COVID-19: Get Ready for a Stay-at-Home Summer

Categories: ASD and DD, Child-focused; COVID-19 Topics

[This column was published in dozens of media outlets across the country.]

By Brittany Juban, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D

As the remote learning school year comes to a close for many children, and the COVID-19 pandemic continues, exhausted parents may be wondering how their families will handle the upcoming stay-at-home summer – especially if they have children with autism and other developmental disabilities.

One of the most important things parents can do for their children is to maintain a regular schedule and daily routine. It may be tempting to take it easy over the summer months, but too much unstructured free time can lead to boredom and an increase in problem behaviors for some children. If your child’s remote learning (e.g., Zoom calls, school-provided activities or materials sent home) is coming to an end for the summer months, now is a good time to think about activities you can add to his or her schedule that might replace some of those school-related activities. 

What else can families do to ensure that their children continue to learn this summer while also having some fun?

One good thing about summer is that you can add more outdoor activities to your schedule. Although many parks and playgrounds have been closed during the pandemic, you can create some fun in your own backyard. Here are a few ideas:

• Nature walks – children of all levels can participate in these. You might make a game of asking your child to identify objects during a walk such as cars, bicycles, flowers, birds, etc. They could also work on naming colors and practice counting. For example, how many red cars can you find? How many yellow flowers? For older or more advanced children, consider taking a nature book along for the walk and make a game of classifying different plants or animals that you may find.

• Scavenger hunts – these are also adaptable and can be fun for children of all ages. Consider asking your child to look for a number of items one at a time, or make a list of words or draw a series of pictures of things they can find in the yard such as dandelions, sticks, leaves, stones, and outdoor toys such as balls or sidewalk chalk.

• Obstacle courses – these can be simple or complex. You can create an obstacle course outside with household items. For example, you might put towels on the ground and then ask children to hop from towel to towel. Or you might set up a sprinkler and have children jump through the spray before they run around a tree. After a few practice sessions, your child may want to help set up a more complex course!

Inside, you can enlist your child’s help with everyday household chores and transform them into learning opportunities. He or she could practice counting while helping you set the table (how many forks and spoons?) or matching (can you make your place setting look like mine?). You might also work on teaching your child to follow multiple-step instructions: “First spread the peanut butter on one piece of bread; then spread the jelly on the other; then put the two pieces together.”

Learning doesn’t happen only in a structured, school-like environment. Learning by helping out at home can be fun for your child and may boost his or her self-esteem. It may take a little extra time to incorporate your child into your everyday activities, but it is well worth it.

If you are working on academic skills with your child this summer, remember to schedule regular breaks throughout the day. Give yourself a break too! When your child is enjoying a break by watching a favorite program or playing a game on his or her device, give yourself some time off too to relax and renew! 

And remember to give yourself credit for all that you are doing during this time of COVID-19. Our world and our lives have changed dramatically over the past few months and we are all doing the best we can. Most parents are doing a fantastic job and utilizing a lot of the parenting skills they already have. Keep up the good work!

Brittany Juban, Ph.D., LABA, BCBA-D, is a Clinical Director at the May Center School for Autism and Developmental Disabilities in West Springfield, Mass. She can be contacted at

May Institute is a nonprofit organization that is a national leader in the field of applied behavior analysis, serving individuals with autism spectrum disorder (ASD) and other developmental disabilities, brain injury and neurobehavioral disorders, and other special needs. Founded more than 65 years ago, we provide a wide range of exceptional educational and rehabilitative services across the lifespan. May Institute operates five schools for children and adolescents with ASD and other developmental disabilities, including one in West Springfield, Mass. For more information, call 800.778.7601or visit