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Summer learning and fun on a shoestring

Many parents worry that the summer break from school will mean weeks of lost opportunities to learn.  Worst yet, they fear that their child may actually lose skills that they have worked so hard to develop.   Some parents will enroll their child in some sort of academic program, which may or may not be disguised as a “camp.”  Other parents would like to do this , but lack the financial resources to make it happen.  The quick tip for this last group of parents is to ask about financial assistance or scholarships that might make a big difference.

For folks who have limited funds, it is important to tap into other resources that may be available.  One of the important lessons that my own mother taught me is to not let pride stand in the way of giving your child a valuable experience.  When she worked as a housekeeper in the local YWCA, she somehow made it possible for me to take free classes on Saturdays.  It was at the Y that I learned how to sew, cook, dance, swim and speak French.  She then talked my school into allowing me, as a 4th grader, to sit in with the 6th grade class when they had their French lessons.  My brothers and I also had the opportunity to attend day and overnight camps at no cost other than our clothing and required gear. This contrast to our typical inner-city routine expanded our minds in ways that cannot be measured.

As a financially-challenged mom, I have applied that advocacy lesson to the benefit of my own children.  I ask about and stay on the lookout for programs and activities in my community.  My children have had the opportunity to participate in some expensive specialty programs at a fraction of the cost. There are also low-cost day camps offered by schools, park and recreation departm3 kids in natureents, churches and other non-profit groups.  The Cooperative Extension Service offers 4-H programs year-round where children and youth “Learn by Doing.” During summer there are 4-H traditional and specialty camps.  The Boy and Girl Scouts of America also offer summer camping opportunities, which may even be open to non-scouts if space is available.  Camps give children the chance to learn about science, nature, crafts, music, sports, etc. and develop in many areas including communication and social  skills.

Some private schools that have summer programs for academic enrichment or remediation have scholarships available for those who cannot afford to pay all or any of the cost, but they may not advertise them.  Your school guidance counselor or social worker may be aware of these opportunities, as well as other programs that may be targeted toward economically-disadvantaged or at-risk students, or groups that are under-represented in the fields of science, technology, engineering and math.  Some of those programs are offered on college and university campuses, making the dream of going to college seem more possible for the children who participate.

Educational websites and software (that can often be borrowed from your public library) offer “games” that can reinforce or develop skills while your child is having fun.  Even old-school activity books can sharpen a variety of skills in response to a complaint that “I’m bored!”  A walk in a park or a drive in the country can lead to interesting discoveries or raise questions that you can research together (e.g. let’s find out about that bug/rock/plant/historical marker, etc.).  Some businesses or factories offer tours, or at least may be willing to allow an employee to take the time to explain what kind of work they do.  Local museums and zoos often have discount days and many movie theaters offer special shows for kids at low-cost and may even come complete with popcorn!

The most important thing is to not forget that learning can happen everywhere and everyday, sometimes without your child realizing it.  In fact, it’s probably better that way.

Summer camp search

It happens every year.  Just before and just after the school year ends parents start calling ECAC as part of their search for summer camps or summer programs for their children.  After silently saying to ourselves, “Why did they wait so long?!”, we Parent Educators dutifully attempt to provide what limited assistance we can.

We refer parents to the Summer Camp Directory that is assembled by the Family Support Program which operates out of the School of Social Work at UNC-Chapel Hill.  This listing includes day and overnight camps for children with a variety of special needs and can be accessed at http://fsp.unc.edu   Most of these camps fill up months in advance, but parents can still learn about the programs, and find out how and when to apply for next year.

Many local Departments of Parks and Recreation offer  summer day camps, and some have therapeutic recreational programs designed specifically for children and youth with disabilities.  As recipients of public funding, however, the regular camp programs have an obligation to make reasonable accommodations that would make it possible for children with disabilities to participate in their program.  Some of the Y’s are also making a deliberate effort to be more accommodating of children with special needs.

Call around, talk to friends and acquaintances, check out local “Parent” magazines, public libraries, museums, movie theaters, bowling alleys, skate rinks, churches, public and private schools, tourist attractions, scouts, 4-H clubs, etc. for summer offerings that might be of interest to your child.  Parents often have to create a patchwork quilt of activities in order to keep the children constructively occupied throughout the summer.  At home, consider accessing educational websites, software and activity/workbooks to keep the young minds active and skills from being lost.  There are more summer tips on many of the disability-related related websites.

The key message is to start planning early… really early! That’s when you’ll have the most options and a chance at getting financial assistance, if needed.  With planning, your child can go from having a ho-hum summer to a truly great one!