Finding Interests for Your Kids this Summer

Now that summer is here, the challenge for you as a parent is to create a summer program for your child that includes both summer therapy or tutoring, as well as some fun!

Here are Dr. Pierson's tips that can help you to help them 'catch up' and/or maintain their skills while still enjoying your summer.

"Persons, children or adults, are interested in what they can do successfully, in what they approach with confidence and engage in with a sense of accomplishment." ~John Dewey

This quote appears on DyslexiaHelp more than once because it is one of my favorite quotes. The educational philosopher John Dewey wrote this in 1913, and it is timeless. In my dissertation, I looked at the language, learning, and engagement results for 6th grade students with language-based learning disabilities when they were engaged in interest-based inquiry settings that were derived from their genuine interests as compared to activities in their daily classrooms. As a whole, the outcomes included increased verbal participation, deeper learning of content, and increased engagement on the part of the students. Additionally, some students who were marginalized by their peers were seen as accomplished in their inquiry setting.

Many of us have seen the degraded sense of self that frequently comes as a child with dyslexia or a language disorder progresses through school. The excitement at the prospect of starting kindergarten begins to fade as one struggles to learn at a pace with his or her peers. No matter how good the teacher is at creating a context to succeed, kids know when someone is not keeping pace with everyone else. And, it is nothing short of painful—for the child and his or her parents.

While we can do some things to mitigate this erosion of one’s self-concept in the school context—more individualized learning, multi-sensory teaching, hands-on activities, alternative assessments—nothing does more to bolster self-esteem than experiencing success. For our dyslexic kids, this usually means experiencing success in non-linguistic areas—the arts, science, technology, or sports, to name a few. And, summer is a great time engage in activities in these areas.

Given that incorporating student interest is key to my therapeutic programs with kids, I have a lot on DyslexiaHelp for clinicians about how to create contexts of learning using student interests and strengths. This information can be located here.

The challenge for you as a parent is how to create a summer program for your child that includes both summer therapy or tutoring (because we know this is a good time to help kids ‘catch up’ and/or maintain skills) and ensure that your child is having some fun, which is what summer should be all about! Here are a few suggestions as to how to go about this.

First, figure out what your child is genuinely interested in, which may or may not be what you were interested in when you were his or her age. What kinds of things does he or she gravitate toward when left to his or her own devices? Design complex Lego structures? Set up the stuffed animals in theatrical performances? Cut and glue? Draw? Sing? Go outside and dig for bugs? Shoot hoops? The list goes on.

Talk with your child about what he or she would like to try this summer. In my research, I found that what 6th grade students said they were good at directly mapped onto the areas of strengths identified on their standardized IQ testing; and their interests mapped onto those strengths. If your child is interested in trying something new, then look for a short-term opportunity such as a week-long workshop (maybe just half-days) at your local art center, theater, sports complex, or museum where your child can participate, but not be committed for the entire summer. Be sure that you determine that the particular content is one of interest to your child. Local parks and recreation departments as well as public libraries are other good sources.

Another option is to engage a high school or college student with a similar interest to create an interest-based “camp” for your child. Many high school students are looking for ways to enhance their college applications through volunteer work. Most high schools have clubs—theater, music, sports, chess, science, visual arts—where you could recruit. If your child is in high school, then look for a college student. If you don’t have a college or university near you, you might inquire at a local church or synagogue since many college kids come home for the summer.

As I mentioned, utilizing student interests and fostering strengths is a passion of mine and so you will find more information on the website here, including some questions to help you identify your child’s specific interests.

Importantly, know that there are definite benefits and payoffs for having your child spend time in these activities of interest—and the big one is maintaining and enhancing one’s self esteem and experiencing being ‘good at something.’ If you read the stories of successful dyslexics, a common theme is that they found their niche—what they were good at—which helped them persevere when confronted with challenges. Creating contexts in which your child can engage successfully will help bolster self-esteem and increase motivation, which in turn can carry over into perseverance during challenging situations. So, ask your child what you should do this summer—paint, dig, build, draw, dance, run, climb, sing, create………And go have some summer fun!