Make Social Learning Stick This Summer!

  • Elizabeth Sautter, M.A. CCC-SLP

    Summer is a great time to enhance your child’s social skills. Whether you’re sending your kids to camp, going on a family vacation, or just hanging out at home, your child will be spending time with other people in a variety of social situations. It is my goal and passion to partner with parents and caregivers by providing ways to improve and nurture social learning during everyday activities. With awareness and knowledge, as well as some basic tools and strategies, parents can embrace teachable moments and feel comfortable coaching children in social situations. Even with busy schedules, much can be done without making stressful demands or putting in extra time.

    Try to take advantage of the things you are already doing and to piggyback onto daily routines to foster growth. There is less pressure to get schoolwork done during the summer; hence this is a great time to think about supporting social and emotional skills by practicing some of the following activities:

    1) Making Memories: While on vacation, try to capture memories that your child will be able to describe to others. Take photos, and when you return, review the pictures with the child and practice telling brief stories so your child can share the experiences in the photos with friends and family.

    2) Vacation Tips: Whenever possible, include your child in developing vacation plans or daily activities. A schedule with written or visuals of what is going to happen and what is expected of the child will reduce anxiety and help the child feel more comfortable with new and unfamiliar events. Priming him or her through reminders of what will be happening and possibly providing a social narrative describing the event in detail can help set a child up for success.

    3) New Places, New Perspectives: When you visit a new city, state or country, teach your child about the culture or style of living of the people who live there. Help him or her realize that other people have different ways of living, which is a great way to build perspective taking. If you are not visiting others, take your child to a museum or read books about people that share different life styles, beliefs, etc.

    4) Car Games: Taking a car trip? Play “I Spy” and try to make “smart guesses” about what a person is seeing outside the car window and, therefore, might be thinking about. For example, “I see a place where people eat.” When your child says, “It’s a restaurant!” you can say, “Yes, now what do you think I’m thinking about?” Michelle Garcia Winner refers to this as “eyes have thoughts,” which is an essential skill for understanding the thoughts of others and developing perspective taking.

    5) Make Lemonade: Set up a lemonade stand in your neighborhood so your child can practice customer service with a smile. To help build conversational skills, practice greeting customers (e.g. “Hello, may I help you?” and “Thank you, please come again.”).

    6) Laundry Detective: Just because it’s summer doesn’t mean the house will clean itself. Give your child responsibility by assigning him or her a chore. One idea is asking your child to help you sort the laundry and play a guessing game. The child will have to guess which clothing items belong to whom. This activity will help with problem-solving skills and social detective skills.

    7) Snack time: Help your child make a surprise snack for the rest of the family. A summer treat like homemade popsicles is fun and easy to make. If possible, have your child determine the ingredients needed, sequence and make the snack, serve the snack, and watch the appreciation they receive from other family members. This is a great activity to beat the heat, and it also reinforces executive functioning (e.g., planning and organizing) and perspective taking skills (i.e., thinking of others).

    Social learning happens every day, all year round, and children need support to be able to bring learned skills into the home and community. Have fun as you embrace these opportunities for practicing essential social regulation skills this summer.

    Elizabeth Sautter, M.A. CCC-SLP is co-director and co-owner of Communication Works (, a private practice in Oakland, California, offering speech, language, social, and occupational therapy. She is the co-author of the Whole Body Listening Larry ( books. Her most recent book is Make Social Learning Stick! How to Guide and Nurture Social Competence Through Everyday Routines and Activities ( She can be reached at For more information, please refer to her website:


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