Published on January 28th, 20141
Summer Camp With a Twist
This past July, the clinicians at Tellit-Dire, a private speech therapy clinic in Montreal, were hard at work running another successful speech and language summer camp. Now in its 16th year, the camp offers many hands-on activities that you would find at a typical summer camp, including gardening, cooking and dancing. With weekly art, music and magic shows added to the mix, campers were able to experience the joys of summer camp while continuing to work on their speech and language goals.
What happens at summer camp?
Our campers, whose ages range from three to seven years, come with a diverse set of diagnoses including speech and language delays, developmental delays and social-pragmatic disorders, with many children on the autism spectrum. Campers are grouped by age, individual goals and needs. A speech-language pathologist (S-LP) leads each group, with help from S-LP graduate interns who come from all across North America to work at the camp as part of their clinical placements. In a typical three-hour day, campers participate in a variety of language-based activities, such as circle time, role play, storytelling and vocabulary- and grammar-based activities usually revolving around a central theme. This year’s themes included the five senses, emotions, outer space and occupations.
What are the benefits of hosting a summer camp?
The group therapy model allows for multiple language and communication skills to be targeted at once, which is important when working with a group of children who have diverse intervention goals. A single activity such as making chocolate pudding can target requesting, describing, sequencing, question formulation and following directions. In another group, campers might role-play scenarios related to different occupations to learn specific vocabulary and work on reasoning, problem solving and narrative skills.
The intensive therapy model makes it easier for clinicians to target multiple goals at once, as well as to strengthen the children’s learning of a single goal through multiple activities. Daily attendance helps consolidate learning and maintain the momentum of progress, reducing the likelihood of regression. All aspects of camp can be considered a teachable moment, from snack times to bathroom breaks to getting ready to play outside — anything and everything is a speech or language goal waiting to happen.
Summer camp creates an environment where children are encouraged to apply their social language skills to real-life situations. Our campers learn to develop friendships and resolve conflicts while building self-esteem in a safe setting. According to one parent, camp provided “an opportunity to improve [my son’s] vocabulary and verbalize his thoughts … he has gained confidence in communicating with others.” With weekly outings, campers are able to generalize their newly-learned skills with their peers, as well as with new partners in the community at large.
For those of us in private practice who do not have the opportunity to take summers off, organizing a summer camp is a fun and welcome alternative to traditional treatment methods. “Kids are excited to see their camp friends every morning and eagerly anticipate circle time, when they get to see the visual schedule and find out about the upcoming day’s theme and activities,” believes one author, an S-LP who has been active in the camp since 2006. “It can sometimes be difficult to see the progress my students are making during the school year when I only work with them on a weekly or bi-monthly basis, so it’s like a breath of fresh air to hear from parents who call to tell us about the amazing strides their kids have made during camp and in the weeks following.” New to the clinic this year, a second author also found that switching focus to running the camp could be a great way to prevent burnout, since it allows therapists the opportunity to think in creative new ways.
What are some helpful hints for running a successful summer camp?
Running a summer camp can be challenging. The key is to be as prepared and organized as possible, while remaining open and flexible throughout the process. Be prepared to make modifications throughout the camp session. Group dynamics can vary and it might take a few tries to find the best fit. To ensure that the speech-language goals are relevant and up-to-date, we recommend that each child has a recent evaluation and attends a screening session to determine eligibility and group placement. Hosting a speech-language summer camp can be a refreshing alternative to the traditional private therapy model of one-on-one or group intervention. The warm weather and child-friendly attractions associated with summer can be an opportunity to apply speech-language skills to fun, everyday activities. Speech and language therapy does not need to be contained within the four walls of a therapy clinic. With many of our campers returning year after year, Tellit-Dire’s speech-language summer camp has become a much-anticipated annual tradition for campers and clinicians alike.
About the authors:
Stephanie Finkelstein, M.Sc.(A), S-LP(C) is a speech-language pathologist working in English, French and Yiddish in Montreal. She graduated in 2005 from McGill University’s speech-language pathology program, is registered with L’Ordre des Orthophonistes et Audiologistes du Quebec (OOAQ), holds certification with the Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC) and The Hanen Centre. She currently works in pediatric private practice at Tellit-Dire and Club Tiny Tots, as well as with various schools through Agence Ometz. She loves using her performing arts background to create fun therapy sessions for her varied caseload and particularly enjoys her work with children on the autism spectrum, as well as clients with voice disorders.
Dan-Que Pham, M.Sc., S-LP(C), is a speech-language pathologist based in Montreal, Quebec. She is a recent graduate of Dalhousie University’s speech-language pathology program in Halifax, Nova Scotia. Dan-Que is a certified member Speech-Language and Audiology Canada (SAC) and is registered with L’Ordre des Orthophonistes et Audiologistes du Quebec (OOAQ). She currently works in pediatric private practice at Tellit-Dire and with various schools through Agence Ometz, and refers to herself as “the resident iPad nerd”.
Left: Tellit-Dire campers at one of our outings at a local community garden.
Upper right corner: Children dig in and explore their senses while mixing compost for the community garden.
Bottom right corner: A role-play activity about rescue workers as part of our “occupations” theme.