Winter Break--the Good, the Bad and the Silly

‘Tis the season, and Winter Break is almost upon us.

Teachers, therapists and students alike will all have time off from daily routines, established transitions and normalcy as we know it will cease to exist. Those of us in the special education community know all too well that a well intentioned 2 week break can be anything but relaxing for a child—or family, that craves sameness, consistency, and the norm.

So what is a parent/caregiver to do?

Not all of us are graced with extended vacation with endless time to engage our vacationing littles—many of us only have the statutory holidays off and the littles end up in any combination of grandparent, babysitter, nanny, or seasonal camp care. The absence of consistency is based on convenience alone—but try explaining THAT to your routine-driven little monkey.

In a time when family gatherings are frequent and chaotic, established eating patterns are replaced with haphazard offerings (“surely he/she can have candy canes for breakfast—after all, he/she IS on vacation”), caregivers vary by day and for some, location may change altogether...(road trip anyone?) here are some ways to keep the calm without losing your cool.

1. Free-time...yes! Free-for-all...NO! Of course your little monkey deserves a break from OT, SLP, ABA/IBI, school, playgroup, social skills group, or otherwise therapeutic endeavors—but a word of caution, just because you’re allowing ‘free time’ doesn’t mean you have to do-away with regular rules and expectations that are in place to help your child—not limit his/her overall amount of joy or glee.

Free-time means a break from prescribed therapies and school, it means time to ‘be a kid’ and engage in age/developmentally appropriate activities. Free-time means making time for the kinds of activities you don’t otherwise have time for: Finger painting, sensory exploration, art-making, being silly, dressing up, community outings, movie dates, baking, and pretend play. By now you may be realizing that free-time for your little one doesn’t mean much free-time for you (or whoever is entrusted with the care of your child). Yes, play is fun—and yes it is work ...but it’s really important work.

It’s important that you maintain some structure, even if it’s just by ‘scheduling’ a few sequential play tasks in an afternoon, or planning outings/adventures that create a sense of purpose.

Free-time is supposed to be fun, but it’s not supposed to be a free-for-all.

It doesn’t mean you have to allow free-access to all those most desirable items you usually limit for good behaviour and it doesn’t mean you have to facilitate endless hours of TV, YouTube or IPAD time. Kids learn through play—it keeps them learning, engaged and most importantly helps them maintain social and communicati