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Chattertots Annual Summer Camp

A big challenge for families of children with Down Syndrome can be how to fill the summer holidays.  As children with Down Syndrome get older the gap between them and their same aged peers increases, and therefore it can be difficult (if not impossible) for them to participate in the same groups as their peers.  Almost all children with Down Syndrome have constant adult support at school for their safety and well being, but mainstream clubs can find it very challenging to find suitably trained people to offer this, and then there is the issue of funding the additional cost.  But without activities the children can get bored, and their skills start to regress.

For this reason, every year, Chattertots holds a summer camp for school aged children in Berks and Bucks with Down Syndrome.  The majority of these children attend mainstream school and therefore are often the only child in the school with Down Syndrome.  So the camp fills an important purpose in enabling them to build friendships with children with the same challenges.  Summer camp also gives us the opportunity to provide intensive speech and language therapy and therefore make a step-change in a child’s ability.

The 2023 Summer Camp took place at Waltham St Lawrence School at the end of July and was run by Symbol UK Ltd. Symbol UK provided speech and language therapy staff, and also recruited a number of volunteers to support.  These included students of Speech and Language degrees and young adults with Down Syndrome.

The camp cost approximately £10,000.  Parents made a contribution for each child and we were very grateful to secure funding from the David Brownlow Charitable Foundation and National Lottery to fund the remainder of the costs.  

The topic for the week was ‘healthy habits’. We used this to talk about the different things we do to feel good and safe, within our body and mind such as exercise, sleep and diet, talking about our feelings and having friends that make us happy. We targeted different types of words using this topic including nouns, verbs and adjectives.

Over the week children participated in a range of activities including:

• Team games

• Making fruit kebabs and healthier cakes

• Creating healthy habit posters

• Singing and signing a song about healthy habits

• Making ‘healthy’ food with playdough

• Making ‘healthy habits’ superhero capes

• Yoga

• Sports

Summary of speech and language therapy input

Each child  worked with a number of Specialist Speech and Language Therapists from Symbol UK. Over the week  we focused on a range of speech, language and communication skills including:

·        Visuals to support articulation of speech sounds and clarity of words: It is harder for children with Down syndrome to work out how to say certain sounds or words by just hearing them. Modelling alongside the presentation of visuals can support their awareness of how to make certain sounds. In our therapy sessions we used visuals to show certain mouth shapes to help ‘see’ how sounds are made, as well as cued articulation and sound cards.

·        Phonological awareness for reading and language acquisition: though research is varied, we know that there is relationship between reading and awareness of phonemes in our children with Down syndrome. In our therapy sessions we used visual charts to help see how a word is structured and how we need to say it. Charts included syllables and initial syllable sounds, as well as awareness of ‘onset and rime’ (this is a term used in teaching literacy. In a word such as ‘pat’, ‘p’ is the onset and ‘-at’ is the rime. By changing the onset sound, the meaning of the word is changed).

·        Sequencing and Narrative: In therapy sessions we a visual chart to format what we want to say so that it is organised and is easier for the listener to understand. Alongside this we provided pictures and written text to help record our sequences.

·        Learning new concepts: This week we targeted the concept of ‘healthy’: healthy living and healthy friendships. We used a range of visually supported activities to enable us to talk about what is in a healthy lifestyle (food, exercise, sleep and plenty of water), as well as healthy friendships. In our therapy sessions, we thought about who our friends are, what makes a good friend and how good friends make us feel.

·        Learning new vocabulary: We have targeted different types of words related to ‘healthy habits’ so we can model how these link together in phrases and sentences.

·        Emotions: Talking about and being able to think and name what makes us feel emotions is important. It helps us think about situations whether they are negative or positive and to learn how we respond and what we can do next if needed. Children were supported to share how they felt in response to different activities and interactions with prompting and facilitation.

·        Social interaction skills: Focusing on turn taking, listening & responding skills in the group support the development of the skills needed to engage in conversations, play and learning with others.

·        Building and extending sentences: We have used written sentences to support the formation of a range of sentence types. Using Shape Coding, pictures and symbols alongside the written word also helps to support the development of reading skills.

We are very grateful to our funders (David Brownlow Charitable Foundation, National Lottery), Symbol UK staff and volunteers and Waltham St Lawrence Primary School for their part in ensuring we held another successful camp.


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