Summer OT Programs

Is it summer break yet?  This is what all the school based occupational therapy providers and teachers are asking. Whether you are working in a school system or with children who go to school, you are going to want some great summer programs to offer.  Summer activities can range from seated table worksheets, chores, arts and crafts, self-help skills to outings, camps, and classes. 

All the above are great to work on retaining and learning new skills.  The only bad activity is no activity.  I know teenagers want to sleep all summer, but this is not going to help build critical skills, especially for those students who need a leg up.  In this post we will explore some great summer program and activity ideas. We also have occupational therapy at home ideas that you could do this Summer.

SUMMER SLIDE

David Quinn and Morgan Polikoff researched Summer regression and concluded on average, students’ achievement scores declined over summer vacation by one month’s worth of school-year learning, (2) declines were sharper for math than for reading, and (3) the extent of loss was larger at higher grade levels.

According to Scholastic, students lose about a month’s worth of learning on average over the summer. Some studies show that children lose up to 40% of their learning over summer break. For example, children in grades 3 to 5 lose about 20% of their school year gains in reading and 27% of their gains in math. In the summer between 5th and 6th grades, 84% of students experience summer slide in math. 

This is especially important for students who are struggling to keep up with their peers in school.  When I am doing end of year meetings, I make sure to stress carryover of goals with parents.  I want their students to have an advantage of practicing OT interventions all summer, not sliding backward. While everyone can benefit from a summer program, students with special needs are on the top of my priority list.

Summer therapy program

Summer Program Schedules and Routines

One of the key components of summer vacation that differs from the school year, is schedules (or lack of them). Kids thrive on predictability, consistency, and expectations. Parents mistakenly feel that students have been on a strict schedule all year and need a summer free for all. 

Just like adults, children feel more confident and secure when their daily activities are predictable and familiar. A consistent daily schedule and step-by-step routines give children a predictable day.

Schedules and routines in the group care setting and at home help children: feel in control, feel safe and secure, know what is happening next, and engage in learning. Engaging, predictable environments and ongoing positive adult-child interactions are necessary for promoting children’s social and emotional development and preventing challenging behaviors. You can help by following clear and simple schedules and routines. (Hemmeter, Ostrosky, and Fox 2006).

Using a visual schedule at home is a great idea to keep this routine!

KEY FACTORS IN ESTABLISHING A SCHEDULE and summer program

There are several key factors in establishing a summer program (or any other time) schedule and routine:

  • Keep it simple. A routine does not have to include outings, pricey trips, or a packed schedule.
  • Help family members break down one of their scheduled tasks into steps to create the routine. For example, the morning routine might be: go to the toilet, get dressed, eat breakfast, brush your teeth.
  • Encourage families to let their children be as independent as possible. You might have to break a task down into chunks to have children help.
  • Let parents know that reviewing the schedule every morning and throughout the day with their child helps them know what is going to happen next.  They can use visual schedules, pictures, lists, timers, or whatever works for them.
  • Remind families to keep the routine and schedule as similar as possible each day but offer some choices when possible (do you want the red or blue shirt?)
  • Let parents know they should also be flexible. You can say something like, “Plans change, things happen, but give your child a warning ahead of time if things are going to be different. Let them know what is going to happen.”
  • Refer to the schedule before and after activities throughout the day. 

Here is a fun June Summer Activity Calendar to get your summer program started!

SENSORY DIET

Some learners need a sensory diet or program built into their summer to keep their systems regulated.  This article on Sensory Diets is informative in building and using this tool. 

You can of course incorporate your sensory diet into your daily schedule.  For example, after the morning routine, add animal walks.

SUMMER break WORKSHEETS AND PAPER ACTIVITIES

Personally, I love a good workbook or paper activity. Arts and crafts are my jam. The possibilities for workbooks are endless and often overwhelming. My standard advice is to pick a couple of websites and resources you trust, and go from there.  For example, the OT Toolbox (and The OT Toolbox Membership gets you everything done for you!) has multiple programs and printables to choose from that follow the same type of theme or pattern to add to your summer program.

  • Summer Activity Bundle Included in this bundle of printable resources are tools to address fine motor skills, visual perception, visual motor skills, sensory processing, self-regulation, pencil control, handwriting, and more. 
  • Occupational Therapy Activities – great OT activities to get you moving this summer.
  • Summer Fine Motor Kit Printable no-prep Summer fine motor activities and fine motor worksheets designed to build strong hands.
  • Handwriting Practice for Summer
  • Summer Bridge Workbooks – These workbooks are my go-to suggestion for parents. I used these with my own girls 20 years ago and they are still very popular.  Must be a good sign. I like that there are specific pages for each day on different subject matter to touch all the academic areas without being overwhelming  Prevent summer learning loss! Summer Bridge Activities is an AWARD-WINNING summer learning series that is an easy and proven way to help children retain their classroom skills. Research shows that on average, children can lose 2.8 months of grade-level equivalency skills over their summer vacation. By using Summer Bridge Activities books students enter their new grades prepared and confident.  These are available at other retailers, but I like all the information presented on their website.  Check out the contents of each book before deciding on a level. Some learners are going to be too advanced for their grade group. Whereas struggling students may need to drop down a level or two.
  • Teachers Pay Teachers is another one of my favorite websites for resources.  This search for Summer Packets brought up multiple different suggestions.
  • Check out this June Morning Work activity packet aimed at kindergarten level students. Carry over the important daily routine with a daily work page.

SUMMER ACTIVITIES TO GET YOU MOVING

A good mix of summer occupational therapy activities including indoor AND outdoor activities is great to add to your schedule. These activities use things you have around the house or can easily find at the Dollar Store.

Summer CHOICE BOARD

An increasingly popular option for home and summer programs is the Choice Board. A choice board is a visual tool that teachers can use in their classrooms to allow students to… make choices! Choice boards consist of two or more options of activities for students to complete.

The teacher specifies what choices are available, and the student selects what activity (or activities) they’ll do. Choice boards give students a chance to make decisions about what they are going to do.  Eventually they will get all the activities done, so it does not really matter which order they get them done.

Some choice boards are made to give students choices without having to do all the activities.  For instance, pick 3 from the board for homework.

Summer Outings that build skills

Summer programs would not be the same without outings!  Not everything has to cost a ton of money.  There are lots of summer programs for kids out there. Here are a few ideas that are free or low cost:

  • Summer bowling program
  • Movie series – older movies during the summer that only cost a few dollars
  • Library – the library usually has a book challenge or other activities like Lego club, book club, arts and crafts, and more
  • Recreation Center – check out your local recreation center for activities.  They usually offer lower cost summer camps as well as great activities.
  • Staycation – have you seen all there is to do in your home town?  How about being a tourist for a few days and check out the local sights.
  • Membership – a summer membership can help create a summer schedule. If you go enough times, the cost is minimal. We loved the aquarium, zoo, water park, amusement park, children’s museum, and more
  • Classes – several places offer fun classes during the summer. The craft painting and pottery places offer classes. Usually the dance studios have something going on, as well as the gymnastic centers.
  • Bible Camp – if this is your preference, Bible camps are usually free and you can check out more than one church.

MY SUMMER PLANS

This is only the third year in my 30 years as an OT to have summers off. You can bet I am super excited!  We have travel plans galore.  I am thinking of adding the Summer bucket challenge for adults to my summer plans.

Victoria Wood, OTR/L is a contributor to The OT Toolbox and has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

Summer therapy program