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Innovative Summer Activities for Integrating Special Needs Learning Goals

Updated: Jun 9

By Meshell Baylor, MHS


“Go as far as you can see; when you get there, you'll be able to see farther.”—J. P. Morgan


As we enter a new season, we reflect on all our families' achievements and milestones. Although summertime is often associated with relaxation, we must still plan our days around maintaining goals we developed over the school year and our children's Individual Education Program (IEP) goals. In the middle of preparing for the extended school year or maintaining those essential tools, how do we make summer fun for our exceptional children? How do we incorporate those learning tools in an innovative way that we can enjoy and maintain simultaneously?


According to the National Center for Education Statistics, 32% of children ages three to 21 receive special education services. This includes various children with disabilities, ranging from autism to specific learning disabilities (SLD). Your exceptional child has worked tirelessly to achieve those milestones, and it is imperative to ensure they keep utilizing those academic and life skills in and out of school season.


Parents can be creative, practice those goals, and stay focused even when school is not in session. Suppose your child has an IEP as part of their Free Appropriate Public Education (FAPE). In that case, they are to have special education services provided to them and be able to attend the Extended School Year Program (ESY). The Extended School Year Program provides services to children based on their educational goals, according to their IEP, during summer break.


If a child does not have an IEP but has a great support system with their educational team, it is common for the team to create a structure to maintain those academic goals they have worked hard to accomplish. As parents and guardians, we must remember that exceptional children are just children. Time off from school should be fun. Let's also try to make learning enjoyable to keep our children focused!


The exceptional child can have a good time achieving those milestones. Parents and caregivers must incorporate learning and fun in the same basket. It has been widely known that children are more successful at higher levels when their parents are actively engaged in all aspects of their lives. So, when preparing to plan, work towards those goals, even if you are taking your child to Legoland or Disneyland. Find creative ways to demonstrate social, occupational, and academic skills.


If you need some creative places or ideas to practice, here are a few tips for making free time eventful and educational:

  • Plan field trips: Take your exceptional child to museums. Engage in social stories to practice those "WH questions," such as Where, What, When, or questions that intrigue them. Work off those goals they learn during school sessions.

  • Be creative: Whether driving to the car wash or the park, use that time to be creative. Play a game of I-Spy and push those communication goals. Engage your child by allowing them to plan the day's activities.

  • Be budget-friendly: If you cannot go out due to financial reasons, then bring creativity to your home. Head to your Dollar Mart and grab cue cards, construction paper, crayons, and colored pencils. Then, use your supplies to draw, paint, and engage your child in home activities. Use imaginary playtime with your child and allow them to actively help you prepare dinner or let them be the chef. The goal is to keep them active, engaged, and still learning. Learning can be fun!

  • Exceptional teen: Raising an exceptional teen or adult differs from raising a child. Pick their brain about activities, apps, or games they would like to do, but still introduce those educational or life skill goals.

  • Review the IEP: If your child has an IEP in place, follow up with their assigned teacher and ask if they will have any activities to share. If they do not have any ideas, help them incorporate some. You are part of your child's educational plan; your opinion matters!

  • Find resources: Check with the parks and recreational center for events in your community. Many learning programs are accessible at no cost to you and can provide fun educational resources. Check your local agency, such as your disability or regional center or nonprofit, with resources for exceptional children.

  • Be diverse: Use technology to help your child learn and have fun. Use learning tools such as music (audio), visuals like movies that can be used for learning, and fun and tangible things like making pottery, dancing, yoga, jumping rope, and walking. Use every aspect to be diverse in helping your child learn, play, and grow!


There is a phrase that says you can have your cake and eat it, too, and in the world of raising your exceptional child, you can blend vacation and learning together. Enjoy time with your exceptional child and family, and build on the goals you have successfully achieved. If you do not know how to do that, contact your school, support system, or other families raising exceptional children.


The journey of learning to navigate the special education system and helping your child adopt great habits has led you to plan a fun family day. Be comfortable engaging your child in learning and playing during their vacation because your exceptional child depends on you to be their advocate year-round.


When exceptional children/youth return to school, they can display their unique learning activities to their teachers and classmates. These things can be achieved with your participation and the love and encouragement you give your exceptional loved one. So, when it's time to enter that IEP or team strategy meeting with your exceptional child, you can demonstrate all those goals and new talents they gained during their time off from school. Below are some local resources and websites with great ways to keep your exceptional child thriving.


References and resources

National Center Education Statistics:

Merlin’s Magic Wand:

Local and out-of-state organizations that advocate for individuals with disabilities:

The Arc ( provides information and assistance to support people with intellectual and developmental disabilities and their families statewide.

Starfall ( is a free online service that teaches children to read and math with games, movies, books, and songs.

TypingGame.Net ( offers free typing games and learning materials to teach children or teens typing and learning skills.

Meshell Baylor, MHS, is a mother of four children—two of whom are on the autism spectrum. She serves her community as a social worker and advocate in the Los Angeles area. She has a bachelor’s degree in human services from Springfield College and a Master's in Human and Social Services. Meshell continues volunteering and giving within her local area while serving the special needs community.

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