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Steps for Keeping Students’ Skills Sharp Over Summer

by Kristina Peterkin
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A mother is gardening with her Her elementary age daughter is watering the plants with a watering can.

Speech-language pathologists understand the havoc transitions can wreak on speech-language progress and performance. Everything from weather to a change in routine can produce obstacles to generalizing skills or bolstering performance. So when summer comes around, it’s key to give students tools to minimize the disruption caused by a few months away from treatment.

Empowering our students and their families with creative, functional ideas to maintain and generalize skills into their daily routines can help them keep up skills over the summer break.

Here are three steps that work for me in tackling the summer transition for students:

Step 1. Make sure students understand their goals and the skills they should practice and why. Understanding of and active participation in the treatment process is critical to the transition of skills. Even our preschool students generally get why they need to work on their skills. For example, “You say a lot of important things. We need to work on your /k/ sound. I want to understand you when you are asking for a cookie or talking about your cars.”

Step 2. Make sure students know how to self-monitor target skills, and give them assignments for skills in which they already exhibit proficiency. A proficiency of 80% accuracy at a given level is a good place to provide home activities. Even practicing a sound in isolation or scripting functional language by a parent or caregiver can be helpful in maintaining and generalizing skills. Use your clinical judgment on what skill and level to target.

Step 3. Provide ideas for functional yet interesting ways to practice the skill over summer months. Photocopied pictures or word lists work fine, but how can we kick the creativity up a notch? Red-light drills, in which a student practices target skills while in the car at a red light, offer a new twist to word lists. The family can keep a mirror and a word list in the car. Vacations or road trips provide interesting content for speech-language skill generalizations. Identifying signs or places with target sounds or vocabulary-building activities are often fun and functional for students of all ages.

More activity ideas

Labeling captions on pictures or screen shots using target sounds or descriptive language can engage older students. Or suggest they search for words in their home environment to practice a list. For example, find 10 things in your refrigerator with your target sound.

At home, washing toy cars with shaving cream is a great activity for practicing the “sh” sound for younger students. Make up and laminate a car-washing activity word or icon list for them to take home.

Books provide excellent generalization tools by playing “I spy” with illustrations. Highlighting target sounds in magazines or in the newspaper can provide an interesting practice for older students.

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Planting a flower or other plant provides an opportunity to talk about sequencing. Watering the plant serves as a daily reminder to practice target skills. Chores and cooking can provide the opportunities to use appropriate verbs in context. Making the bed or setting the table can provide opportunities to target prepositional concepts.

Students can keep track of their practice and cash in on incentives in the fall. Incentives for completing activities don’t have to break the bank. Be creative in your rewards. A dollar store or clearance bins always contain fun treasures. Colorful certificates and stickers can motivate some students. Don’t underestimate the power of your time and praise. Eating lunch with a student, playing a game of their choice, or providing words of praise for effort can provide incentive to practice.

Lastly, you can provide only the skill and activity. You cannot do it for the student or go home with them. Sometimes a break from treatment allows a student to rejuvenate and come back to work on target goals with a new sense of focus in the fall.

Kristina Peterkin, MS, CCC-SLP, is a clinical educator at the University of Nebraska at Omaha and the owner of Peterkin Speech Language Inc. She is an affiliate of ASHA Special Interest Groups 1, Language and Learning Education; 14, Cultural and Linguistic Diversity; and 17, Global Issues in Communication Sciences and Related Disorders. tpeterkin@unomaha.edu

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