Preventing Summer Break Regression: 5 Ways to Keep Special Education Students Engaged Over the Summer

May 16, 2022
summer break

I don’t know about you, but as a working mother, my child’s summer break has always posed a unique challenge. On the one hand, I wanted my children to have lazy days basking in the sun, slurping on popsicles and hanging by the pool. On the other hand, I also recognize that I have to work. I also know that for students with special needs, summer can be a time that, if not properly structured, students risk regressing in the important skills they’ve gained over the school year. This article addresses what all parents, especially working parents, can do to prevent summer break regression. Here are 5 ways to keep Special Education students engaged over their summer break:

  1. Fight for ESY in your IEP. Make sure your child receives Extended School Year Services, or ESY. These are programs run by public schools for a number of weeks targeted to maintain those skills that could regress or be lost without constant support. ESY must be granted in your child’s Individualized Education Program or IEP. Some students need speech therapy, and other students need occupational therapy and physical therapy. Please note, ESY is designed to prevent summer slide not to have your child gain skills. The typical schedule runs four days a week with Fridays off and has a shortened school day. ESY cannot fill an entire summer repertoire for students.
  2. Summer Camp is for All Kids. Checkout camps designed for children with special needs. There are camps for children with every need – some are day camps and some even offer overnight experiences for children just like the neurotypical students would experience. We would like to give a special shoutout for Friendship Circle camps, located in 83 locations worldwide. Friendship Circle offers a 2:1 counselor to camper ratio with the excitement of activities and nature that expose your child to the wonders of nature and experiential learning.
  3. Blow Bubbles and Dig in the Mud. If you have a great caregiver or don’t work, supplement ESY with sensory activities at home and around your own community. Whether you plant a garden, gaze at stars at night, or spend time with sidewalk chalk and play dough, try to remember that kids in the summer just need to be kids. Summer opens up opportunities for water play and sandcastle building, so just get out there and catch fireflies, find butterflies and dig up worms. It’s all good and wondrous.
  4. Bang on a Drum and Make Music. Find local music opportunities for your child. Many communities offer music and movement or music therapy courses over the summer. Music is a wonderful to stimulate a child. Music is a universal language that can connect to those children who are nonverbal. Studies also show that music stimulates many different parts of the brain. If your community does not offer special music programs, consider outdoor summer concerts. It’s all good for your child.
  5. Get on a Horse or Pet a Pooch.  Don’t forget Equine Assisted Therapy (EAT) over the summer. EAT has been known to really help those individuals with ADHD, PTSD and a host of other disabilities. Riding and caring for horses help build trust and a sense of accomplishment for students. And, if this type of therapy is not accessible or too costly, consider canine therapy. Children with cerebral palsy have made great gains caring and working with dogs. Studies also show that dogs have connected with children with autism in ways that we human beings just don’t understand.

For further questions or clarifications regarding the content of this article or if you would like more suggestions on how to prevent summer break regression, please reach out to Special Education Attorneys Susan Stone (; 216.736.7220) or Kristina Supler (; 216.736.7217).