Keeping Skills Sharp Over Summer Break For Children With Special Needs

Keeping skills sharp over summer break from school is important for all children and especially children with special needs. For children age three and older, educational services and therapies go on hiatus during all breaks, the longest being summer. It is vital that parents find ways to keep skills sharp over these breaks so their children do not regress in developmental and educational skills.

First let me say that this all must be balanced. After all, it is summer and your child needs a break. It’s important to find a balance between time off and productive skill-building time.

Summer activity chart for keeping activities top of mind.

It’s important to keep developmental goals top of mind so that those summer weeks don’t go by before you realize it. Summer is a busy time with camps, vacations, trips to the pool and more. It doesn’t matter how you keep developmental progress top of mind, but rather that you do. This could be a notebook, copy of your child’s IEP posted on the frig, or a white board. We have a small chart in the kitchen with a note card for each activity related to our son’s IEP for next school year that we want to work on weekly this summer. Each time we do an activity together the note card moves from the “To do” pocket to the “Done” pocket. This a simple way to do each activity one time per week and keep track of what we have and have not done. This works for us. Find what works for you.


This little guy played with a fine motor water station at a recent picnic. Then he got IN the water station. Does he look like he’s doing “work?”

The second thing to remember is that when you are asking a child to work on developmental and educational goals over the summer (or any time really) the more fun you can make it the better the result. The less it feels like work, the more they will be motivated. And the more you can use mediums you child loves the more focus and progress you will see (in my experience.) Find ways to incorporate activities that increase skills into every day and fun activities. For example, during a summer picnic, set up a fine motor water play station. For the children, it’s just play, but all the dumping, squeezing, and scooping is great fine motor work. They’ll have so much fun they’ll forget it’s work.


Fine motor, educational and sensory activity combined and it’s fun.

It’s always great if your therapists and teachers can give you ideas for over the summer. If you have the chance ask them. Here are just a few ideas of activities for the summer months.

  • Fill a pool, bucket or large container with water and find simple toys to dump, strain, or squeeze (never leave a child unsupervised around water)
  • Use JELL-O mix and a small amount of water to paint with
  • Use an old baby wipe container for pushing different size object in and pulling them out such as socks.
  • Use music to work on goals like counting, letters, etc.
There are so many ideas out there that it’s hard to make a long list. The ideas will vary, depending the the age and ability of the child. Pinterest has lots of great sensory play ideas Pinterest also has tons of activities. Have a productive and fun summer.

Jill Wagoner is Secretary of the Board of Directors at Partners In Learning and the parent of a son with Down syndrome.


Jill Wagoner is the mother of a child with Down syndrome who attends Partners In Learning. She serves as an advocate, writer, speaker, fundraiser, and grant writer for organizations that support children with special needs. A former journalist and current marketer and public relations specialist, Jill has been published in many publications and blogs, including The Salisbury Post, Modern Parent, and Rowan Magazine.


Get Your Child Ready For Kindergarten

Kindergarten is a big step for all children. Regardless if your child has been in school, daycare or at home prior to entering Kindergarten, there are things that you can do to help make this transition a smooth one.  Practice the skills below and your child will be ready to make their Kindergarten debut!

  • Help your child develop independence in dressing, eating and personal hygiene.
  • Provide opportunities to play with other children.
  • See that your child has had required immunizations and current health examination.
  • Encourage social values such as helpfulness, cooperation, sharing, and concerns for others.
  • Read to your child every day. Talk together about the pictures and story. Run your finger under the words as you read to your child to help her learn that words go from left to right and top to bottom.
  • Provide pencils, markers, paper and encourage creativeness.
  • Provide opportunities to play alphabet games, read alphabet books, and talk about letter names and sounds.
  • Teach your child how to write their name with an uppercase first letter and the remaining letters in lowercase. Example: Maggie = correct  – MAGGIE = incorrect
  • Count throughout the day (for example: count the crackers she is eating for snack or count the socks that you take out of the dryer).
  • Purchase a good pair of child-safe scissors and let your child practice.  Give them old magazines or newspapers to cut up or allow them to make a collage of the things they like by cutting from magazines and gluing them to a piece of paper. Allow them to use a glue stick.
  • Give your child two and three step directions. For example: “Put on your pajamas, brush your teeth and pick a book to read.”
  • Review basic shapes and colors. Play games in which your child finds objects of particular colors and shapes around the house or in the neighborhood as you drive. Draw shapes and cut them out.

Shelly Cross, Kindergarten Teacher



Shelley Cross is the Kindergarten Teacher for the new Partners in Learning Kindergarten program.



Family Routines and Child Development

Family routines are how families organize themselves to get things done on a daily basis. Family routines are important and make lasting memories. Family life might be more chaotic without some routine, but there’s more to it than that. Children learn at an early age what expectations are set for their families and what is expected of them. Routines also let your children know what’s important to your family. Examples of routines are: daily routines for getting everyone ready in the morning, bath time, bedtime and mealtimes, greetings and goodbyes.

Routines are followed in my home on a daily basis. As far as bedtime routines, this is one of many that are very important. Why? A growing child needs a certain amount of sleep each night in order for their brains to develop properly. Proper sleep is vital for keeping a healthy immune system. Sleep is also when the brain processes any new information that was taken in during waking hours. This information is processed and stored in the brain as long-term memory. Childhood is full of constantly learning new things about the world, and so there is that much more for the brain to process. Sleep helps children to learn and remember everything that they have taken in since the last time they slept. My husband and I alternate putting the kids to bed each night. No matter what occurs we stick to our bedtime routine. Our second grader who needs to store everything she’s learned from school in her long-term memory! Our routine consists of bath time, cleaning up their room from playing prior to bath, story time, saying prayers and lastly, hugs/kisses and then tucked into bed.

Highly meaningful routines are sometimes called rituals. Rituals are symbolic, go beyond the “here and now,” and are repeated across time and generations. Examples of rituals include: holiday traditions, family vacations, religious activities, etc. Rituals pass cultural history from one generation to the next. Since I can remember my family would take an annual trip to Myrtle Beach. Now that I have my own family, we take a trip with my immediate and extended family to Myrtle Beach annually. For holidays and birthdays we designate family gatherings that alternate from house to house where we bring a food dish and have fun playing games, telling stories, and enjoy each other’s company. Routines and rituals help strengthen family development: shared beliefs and values and build a sense of belonging and cohesion in families. If you don’t have any family routines and or rituals established in your family, it’s never too late to start! Examples: look through old photo albums and have children to ask questions to learn about the family history, allow each family member pick activities to do monthly, and plan special trips that occur annually.

Michelle Macon has been with Partners In Learning since 2006 and serves as the Program Coordinator and Family Support Advocate. She holds an associate’s degree in early childhood development and a bachelor’s degree in birth through kindergarten education. She is a mother of two children and has experience working with infants and toddlers.

Addressing Challenging Behaviors in the Classroom

Challenging behavior in an early childhood classroom can significantly erode the learning environment and can even pose safety issues for classmates, teachers as well as the child who is unable to appropriately regulate his or her behavior. I have been working as the Community Inclusion Specialist for Partners In Learning for almost five years.  I serve the early childhood classrooms and home childcare facilities throughout Rowan County, and I am often referred to a classroom because of an individual child or several children with challenging behaviors.

All behavior is a form of communication. Challenging behavior is generally used to obtain or avoid something. Often a child will use misbehavior because he or she has not yet learned appropriate ways of interacting in particular situations. For example, on one occasion, I was asked to observe a three-year-old child who I was told hit and kicked other children throughout the school day. The class was on the playground when I arrived.  A teacher prompted the little girl I was there to observe to go and play in the sand with another child who was playing by himself.  She did as instructed, walking over, casting a large shadow over the other child. The child playing in the sand looked up and said something to our little girl and then returned to his sand project.  After standing over the little boy for several more seconds, the little girl proceeded to kick the child.  “See,” the teacher said.  “See what I mean.”  After discussing the situation with the teacher, what occurred to us was that this child lacked social skills and that her social emotional development was lagging behind those of her typically developing peers, so her teacher and I developed a plan to give her more opportunities to interact with peers, to use teacher-modeling appropriate behavior and partner this child as often as possible with a peer who has strong social-emotional skills.  We paired these strategies with consistent consequences, and within a few weeks we began to notice growth in the little girl’s social development.

The consequences attached to challenging behaviors are very important. If you observe a challenging behavior that continues over time, you can bet that the behavior is having the desired result, at least some of the time.  So, if you are consistent 80 percent of the time with a consequence that the child does not desire, the child understands that the behavior is effective 20 percent of the time and the child will continue using the behavior.  It is when the consequence is implemented every time the behavior is exhibited that you will see the behavior quickly diminish.  Do this along with problem-solving and modeling the appropriate behavior with the child. The formula is very simple. If the behavior gets you what you want, you’re going to use it.  If the behavior does not meet your objectives, you’ll adopt a behavior that does.

Katherine Generaux, Community Inclusion Specialist, Partners In Learning

Katherine Generaux serves as the center’s Community Inclusion Specialist. In that position she has been effective in modeling appropriate interactions with young children with special needs. Her ongoing presence in the classrooms modeling best practices for infants and toddler is resulting in additional experience while making a positive difference in early childhood programming. She is very aware of what is developmentally appropriate and engaging with the children. Her birth through kindergarten degree and experience are evident in her service to children and families.

Does Your Child Have a Developmental Delay?

Have you noticed that your child is not growing or developing at the same pace as other kids? While all children are different, most of them develop along a similar progression. Children reach developmental milestones from the time they are infants. These milestones represent the age at which most children begin a certain skill, such as walking or talking. If your child seems behind in comparison to other kids, they will most likely catch up at their own speed, but it is best to be aware of delays so that you know when to contact a professional.

There are many areas of development of which to be aware. Gross motor skills involve walking, running, and moving large muscles. Fine motor skills involve feeding, picking up items with your hands, and getting dressed. Language skills involve both speaking and understanding what others are saying. Cognitive skills involve problem solving and memory. Finally, social and emotional skills involve sharing, interacting well with other people, and understanding other’s feelings.

While some children are delayed in one area, some may have difficulty with multiple areas. For example, an 18 month old may not be walking, is only saying “mama,” and does not feed him or herself would be considered to have multiple delays .

You can help your child’s overall development by playing with them on a daily basis. You can never play too much and you don’t need expensive toys for your child to learn. Read to them. Get your child on a routine. Be aware of developmental milestones and when to consult your pediatrician.

Here is a quick checklist for your young child to make sure they are on track with their development.

Newborn: Beginning to lift head, tolerates tummy time, and is reacting appropriately to sights and sounds.

Three month old: Smiling, beginning to babble, tracking objects moved in front of face, pushing up on arms, and beginning to grasp objects.

Four  to seven month old: Will babble and giggle with you, grasp objects, sit unassisted, and begin to eat solid foods.

Eight to 12 month old: Crawling, pulling up on furniture, cruising along furniture, drinking from a cup, eating finger foods, saying his first few words, and will use gestures such as pointing.

As your baby becomes a toddler, they will begin climbing stairs with your help, kicking balls, climbing on furniture, saying many words and short sentences, following simple directions, scribbling on paper, becoming more independent, playing appropriately with his peers, and learning to use the toilet. Between two and three years, your child will be using hundreds of words; playing make-believe games such as with baby dolls; identifying animals, colors, shapes, and foods; completing simple puzzles; and will assist in getting dressed and other self-help skills.

If you are concerned about your child’s development, first contact his or her pediatrician. They can refer you to local services and support. Don’t be afraid or ashamed to seek help for your child, the earlier the better. There are many people in the community who will help you. Service coordinators, therapists, teachers, everyone is educated and willing to help you and your child. In North Carolina, children are referred to the Children’s Developmental Services Agency. This agency will organize and simplify all of your child’s goals for reaching milestones and the services needed to do so.

Katie Zink, Infant-Toddler Family Specialist

Katie Zink is a CBRS therapist for Partners In Learning.

While I have had many roles at Partners In Learning since I began in 2009, I currently serve as an Infant-Toddler Family Specialist. My bachelor’s degree is in psychology, specialized in child development. I work with infants and toddlers in the community who have either developmental delays or an established condition, such as Autism or Down Syndrome. The one thing I want to express more than any other is how important playing with your children is. Your child learns best while they are playing and it is vital to encourage and foster various skills that your child gains from play activities. Play with your child, if only for a few minutes, every day!