Saving Summer with Structure

Combine fun and structure to give children with ADHD the best summer ever. Parents and experts reveal how to boost smarts and avoid boredom during the lazy days of summer.

Boy with ADHD having breakfast, sticking to routine during the summer

Children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) do better when they know what to expect — and what’s expected of them. This is especially true of younger children, who are quick to shout, “I’m bored” if there isn’t something going on every second.

So, what can a parent do to make sure their kids’ and pre-teens’ days are filled with structure and fun activities this summer?

When thinking of what to do over the summer, experts agree that it’s important to exercise a child’s body and mind. “Children can lose a lot of what they’ve worked so hard to gain during the school year,” says Jane Hannah, Ed.D., author of Parenting a Child with Attention Deficit/Hyperactivity Disorder. Plan some regular activities to give them a boost. Decide whether you and your child can do them on your own or whether he would benefit from a tutor, a specialized camp, or a workshop. Reinforce academic accomplishments with fun rewards — bowling, visiting the playground, swimming.

Parents’ Best Boredom-Beating, Brain-Boosting Summertime Tips:

Create summer routines and schedules. Don’t wait for your child to ask for direction. Post a weekly schedule of planned activities, along with blocks marked out for free time. As new ideas occur, fill in the free-time blocks. List everything — from casual, open-ended activities, like reading or time on the computer, to structured ones, like cooking projects.

Try summer activities that spark creativity and boost self-esteem. They should satisfy your child’s natural curiosity about the world and encourage her inquisitiveness. Walking a nature trail or doing art-and-crafts projects at the local community center are good options. Children gain a sense of fulfillment and personal pride from acquiring new skills.

Plan for at least one success a day. Make sure your child gets to do at least one thing he’s really good at — or loves — every day. It could be creating something out of Play-Doh or playing the kazoo. And set aside a special time each day for him to tell you about it.

[Special ADDitude Collection: Summer Learning Ideas for Kids with ADHD]

Use technology to entertain. There are many kinds of software designed to amuse and educate your child. These include games that call on science or geography knowledge, brain-teaser puzzles — you name it.

Give your child a say in his day. Put your child in charge of some free time every day. His choice might be to swim, ride a bike, read comic books, or watch TV. Once he gets the hang of it, he might even want to schedule stuff that’s not so fun — like chores.

Have “family” fun. “It shows your child he’s loved and that he’s OK just the way he is,” says Ann Cathcart, founder of the Learning Camp, in Vail, Colorado. “It also tells him that he’s so great that you want to schedule time just to be with him. It can be playing a game or going on a family outing or vacation together. It’s all good.”

Give them time to dream. Even the most energetic kids need downtime. Help them find a hobby for quiet times, such as keeping a summer scrapbook or starting a collection — of photos, drawings, bugs, bottle caps, whatever. If he is a slow starter, schedule dream time in the morning, and save structured activities for the afternoon, when he’s more focused.

[Free Resource: Choosing the Right Summer Camp for Your Child]