Share this page:

Homeschooling: Special Needs
Your Child’s Challenge Can I Do It? Resources Find Help The Law FAQs

March 2016 Newsletter

Plan Now for Summer Fun

Joyce Blankenship Joyce Blankenship

By Joyce Blankenship
HSLDA Special Needs Consultant

Spring is just around the corner, and now is the time to begin making plans for summer! Will your family explore an unfamiliar beach, experience summer camp, or take a trip to a new theme park?

If you have a child with special needs, finding a summer opportunity that welcomes and accommodates your child can be a challenge. I would like to highlight some exciting summer camp adventures and fun theme park activities that are available to families with special kids.

Joni and Friends

Joni and Friends Ministry offers retreats where special needs families receive support and encouragement in a safe and accessible camp environment. In addition to enjoying fun, fully accessible, and age-appropriate activities, parents and children have the opportunity to develop relationships with other families who understand the challenges of life with disability.

Attending a retreat can provide time for a family to spend together in a safe and accepting Christian environment, making memories and experiencing new adventures together.

Throughout the year, Joni and Friends will host 25 family retreats in 18 different locations around the country. Family retreats can be found internationally, too.

Each location offers unique amenities, and activities such as swimming, climbing walls, horses, game rooms, hiking trails, boating, and playgrounds.

Joni and Friends recommend registering as far in advance as possible. Registration for family retreats in the U.S. opened in January of this year. Although the retreats are held during the summer months, many reach capacity early in the year.

Jill’s House

Jill’s House, located in Vienna, Virginia, serves children with intellectual disabilities between the ages of 6 and 17. This Christian non-profit organization is dedicated to providing support for families raising children who have special needs through short-term overnight care and activities. The activities at Jill’s House are carefully planned to meet children where they are at, and include swimming in the indoor accessible pool, making crafts, playing on the specially equipped playground, shooting hoops in the gymnasium, and celebrating birthday parties. My volunteer experience has shown me that Jill’s House provides a safe and loving environment for children to make new friends and experience new learning situations.

Jill’s House offers year-round weekend adventures, which allow children ages 6 to 17 to experience a fun, and safe weekend retreat while also allowing respite for their families. There are currently five weekend adventures locations: Lake Arrowhead, serving Los Angeles, California; Hill Country, serving Austin, Texas; Valley of the Sun, serving Phoenix, Arizona; White River, serving central and northern Indiana; and finally Blue Ridge, serving the greater Washington, D.C. area. For more information, click here to fill out the welcome form, or email

Summer day camp programs are available to those involved in the weekend respite program at Jill’s House. Unfortunately, there is a waiting list for the day camp program for summer 2016. You can visit this link to get the registration process started for summer 2017.

Camp Discovery

Held on the campus of Shepherd’s College, Camp Discovery is for intellectually disabled children and teens. Shepherd’s College is a Christian post-secondary school designed specifically for young adults with intellectual disabilities, and is located in the small village of Union Grove, Wisconsin. Campers participate in a variety of fun activities such as crafts, swimming, volleyball, basketball, boating, lake days, and visits to the zoo. Counselors are available 24/7 to assist campers in every aspect of camp life and to help them discover their God-given potential while fostering and growing appropriate independence.

This summer there are three weeks of camp are available:

June 27-July 1 (age 18-25)
​July 11-15 (age 13-17)
July 18-22 (age 13-17)

For more information, visit Shepherd’s Ministry website.

Morgan’s Wonderland Theme Park

For a vacation that the whole family can enjoy together, plan a visit to Morgan’s Wonderland in San Antonio, Texas.  With inclusion as its guiding principle, Morgan’s Wonderland was designed with special-needs individuals in mind and built for everyone’s enjoyment. Offering more than 25 attractions including wheelchair-accessible rides, playgrounds, gardens, a catch-and-release fishing lake and shaded picnic area, this theme park admits all special-needs guests free of charge.

If San Antonio is too far away for you, check out Project Angels Fares. This non-profit organization was created to help deserving families who live significant distances away from Morgan’s Wonderland by providing  free transportation and lodging for a four-day, three-night trip to this unique and colorful theme park. Contact

Camp Benefits

Camp can provide lasting benefits for all kids, and children with special needs are no exception. A weekend or weeklong camp can help your children become more independent, as they learn to do more things for themselves and how to ask friends for help. This boosts communication and problem-solving skills. Camp offers increased physical activity for our kids. Many kids with disabilities or chronic illnesses miss out on the health and social benefits that exercise brings because they are more sedentary and don’t have the opportunity to participate in sports or physical activities that their peers do.  Camp provides a variety of activities such as swimming, wheelchair racing, volleyball, tennis, or basketball. Not only do these bring immediate health benefits (such as increased cardio-vascular health and muscle tone), but can help your child to develop lifelong healthy interests. Perhaps most important of all, camp allows great opportunities for kids to develop friendships and learn appropriate social interaction, leading to enjoyable experiences with peers.

Once you choose a summer camp that you believe will be a good fit for your child, here are some things you can do to help your child prepare for and adjust to their upcoming experience:

If your child has not been away from home often, arrange for an overnight or weekend stay someplace where the child is comfortable, like a good friend’s or relative’s house

If your child has a fear of new experiences, walk him or her through what a day at camp might look like. Look online at pictures of the camp, and discuss the activities your child may like to try. This will make the camp seem more familiar when your child arrives

Work with your child to practice communication and/or verbal skills.

Discuss healthy food choices and portion control.

Talk to your child about hygiene and bathroom planning.

Share with camp counselors a few key phrases that your child responds to or uses.

Send one of your child’s favorite objects as a reminder of home, such as a stuffed animal or pillow, or have your child bring a photo album that he or she can look at when missing home.

Inform counselors about your child’s bedtime routines.

Below is some additional information on camps and theme parks for kids with special needs. HSLDA does not endorse any particular camp program or theme park; it is up to you as a parent to thoroughly evaluate the camps and theme parks presented in this article.    

Other theme parks that do an excellent job of accommodating people with special needs are Disneyland and Disney World, Sea World San Diego, LEGOLAND in Carlsbad, CA and Holiday World in rural Indiana.

Comments/Suggestions | Disclaimer | Advertising