The Summer Slide: How to support upper school students with learning differences over the summer

By Stephanie Borges Folarin, Head of School
Wife - Mother of Daughters - Special Educator - Bates/Johns Hopkins - Bibliophile

After a long and tumultuous school year, our Wye River Upper School young adults have made it to summer break. I would encourage them to use this time to reflect on the past school year and plan for the future. I'm sure our students have learned some wonderful habits of independence while working within the hybrid model. Unfortunately, they have naturally lost some social skills as a result of working from home. While thinking about what worked and what didn't, as parents and guardians, we can use this time to help them organize and prepare for the new school year slowly and thoughtfully.

During my 15 years as a special educator and leadership coach, I've enjoyed working with students of all ages during summer breaks. I've created fun and engaging activities that assisted them in strengthening the various academic skills they learned the previous school year. I've compiled lists of activities well suited for upper school students with learning differences. These activities are enjoyable and appealing, and with some diligence on the part of the student, they can help prevent the summer slide by keeping the student mentally challenged throughout the break.


Activity #1: Family Book/Film Club

Pick a book that is important to you, and share it with your upper schooler. Your family book club will be a fun and unique way to converse and bond over the summer. For students with learning differences (dyslexia, ADHD, Dysgraphia, Dyscalculia, executive function), the book you pick should come with an audio component (e.g., Audible or Nook), and it would be great if that book has a movie or play adaptation. Our students will then access the message in the story with their eyes, ears, and hearts. I'd encourage you to journal or vlog (video blog) with one another about the book. Your written and/or visual correspondence can be topical, by theme, by chapter, by character, or just initial thoughts. Chat about the book at breakfast or dinner, during walks or car rides. Remember, reading just 20-30 minutes a day can help prevent summer slide.

Bonus: If you let me know which book you are reading, I can read it with you (if I haven't read it). I can also connect you with other families that are reading the same book!

Here are a few books that have been adapted to movies that I find inspirational and you may too:


Activity #2: A Kindness Letter (or Six)

“Kindness is a language that the deaf can hear, and the blind can see.” –Mark Twain

It only takes 2-3 weeks to begin to forget the details of information learned throughout the school year. A sure-fire way to help our young adults remember the intimate details of the lessons their WRUS teachers imparted upon them is to write a letter a week. Your child should take the notes from one subject and review them. They should then pull out the critical topics/themes and write those on a separate piece of paper. Then, over one week, your child should write a detailed letter thanking that individual WRUS teacher for teaching the specific skills they outlined. Within the letter, your child should share the lessons or topics that were most interesting and the lessons/topics that were most difficult. It would be great to ask any lingering questions of the teacher and share how your child plans to apply what they learned from that teacher/course in their life.

This activity helps the students review essential information from the entire school year, one week at a time. It also engages the student in the formal writing process, which is often unintentionally neglected over the summer break. This exercise will also remind our young adults that the learning process never ends, and a thank you goes a long way. For our students, in particular, this activity allows them to review and reflect on what they learned in a stress-free environment.

The Cherry on Top: As your child completes each letter, please mail them to the school. We will place each letter in the teachers' mailboxes as they come in. These letters will be lovely treats for our teachers as they enter back into the building at the end of August.


Activity #3: With Math Comes Patience

I do not enjoy baking because I have to dedicate time and remain focused on the task at hand, or it all goes kaput. As a mother of two children under five, I am so used to multi-tasking that the thought of doing only one thing scares me! However, baking helps with my patience, and I believe it will help your child as well.

Baking, making smoothies, and making ice cream are all useful activities because they require math. Practicing fractions and estimations will only make your child stronger in the classroom. The natural problem-solving, hypothesizing, and joy that comes with preparing food can only serve to ease their minds. The happiness that comes with the finished product is priceless. By cooking or baking, our young adults keep their minds alert and practice fundamental life skills.

Feed Me Seymour: Just putting this out there, as your new Head of School, I want you to know that I look favorably upon any suggestion you make if food is involved. LOL

Together, we can help prevent the summer slide. If you know of other fun ways to support our Wye River Upper School young adults over the summer, please send me an email or give me a call; I'll be sure to add your suggestion to Wye River Currents.

Head of School Helping Students


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