May is Better Hearing and Speech month—a great opportunity to raise awareness of hearing loss and communication challenges. And for parents of children who are deaf or hard of hearing, it’s also a good time to think about ways to incorporate listening and spoken language skills into upcoming summer activities.
Transitioning From an Unusual School Year
After a year of in-person, remote or hybrid learning and the stress of living through a pandemic, parents (and even some older students) may be worried that the typical summer slide will be exacerbated and leave them less prepared than they should be at the start of the next school year.
At the same time, summer is an opportunity for students to enjoy some downtime and a necessary break. With a bit of foresight, it’s possible to enjoy a relaxing, fun summer that includes plenty of opportunities for learning.
Re-Adjusting to Social Patterns
Clarke Teacher of the Deaf Heather Stinson, CAGS, MED, S/LP-A, notes that the biggest complaint she’s heard from students this year has been about missed opportunities for socialization. “They feel like they don’t have friends. When they’re remote, everyone lives in the computer. Even in hybrid plans, everyone sits facing forward and there’s little interaction. Anything that can facilitate social connections is important now,” she says.
As pandemic restrictions are lifted, children who have mostly been at home can safely start to resume their typical activities. As welcome as it may be, it can also create social anxiety, especially for children who are deaf or hard of hearing, as they generally work harder to keep up and connect with peers.
For that reason, Heather believes helping a child re-socialize is one of the most effective ways to help them prepare for the fall. “Acknowledge that it’s a little scary and you feel it, too,” she says. “Relate it to your own experience. You can say, ‘I felt weird going to the store the first time, but I went, and it was ok.’”
“For younger kids, if you go to a park or a play date, have a set time to leave and stick to it,” she says, noting such outings can be challenging if the child doesn’t know the other children or the rules of the playground game change. “If possible, you want to leave when things are going well, so they want to go back.”
She adds that low-intensity summer jobs are a way to help older children interact without overwhelming them. “Jobs like dog walking, gardening, et cetera, have a little more freedom than a retail job, for example,” she says. “There’s a slower pace and more flexible hours.”
Also, many libraries and towns are holding events for children of all ages. Heather recommends reaching out to your school for information or more resources. “You want to help them find something that’s in their interest level, safe, but still has some interaction,” Heather suggests.
Incorporate Learning Into the Fun
There are ways to keep your children learning during the summer while also giving them some much-needed time to relax. Learning doesn’t only consist of completing worksheets and studying flash cards. The key is considering the educational opportunities within whatever fun activity your child is doing.
“You can help them learn math if they help you cook,” says Heather. “There’s measuring, telling time, et cetera. Crafts like knitting involve math. If you take the weather forecast into account when making your plans, that can be a mini science lesson. Talk about social issues in your community in age-appropriate ways—that’s social studies.” She notes that those real-life discussions carry over material already reviewed in class and prepare them for the classroom.
If possible, she advises getting a sense of what the next year’s curriculum will cover. That way, you can tailor discussions to those topics. “Even if you don’t know much about the subject, just asking questions can spark curiosity and good discussions,” Heather says. “If next year’s class studies rocks and minerals, you can ask questions about things you notice. ‘I don’t know why this one has layers,’ or ‘I wonder why these stones by the river are smooth.’”
Not every teaching moment needs to be focused on something academic. “There is more meaningful interaction and socialization in everyday life. Focus this summer on what you do as a family,” says Heather. “Do you like music? Dance. It doesn’t have to be kid music. If you like rap, country, or whatever, listen to that.”
She also recommends building in time to read every day, whether that means buying new books, borrowing from the library or finding and walking to the little “free libraries” that have cropped up in many towns. “It doesn’t have to be books, either. Read comics or magazines about topics that interest them. Talk about things you read. For example, if you’re walking near your home and notice the street signs—Maple Street, Pine Street, et cetera, that’s a chance to ask, ‘I wonder why they’re all named after trees?’ That all counts as learning.”
Families can help children develop pragmatic skills to make new situations easier—especially for children who are deaf or hard of hearing as they expend extra effort to keep up with peers. “If you go out for ice cream, have the child order. There might be communication breakdowns, but resist the urge to step in. This is self-advocacy in real life. It might be hard at first, but they’ll get used to it. That’s what we’re training them to do,” she continues.
The Role of Screens
Screens aren’t optimal for engaging in this kind of learning, but with many parents still working from home and watching their children, it may be necessary for some families to use them more than they usually would. And that’s OK.
“Every family has different needs and access. Some families have backyards or access to parks, and some don’t. The pandemic has only highlighted those disparities,” Heather says.
If you do use screens to fill some of your child’s time, she offers recommendations for making that time more meaningful and educational.
“A lot of apps are passive. Even most literacy apps are passive—it’s drag-and-drop, and you have to wonder how much they’re learning if they aren’t truly engaged.” Instead, Heather recommends finding digital options that are more active. For example, rather than watching TikTok or YouTube videos, have children create their own videos. Or find coding apps they enjoy. Both activities require more creativity and problem solving than passively watching a screen.
The bottom line: “It’s summer… let it be summer,” says Heather. “No matter what this year looked like for you, it was stressful. There’s no need to put extra pressure on people. Allow for some relaxing and downtime. Let that be the most important thing.”
While we’re pleased to share our ideas and tips for planning an enriching school break, please know we also offer various services to children and families over the summer! In addition to Summer Mainstream Services, Clarke offers an array of services and programs throughout the summer months for children who are deaf or hard of hearing from infancy through high school. To learn more, contact Clarke at 855.203.7085.
Clarke Students Share Their Summer Plans
We asked Clarke mainstream students what they’d like to learn about this summer. Here’s what they had to say:
“I’m looking forward to learning and improving on my capability to perform art in different mediums. Mainly I’d like to improve in sculpting and watercolor.” -Paris, 11th grade
“I want to explore the woods around my house. I would like to find some animal tracks. Maybe I’ll also find a secret area.” -Brody, 5th grade
“I look forward to learning about new college experiences because it’s going to be my first year, and it’s going to be a big adjustment. I’m also looking forward to the beach.” -Lauren, 12th grade
“This summer I am looking forward to exploring myself. Recently I have been thinking a lot about the person I am and the person I would like to be. This summer and throughout high school, I am hoping to explore myself and what I want for my future.” -Gianna, 8th grade
“This summer I hope to be signed up for summer Pioneer Valley Juniors volleyball, and I’m hoping that I will be allowed to help out at a summer internship in a preschool classroom for kids doing summer school camp. I want to experience it because I’d like to become a preschool teacher of the deaf one day. I’d like to keep studying sign language from my ASL book and from online videos.” -Allison, 10th grade
“I want to go to Italy with my family because my Grandpa grew up there his whole life and then moved to America, so I want to see where he was from.” -Will, 6th grade
“I think I’m going to do a week at 4-H camp, and I really want to do archery. I’m also going to Cape Cod and I want to find a new beach.” -Aislyn, 7th grade