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 ideasĀ 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.


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