“Differentiating Summer: Why You Should Rethink the “Just Play” Movement”

Kyle Redford is now a teacher. He is also a young man with dyslexia that
was one of the individuals featured in The Big Picture: Rethinking
Dyslexia.   I’m all about balance so his thoughts really hit home for me.


As school draws to a close and summer launches, the cries for unfettered playtime are proliferating everywhere, from the mouths of children to the postings of adults.

It’s hard today to ignore the profusion of articles, blog posts, and tweets calling on parents to forget school and let children “just play” over the summer months. Impassioned articles, written by leading educators and parenting experts, argue that play is the best teacher. Infused with moral undertones, they warn against the overscheduled child, making a determined case for giving children downtime and a chance to grapple with unscheduled hours.

There is a lot to be said about the value of this advice. And let’s face it, total-play summers sound so appealing, attractive, and humane — but …

The False Promise of One-Size-Fits-All

“One-size-fits-all” approaches are just as problematic for children in the summertime as they are in the school year. For many families, charging every parent with simply abandoning all structure in order to give children unlimited time to just relax and play is naïve.

Let’s face it, parents of struggling students dream of taking a break from the frustrations and duties that accompany a child with learning disabilities and differences. Play? Yes! A break? Please! But as much as parents want to give their depleted and stressed child a breather from the negatives associated with school, they intuitively know that ignoring the opportunity to strengthen and consolidate skills over the summer will only reinforce the cycle of frustration and stress in the fall.

Why Learning Needs to Continue in Summertime

Many types of intensive, immersive, and individualized support feel impossible to arrange during the school year. Most children are exhausted at the end of a school day, particularly if they have been struggling to keep up. Children need to rest and recharge during the school week, and often there is no time to put supports in place that would allow them to catch up or strengthen weak skills. Summer can offer the space to pursue support for a struggling child at her own pace.

Summer offers time.

If your dyslexic child has not learned to read yet, or if her skills are so fragile that they make attending school miserable, summer offers an ideal opportunity to pursue evidence-based remediation that will help her achieve success and enjoy school more when it resumes in the fall. Likewise, if your child is failing math and starting to hate it, some math work to memorize facts and algorithms or to spend time with a mentor who can explain difficult concepts will do wonders to help her confidence, interest, and engagement with numbers in the fall.

Many students who struggle academically benefit from previewing certain classes before school resumes (for instance, reading assigned books in advance so that they can keep up with their class, or practicing math concepts in a one-on-one setting so they can hit the ground running). This kind of work is rarely fun. Later, though, children usually appreciate the preparation that makes the school year move along more easily.

The truth is that it benefits every child, regardless of her individual learning profile, to read over the summer. And remember that audiobooks count! Done at the right pace, this activity can — and should — be an enjoyable pursuit rather than a corrective chore.

Balance is key.

Clearly, kids need to get outside to play — whether that’s out in nature or in an urban playground. Exploring, observing, pretending, making … summer offers powerful learning opportunities and potential healing for kids who feel beaten up by expectations at school. And, in truth, children who struggle in school crave a brain break more than anyone. They dream of free play and relaxation. And, of course, they look forward to spending time pursuing their own interests, which may come more easily than traditional academic skills.

But we need to recognize that, in addition to the formal learning that struggling children benefit from in the summer months, many of the opportunities to pursue their individual interests occur in structured settings, as well (think of sports teams, themed camps, or drama and music groups).

To avoid anything structured in the summer would mean that a child could potentially miss out on important opportunities to develop a sense of competence and confidence beyond the classroom. Time spent exploring interests outside of school can help children discover areas of expertise and passion that offset academic struggles during the school year.

A Closing Thought

Every child has a different learning profile — and that is why every child needs a different summer plan. Don’t let the experts make you feel bad if your child is working at something in a structured way this summer. You can be sure that the person advising you to ditch all summer work has never had to help shepherd a struggling child through school — but you know what it takes, and forgoing structure isn’t the solution for everyone.”



Many of the learners I work with struggle more with writing than they do with reading.  Although dyslexia and dysgraphia often coexist, children with motor and spatial dysgraphia, more than dyslexic dysgraphia, need Occupational Therapy. In addition to Orton-Gillingham tutoring, which provides solid instruction in language, Occupational Therapy helps with motor planning and an overall understanding of space in general.   A combination approach results in the strongest outcomes for struggling students.

From Dr. RIchard Selznick Blog: “School Struggles, Learning Disablities and Other Kid Stuff” from March 6, 2015.

When children struggle with written expression, “OT,” or Occupational Therapy appears to be the go to recommendation that is often given.

Writing has been shown to be the single most complex skill domain of the academic process.   The following quote from “Developmental  Variations & Learning Disorders” says it well:

“The transmission of thoughts onto paper calls for a delicate and highly complex process of neurodevelopmental integration.   Writing necessitates synchronizing all of the developmental functions (described in part I).  Writing is a final common pathway of these functions, a confluence of processes demanding attention, spatial and sequential production, mnemonic facility, language ability and motor skill.”

Motor skills (the skills targeted in OT) are the tip of the iceberg.   It’s a good first step.  What’s the next step?  Most of the time, I am not hearing the next step.  I only hear about the child getting, “OT.”

Beyond OT, a child needs much more remediation to address their deficits in writing (which are becoming more and more pervasive with the kids I am seeing).

For some time I have been beating a drum (although I understand no one is really listening), that a child struggling with writing needs to work first at the sentence level and master the skill of writing a good sentence before moving on to more complex operations.

Analogous to reading remediation, a child needs to work at very simplistic levels initially, derive a sense of mastery and then move forward to higher levels of complexity.

Most of the kids that I assess have little ability to understand what goes into writing a sentence or a paragraph, so to have them writing lengthy essays is way beyond them. It’s somewhat like asking someone to lift 25lb weights when they can barely lift 10lbs.

Takeaway Point:

Once your child has a had a good dose of “OT” to address his or her writing, ask, “Now what?  What’s next?”

What’s next needs to be the heavy lifting of writing remediation.

Dyslexia: More Than a Score

By Dr. Richard Selznick  (http://www.drselz.com/blog)

Saturday, June 8, 2013

***Note:  (This blog was published some time ago, but due to a problem with the website it needed to be reposted.  It has been revised.)

I had the good fortune to recently take part on a panel during a symposium on dyslexia sponsored by the grassroots parenting group, Decoding Dyslexia: NJ.  Dr. Sally Shaywitz, the author of “Overcoming Dyslexia” was the keynote speaker.  While talking about assessing dyslexia, Dr. Shaywitz said something that really struck me.  She noted, “Dyslexia is not a score.”

That statement is right on the money.

Scores are certainly involved in the assessment of dyslexia.   Tests such as the Woodcock Reading Mastery Test, the Tests of Word Reading Efficiency and the Comprehensive Tests of Phonological Processing, among other standardized measures yield reliable and valid standard scores, grade equivalents and percentiles.  These scores can be helpful markers.  However, the scores often don’t tell the whole story.

Here’s one example:

Jacob, a fifth grader, is in the 80th%ile of verbal intelligence and his nonverbal score is in the 65% percentile, meaning Jacob’s a pretty bright kid.  Jacob’s word identification standard score on the Woodcock was a 94 placing him solidly in the average range, with similar word attack and passage comprehensions scores.  Effectively, both of the scores (Word Identification and Word Attack), placed Jacob just below the 50th percentile, but solidly in the average range.

Jacob’s scores would not have gotten the school too excited.  Yet, here’s what I told the mom.

“There’s a lot of evidence in Jacob’s assessment that suggests that he is dyslexic.  Even though his scores are fundamentally average, he was observed to be very inefficient in the way that he read.  For example, while Jacob read words like “institute,” and “mechanic” correctly, he did so with a great deal of effort.  It was hard for Jacob to figure out the words.  For those who are not dyslexic, word reading is smooth and effortless.  Those words would be a piece of cake for non-dyslexic fifth graders.  They were not for Jacob.”

“Even more to the point, was the way that Jacob read passages out loud.  Listening to Jacob read was almost painful.  Every time he came upon a large word that was not all that common (such as, hysterical, pedestrian, departure) he hesitated a number of seconds and either stumbled on the right word or substituted a nonsense word.  An example was substituting the word “ostrich” for “orchestra.”  The substitution completely changed the meaning.

“Finally, the two other areas of concern involved the way that Jacob wrote, as well as his spelling.  While Jacob could memorize for the spelling test, his spelling and his open ended-writing were very weak.  The amount of effort that Jacob put into writing a small informal paragraph was considerable.  There also wasn’t one sentence that was complete.”

“Even though Jacob is unlikely to be classified in special education, I think he has a learning disability that matches the definition of dyslexia as it is known clinically (see  International Dyslexia Association website:  www.ida.org ).  The scores simply do not tell the story.”

“Dyslexia is not a score.”

Takeaway Point:

You need to look under the hood to see what’s going on with the engine.  With dyslexia, you can’t just look at the scores and make a conclusion.