The Problem of Summer Holidays and Working Parents

by: Alisa Fox Coleman, Director of Organizational Advocacy

It’s nearly the end of June. It’s the time that panicked parents ask themselves, “what am I going to do with my kid for the next two months?”

My youngest son is 10, he is the first of my four kids to go through the long and hot, two-month summer holidays while both of his parents are working full-time. We feel sorry for ourselves as parents, having to juggle child-care, and find answers to the problem of the summer. Most of us parents get 14-18 days of holiday each year. Summer holiday is 45 days – these are just  logistics but does anyone think about the summer from our kids point of view?

Going to school is tough, and I am not just talking about the academics. Peer pressure and teacher expectations are an ongoing challenge during the course of the year.

Holidays should not be about any of that.

Holidays are for fun and relaxation – all those adjectives we would use for taking a break from the conscious and subconscious struggles of the school environment. At least, that’s what I think holidays should be.

Holidays are also  a time for informal education. They’re for a different kind of educational experience – of equal importance to every child as the school year is. As a child and teen I remember waiting until my next camp experience. I made so many good friends at camp. I learnt about myself, and how to live and work in a group setting, first as a camper and then as a counsellor. If I could go back to camp tomorrow , I would.

Camp Shutaf Is an oasis of calm amongst the storm of yearly peer interactions . Quality counsellors, and a relaxed family-style environment with fun, low-tech camp activities.

Every child is treated as an individual with their own preferences, abilities, and moods.

When a child walks in to camp in the morning, whatever mood they may be in they will be greeted by counsellors who care,  staff who want them to be happy and have fun.

Sounds obvious, but as we all know as parents, camp is often like a factory – rushing kids on and off buses, and from activity to activity. Often, kids don’t feel good about themselves if there is an activity in which they are forced to take part. Or, it is run by counsellors who are young, and without the proper tools to deal holistically with the kids in their care.

On my vacation, I personally do not want to be forced to do anything that I don’t want to do!

So what is different about Camp Shutaf? Shutaf Inclusion Programs in Jerusalem offers inclusion day camps three times  a year during longer school holidays, for children with and without disabilities. Camp Shutaf’s biggest program is August camp. This summer, 135 participants, ages 6-23, will enjoy 3 fabulous weeks of day camp in Jerusalem.

Shutaf’s innovative, reverse-inclusion model combines a majority group of participants with varied developmental challenges (75%) with a smaller group of participants (25%) without disabilities.

How does this work you may ask?

Firstly, there is a long waiting list for the campers without disabilities.Shutaf’s inclusion ethos, professional program planning and staff training ensures an excellent program in an uniquely, accepting environment .The camp provides quality, personal attention , an inclusive and accepting atmosphere all of which you can only describe when you have seen it in action.

The counsellors listen to the needs of all the kids in their charge. Every kid has good days and bad days or days when they arrive at camp not in the mood.The difference is that their counsellors will listen and be patient and do their best to accommodate and be there for them.

When you do not label kids special things happen. All the kids are looked at as individuals with their own feelings and needs.

The counsellors are not told before who has the disability, they work on dealing with each kid in their charge individually.

Many professionals in the field of disability  have gone to visit Shutaf over the years, and they all admit that it is difficult to tell which are the kids with disabilities and which are without .

When you focus on kids having fun with an emphasis on peer- communication , everyone wins.

Honestly, I wish I could spend my vacation, doing fun activities in a chilled fun environment where people care about me.

Wouldn’t you?

I’m sure all of our kids would.

Alisa

More must be done for kids with disabilities

Original article from the Israel Hayom Newsletter on Monday February 25, 2013. By Miriam Avraham and Beth Steinberg.

February is Jewish Disabilities Awareness Month, a time when Jews around the world come together publicly to raise awareness and support for people with disabilities and their families. In Israel as well as worldwide, families and children are isolated and marginalized by disability; in their synagogues, schools, neighborhoods and workplaces. Fear, inadequate education, as well as a lack of meaningful opportunities for integration, prevent understanding and connection between people, an effort which must begin in childhood.

For Israeli families coping with disability, February is an anxious month as the lengthy Passover vacation looms only a few weeks away. Parents are faced with an impossible situation — close to three weeks of school vacation, with limited or no programs available for kids with special needs who can’t be left alone at home to cope like their typically developing peers.

And it’s not just during Passover vacation that this issue complicates the lives of families. Children and teens with special needs are in need of quality informal education programs year-round, especially during longer school vacations.

Who gets needed services in this country? Children with more significant disabilities benefit from longer school days and shorter school vacations but there’s a whole population of children and teens with special needs, many of whom are educated in special education frameworks, who are considered less needy by the Ministry of Education and the Ministry of Welfare. This population often lacks traditional developmental labels to describe their needs — they receive fewer services and their school schedules are much like those of typically developing children. After school and camp programs meant for typical kids don’t work for this group, which requires a more structured environment and individualized attention.

The issue is further complicated by government funding resources that are determined per child and per disability, an approach that often precludes inclusion of any kind. It’s simply easier to keep kids segregated according to their disabilities — in school and in after-school programs. With this model in place, after school often consists of a class of kids who are bussed to a local community center, or provided with activities in the building where they spent most of their day, an approach that limits all children socially and developmentally.

The government’s approach to this population in need is short sighted and ultimately flawed. A planned and proper investment of time and resources, along with a thoughtful informal education response for these kids and teens would help ensure their future success as capable adults in the greater society.

It is time that the Israeli educational system recognize the need and value for quality, informal education programs, a goal that will serve everyone — children with special needs along with their typically developing peers. The vast majority of existing informal education programs in Israel for children are unprofessional, often staffed by teens with limited training and mentorship, with a high camper-to-staff ratio. As for programs for children with special needs, the educational approach is far from therapeutic; in fact, it’s not much more than babysitting. Sadly, a huge educational opportunity is being missed.

This is not just Israel’s problem. Today, every country worldwide is challenged by the question of how to best meet the needs of people with disabilities. It’s time that the government and the greater community remember to include those members with special needs, as well as to provide quality services that promote mutual respect and understanding between all people.

The Jewish approach to disabilities has always been compassionate, although not always enlightened, held back by the push for success especially in modern times. As Passover approaches, let’s recall that the Jewish people’s most important leader, Moses, had a speech impediment, a special need that he felt cowed by when accepting the yoke of leadership.

Diversity is the key to a healthy, strong and just society. Let’s all join together and make it happen today.