February 10, 2020
By Susan Baum, Ph.D
Allison is a slow reader and poor speller. She struggles throughout the school year even with special education support. Her mother just learned of a special six-week summer program, recommended by the school to help Allison improve her reading and writing. Allison, however, has been looking forward to a summer free of academics, indulging her passion for acting at drama camp. Unfortunately camp takes place at the same time as the remedial reading program.
Conventional wisdom might suggest that Allison opt for the remedial experience and postpone drama for another summer. But Allison’s mom understands that her daughter needs time off from the hard work of school. Allison has, in fact, had a difficult year and is discouraged.
This more positive approach is not without precedent. We know that learning happens when students have strong academic success and positive self-worth. When children feel smart and confident in their abilities they are more likely to make an effort to reach goals and overcome difficulties.
Many experts who work with struggling students believe that paying attention to their positive aspects is a more effective intervention than remediation.
Edward Hallowell, a noted psychiatrist and author of several books on children with LD and ADHD comments that the most important way to nurture individuals with learning challenges is to focus on their talents: “I have learned first and foremost to look for interests, talents, strengths, shades of strengths or the mere suggestion of a talent… Knowing that a person builds a happy and successful life not on remediated weaknesses but on developed strengths, I have learned to place those strengths at the top of what matters.”
What does all this mean for your family? Simply put, providing opportunities for talent development is important for your child’s education.
Find summer programs that align with his or her strengths and interests. Summer is the perfect time to provide students with the following types of experiences:
- In-depth focus opportunities are for students with strong interests who want to delve deeply into a subject without distraction. Finding a camp with high-level training in a specialty area can help a child master specific skills as well as develop persistence and self-discipline. This type of camp can also be a place where your child finds true friends and peers with the same interests.
- Exploration experiences are for children who have yet to identify an area of strong interest. Too often such children have been preoccupied with what they cannot do to the exclusion of learning where their strengths lie. For those children, exposure to the smorgasbord of activities offered by many traditional summer camps may be the perfect place to dabble in a number of different domains.
- Fun time without structure is for children who need a real break from ongoing lessons and tight schedules. Summer camps can be just the ticket for regenerating the mind and body to say nothing of the value of cultivating a spirit of adventure.
In short, summer is a time for re-creation. Let your child have a stress-free opportunity to find success and build an “I can” attitude to arm her for returning to school in September.
The author is the Co-Director of the International Center for Talent Development, and the Director of Professional Development at Bridges Academy for students with LD.