedule will help everyone stick to the plan and serve as a friendly reminder.  

Whatever works for your family, the importance is that everyone has easy access to it. (Hint: Keeping it in a high traffic area of your home increases the likelihood everyone will use it!)

 

#5 Review the Schedule Daily 

Sure, it’s great to make the schedule! But, perhaps, the most challenging part…is using it!! 

Refer to the schedule each day. 

It might be helpful to make this a part of the morning routine. For example, while making breakfast, everyone reviews the activities for that day together. 

This will be extremely helpful in getting chores or less preferred activities complete with minimal fuss. In addition, this will remind the kids what they need to complete that day. 

You can also refer to the schedule as part of the bedtime routine so kids know what is on the agenda for the next day.

 

#6 Keep the “Work time” Fun 

Keep in mind that work can still be fun! In fact, it’s Summer so it SHOULD be fun! 

What types of school work should we do over Summer break? 

You don’t have to teach new concepts. Instead, think about what skills your child learned over the past school year. Then, what can you do to review those concepts? 

Think of fun ways to use those skills, such as:

  • Board games
  • Reading to their stuffed animals
  • Science experiments
  • Cooking (lots of math and reading go with cooking)

If you need your children to work independently, provide them with an

educational game to play or read to each other. You can even have them “teach” each other if that works with their strengths, needs, and skillsets. 

Of course, throwing in some worksheet activities or activities that mirror school work is more than okay. 

Just keep in mind that it’s okay if the work doesn’t look like typical school work over Summer break. The point is, any work they do is better than none at all! 

Fun Rewards

Another way to keep things fun is to work in rewards and “bonus” days off. 

You could reward for many reasons, such as…

  • When x amount of work is completed 
  • All work completed by a specific day
  • Getting work completed without being reminded

Rewards could be a day off or choosing a fun activity together. Any way to motivate your child in the Summer is a good one! Here are some ideas for free or low-cost rewards

#7 Adjust Your Summer Schedule As Needed

Don’t be afraid to add events, change things, or even develop a different way of displaying the schedule. You need to find the best way that works for your family. 

What works in June may not in July – and that’s okay! 

The most crucial part is having a functional Summer schedule for your family. Of course, you do not want to add and change things daily as that will not necessarily help provide consistency and routines. 

Although, flexibility is also a great lesson to teach kids. So, if last-minute schedule changes need to happen, use that as an opportunity to help your child through the changes. 

#8 End of Summer Shift 

The final piece to keep in mind is that you will want to adjust the balance of school work as Summer draws to a close. As the start of the school year moves closer, you will want to add more structured work time to get your child adjusted to the school year quicker. 

I am certainly not suggesting that your child works for 5 hours per day. But in the 2-3 weeks leading up to the new school year, you’ll want to add more work that looks like schoolwork. 

You may also want to increase the expectations a bit. For example, if you only require your child to do one hour per day for three days per week, increase it to five days with 20 minutes of independent reading each night.

Additional Resources for Creating a Summer Schedule

Hopefully, by trying these simple tricks, you will have a fun and learning-filled Summer. And you’ll also avoid the stress (for kids and parents!) that comes with a lack of routine. 

As a bonus…. once the start of the school year comes around again, you will have much less work to do in adjusting to a schedule because you’ll have followed one all summer long.

We look forward to hearing how these tips worked for you and others you’ve tried! Share them in the comments below. 

Here are some additional resources:

Do you have a child that needs more one on one assistance?  

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A girl wearing pjs sitting in bed doing school work on a laptop with headphones on which is part of her summer schedule.
It is important to provide learning opportunities throughout the Summer. The key is to plan a summer schedule that works for your family.

Diana Chase, M.S.

Diana Chase, M.S.

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