Making Summer Magical for Kids with Special Needs

Making summer magical for our kids with special needs sounds like a worthy goal, doesn't it? But many parents dread the arrival of summer for legitimate reasons. It's hard to navigate the tricky bits of summer: find day care, keep kids busy all day long, and stretch dollars to pay for summer fun.

It's also hard to remember how much kids look forward to summer. To do so, we have to think back to what made our childhood summers magical: long expanses of time to play, explore, read, and dream; riding bikes after supper on long summer evenings or going swimming on hot afternoons; going to camp or on family vacations.

My childhood memories motivated me as a mom—and now as a grandma—to manufacture a little magic every summer for the kids in my life. Through trial and error, using my own children and the students in my classroom as guinea pigs, I discovered a simple strategy for sprinkling pixie dust on ordinary activities to make them seem magical. All I had to do was change the name. Here's how it works.

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Tell the kids you're going on a treasure hunt.

Make a list of hidden nature treasures: a bird's nest, a feather, weed seeds, a yellow flower, five rabbits, an acorn, etc. Have your kids look for the treasures on the way to and from the park. As they get older, let them make the list. Voilá, an ordinary trip to the park has been transformed for kids at different stages of development.

Rebrand cooking as chemistry class.

This name change appeals to older kids, and it's no lie. Cooking, especially baking, is chemistry. Mix cookie dough, put it on the baking sheet, and pop it in the oven—with or without a magic word, depending on your child's developmental level. While the goodies bake, talk about how the heat will change the dough. Do an internet search of "cookie baking chemistry" and you'll find plenty of resources to explore together. Suddenly, mastering the important life skill of cooking is filled with wonder and science.

Rename summer reading.

You can rename reading time for whatever your child's interest and reading level may be. If your child is working on phonics skills, call it "code-breaking for spies." For a child reading a historical novel or a history textbook, refer to it as "time travel." Gather together for read aloud time, and say it's "Pixar animation voice-over hour," or whatever piques your child's interest.

Look at a cardboard box with creative eyes.

Depending on your child's interests and development, repurpose the big cardboard box from your latest Costco or Amazon order. It could become a piece of heavy equipment (backhoe, skid steer, forklift), a castle (for a princess, knight, or evil villain), a vehicle (convertible, race car, pirate ship, train), or a hide out (dragon's lair, Bat Cave, smugglers' den). The sky's the limit.

Do you get the idea? This strategy can be used for road trips, afternoons at the pool, rainy indoor days, helping in the garden, sitting on the porch, bike rides, or whatever your child can do. Even children who are logical and literal will get the hang of it because the essence of this strategy is to foster creativity.

Because we are made in the image of our creative God, a spark of His creativity dwells in each of us. When we work on intentionally making summer magical for our kids with special needs—whatever their diagnosis, age, abilities, strengths and weaknesses—we fan the spark of creativity within them into a flame, so they become more like their Creator and more likely to accept Him and grow in relationship with Him.

Jolene Philo is the author of the Different Dream series for parents of kids with special needs. She speaks at parenting and special needs conferences around the country. She's also the creator and host of the Different Dream websiteSharing Love Abundantly With Special Needs Families: The 5 Love Languages® for Parents Raising Children with Disabilities, which she is co-authoring with Dr. Gary Chapman, will be released August 6, 2019 and is available for preorder now on Amazon.