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Saturday, June 14, 2014

Helping Dyslexic Students Over the Summer

How to Make Learning Part of your Summer Routine

Sunny days, swimming pools, Crocs, staying up past bedtime, and no homework!  That’s what kids think of when June arrives and school lets out.  For most kids the time off is a delight, a much needed respite from the intensity of the school year and the mastery of a year’s curriculum. 

Have you noticed that when your kids return to school they spend September and the first part of October reviewing everything they learned in April and May?  Have you wondered why that is?  Well, two to three months off from learning is a long time and memory for newly learned material tends to decay quickly, so by the time kids get back to school after a summer of duly earned fun and play, many of their skills have deteriorated.  They need review to get back to the skill level they demonstrated in June.
Children with learning disabilities such as dyslexia can’t afford to take so much time off from learning, the cost is too great.  Your child worked hard to acquire the skills she learned this year—you saw how hard it was.  She put in sustained effort, practiced, worked with specialists and tutors, and even with that support has to strive to hold onto every bit of skill she acquired.
The learning curve for children who have dyslexia differs from that of a typical learner.  While another child may retain a word after seeing it 2-5 times, your child may need to see it 40-50 times, even more to be able to read it fluently or spell it.  The repetition provided by specialized teachers and the practice you support every night through word rings, Wilson homework, read alouds, and flashcards is designed to provide the exposure, rehearsal, and application that a dyslexic child needs to retain essential foundation knowledge.  The consequence of the summer break for that child is much greater loss of knowledge and skill than is typical of most.  Catch up in the fall is thus insufficient to get him back to where he was in June.  He has lost too much ground and it will take too long to regain his traction.
Here are some activities you can use over the summer at home to reinforce this year’s progress.  The goal is not to gain ground or learn more, but rather to maintain hard earned footing:
Keep reading!  During the year your child reads to herself and you read to her (I hope).  Daily reading activities shouldn’t change, except perhaps to increase as there is more flexibility in scheduling.  In addition to selecting high interest books, it can also be helpful to read aloud some of the books she will encounter in next year’s curriculum, so that she will be familiar with the material.
Practice math facts: Road trips, family dinners, and during a game of catch are great times to practice basic math facts.  You may think these have been mastered, but they tend to decay without use and next year’s math will require more efficient recall of math facts for higher level calculations.
Find fun ways to use math everyday:  For example, have a lemonade stand.  Bake: reading a recipe and measuring ingredients uses knowledge of fractions and working memory.  Visit the local dollar general store and have your child calculate how much money they need for items (don’t forget the tax) and how much change they should expect.  Do a construction or sewing project; these involve measurement, planning, and checking one’s work.  Have your child calculate the tip when you eat in a restaurant.
Visit museums, historical sites, or other venues that build on subject matter that your child learned about last year or will learn about next year:  Hands-on and visual experiences are so very valuable to a child’s understanding of an historical period, place, or series of events.  For example, if your child studied the Civil War, a visit to Gettysburg may be in order.  If they learned about the prehistoric period, visit a natural history museum.  Finally, for geology go to a natural park.
Keep a summer journal: You and your child could even coauthor a journal.
A summer academic program or tutoring may be in order:  This keeps your child's mind in the game and can both enrich and solidify learning in areas of particular need (or strength) for your child. 
Don’t forget about technology:  We know our children love their screens so find a few good educational apps that they can use on the way to the beach or during downtime at home.  Summer is also a good time for older children to practice typing using a web-based program, get used to audiobooks, and master the use of voice to text technology.
Making learning a part of your summer routine keeps your child’s mind engaged and will make fall a much more pleasant time as he enters next year’s classroom feeling confident and ready to learn.

Enjoy summer!

Jennifer Jackson Holden, Psy.D. is managing director of the Paoli, Pennsylvania office of the Center for Psychological Services. 

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