What should kids with special needs be doing over the summer?
Monday, March 05, 2018
"The summer!" you exclaim. "I'm still living in winter!"
Yes, you may be stuck in winter on the calendar, but for both gifted kids and kids with learning difficulties, some summer opportunities close their application process by the end of March. I actually found some informational workshops at sites listed below that are advertising the dates of spring workshops that help you get the information you seek.
The magic of sending your kids to one of these camps is that they enjoy the unique experience of finding kids who, as they excitedly tell their parents, are "just like me!" A colleague of mine in Illinois sent off his daughter off to such a place with some trepidation. She was gifted in the fine arts and within recent months had colored her hair shades of blue and purple and had also added "face jewelry."
Dad waited nervously until the first allowable opportunity to have a phone call with his daughter. Her excitement was easily felt by him over the phone. "Just wait until you get here for the parent visitation weekend, and you will understand why I am so excited to be here!" She enthusiastically described her pleasure at being able to "fit in."
On the way to the camp the following Saturday, Dad was visualizing the physical similarities he was preparing to see. However, he could see no other kid with the same hair color, and he was visually overwhelmed as his eyes took in lots of full-arm, leg and other tattoos.
When he asked his daughter about this, she smiled and said, "No, Dad, I mean they are just like me on the inside! I feel like I really belong here."
Pretty intuitive for the camper, and a real lesson for Dad.
And isn't that what we all want? To be with people who really "get" us and enjoy our company just the way we are? That's exactly what these summer experiences provide, and for most campers it is priceless.
No longer are they the quirky or different kid who stands out in an uncomfortable manner; they are now part of a group of kids who "really get me." This excitement often carries over into the next school year as kids from camp continue to keep in touch with their new friends. Or, if that's not realistic, they may be more open to joining a similar group that meets during the school year on Saturdays or after school hours.
For information about specific summer programs, contact your state organizations that support students with special needs, including learning or physical challenges, gifted, fine arts, etc. A visit to your state's Department of Education website, accompanied by some chats with specialists on staff can be a helpful first step in getting this ball rolling.
In recent years, summer camps that focus on STEM and STEAM experiences have been created to complement the standards-based learning experiences that have been adopted by many U.S. schools.
Since many of these opportunities start taking applications in late winter and into early spring, now is the time to make inquiries. Be sure to ask about the availability of financial aid or camp scholarships.
For gifted/advanced students, the most exciting option may be a specially designed summer camp — often on college campuses across the country. Whereas many of these options formerly were only residential, and kids had to live on campus during the camp time, these camps now have expanded to offer programs for kids who commute back and forth to the campsite daily from where they live.
Here are some websites where you may start your search. (Tip: While contacting a site, ask for programs they have during the regular school year as well.)
For all students: Search for STEM summer programs in your area, and check out iD Tech STEM programs.
For gifted/advanced students: Summer Institute for the Gifted (SIG). They sponsor programs at prestigious campuses nationwide, including (but not limited to) Emory University, MIT, Stanford, UC Irvine, UCLA, University of Washington, etc. Check your state Department of Education for more leads.
For students with learning challenges, including all types of learning disabilities: Visit LDA's Summer Activities for Children with Learning Disabilities. Also, investigate summer programs for STEM above.
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