15 Summer Activities That Build Stronger Self-Esteem, Independence & Academics

Summer vacation offers a critical opportunity for whole-child growth — a time for our kids to improve their skills and self-esteem by pursuing passions, accepting challenges, and building on gains. Follow these strategies, developed by summer program directors who specialize in children with learning challenges and ADHD, to help your child shine.

illustration of beach ball on beach wearing black graduation cap

Summer brings a welcome respite from the routine and pressures of the school year. But for kids with ADHD, the lack of structure is stressful. Worse, children with learning challenges can lose the educational ground that they gained during the previous 10. “The challenge during the summer months is to maintain the progress the child made in the school year while exploring new experiences and having fun,” says MacLean Gander, professor at Landmark College, in Vermont.

ADDitude asked summer program experts for their best strategies to help parents maintain their children’s skills in a range of areas — leadership, social skills, academics — during the summer months. Here is what they had to say.

Help Your Child with ADHD Build Leadership and Self-Esteem

#1. Highlight the leadership roles you partake in daily, whether it be at work, at home, or in the community. “Children can use their downtime in the summer to shadow you to see how your leadership skills are put into play in real life. Encourage older children to partake in their own leadership opportunities through volunteer work, organized team sports, and so on.”
Samantha Curiale-Feinman, M.S. Ed., TSHH, Director, New Frontiers in Learning, New York

#2. Have your child practice speaking up for himself. “Younger children can order their own food at a restaurant, while older children can schedule their own doctor’s appointments and answer questions the doctor may ask about their health during the appointment. Children who are confident in their communication skills are more comfortable asking for help and advocating for themselves.”
Samantha Curiale-Feinman

Help Your Child with ADHD Gain Independence

#3. Foster independence by assigning your child a problem to solve. “Give him an egg, 20 straws, and a roll of tape to build a contraption that allows the egg to be dropped from a height of five feet without cracking. Avoid the impulse to help, discuss what worked and what didn’t, and try it again. The less you offer, the more obvious his success will be.”
John Willson, Executive Director, SOAR Camp, North Carolina

[Get This Free Resource: Guide to Choosing the Perfect Summer Camp for Your Child]

#4. Nurturing independence can be accomplished through empowerment. “Consider having your child create a schedule for one of the days on the weekend, or plan a family date night. Once you have listed any concerns or additional parameters to include, she can complete the plan for your approval.”
John Willson

Help Your Child with ADHD Practice Social Skills

#5. Role-playing is a wonderful way to practice social skills in advance of the real thing. “Set up a scenario that your child may encounter, role-play such an encounter, and discuss. Sometimes I like to switch it up and have the kids play the part of the other person, and let me demonstrate how they might react to a given situation.”
John Willson 

#6. Practice giving “put-ups.” “People like getting compliments and friends enjoy being lifted up rather than being torn down. Help your child develop a list of common compliments she can draw from. ‘Wow, that was a great job!’ or ‘You’re really good at that,’ or ‘Thank you for being so nice to me.'”
John Willson

#7. Set reasonable summer social goals that make sense developmentally for your child. “This may mean scaffolded play dates for younger kids (with parent monitoring, so that it is integrated rather than parallel play), setting expectations for activities out of the house (camp, community events, volunteer projects, and the like for an older child), and agreeing on limits on screen time during summer days.”
Brian Lux Director, Camp Sequoia, Pennsylvania

[Read This Next: Stop the Summer Slide]

#8. Have children learn to “tune in” and notice a conversation theme, idea, or other social dynamic. “This can build the social muscle for becoming a great social observer and participator. Being able to focus, for as little as 15 to 30 seconds at a time, is a baby step that will yield big changes over time.”
Nakia Hamlett, Ph.D. Clinical Psychologist, The Glenholme School, Connecticut

Sneaky Ways to Bolster Academics for Children with ADHD

#9. Reading is both a skill and a habit, and it is important for a student to continue to read during the summer. “Set a target of 30 minutes to an hour of reading each day. Keeping a reading log is a low-effort way to encourage this. Build in a reward system, if necessary, to motivate her. Let your child choose her own reading material, including graphic novels, if that is what she’s interested in. Likewise with writing, having your child keep a journal is a great idea, committing to 10 to 15 minutes of writing a day. Writing stories can also be fun, and something you can collaborate on with your child.”
Professor MacLean Gander, Landmark College, Vermont

#10. Don’t lose sight of what made the school year successful. “If your child used a planner for the school year, reinforce the habit by asking her to use one during summer vacation. Have her keep a calendar to chart when summer activities start and end, the date by which back-to-school shopping needs to be done, and so on.”
Lesley Gibbs Director of Enrollment, Rectory School, Connecticut

#11. Look for opportunities to do academics on the go. “If there is a content area, such as social studies or science, in which your child struggled during the school year, find ways to build in some regular academic work in that area during the summer. Introduce some hands-on activities — such as examining garden soil under a microscope, or letting him be the chief navigator in the car, using Google Maps. Identify readings or lessons the student can work on a couple of days a week to make up for what he missed in the previous year or to prepare for the coming term.”
MacLean Gander

Learn ADHD Life Skills

#12. Create routines that can be completed, and expectations that can be met, on a consistent basis. “Set up a routine that is logical for your child, easy to remember, and something he or she can accomplish independently (eventually). If your child’s bed must be made before he eats breakfast, clearly explain this expectation and consistently enforce the rule. He may need help to understand the steps involved with making his bed properly, so direct instructions from you will be needed. Be sure to recognize his effort and successes along the way as he works on mastering all the steps.”
Ilana Stoch, Camp Kodiak, Ontario, Canada

#13. Make life-skills learning fun! “If your child has a sweet tooth, find some recipes that she will enjoy creating with you. When she has developed some skill in this area, hold a “bake-off,” in which you both make the same dessert (while adapting the recipe to create a unique flavor—e.g., adding spices, fruits, chocolate chips, marshmallows, or other treats that aren’t in the written recipe). A friend or another family member can judge the results.”
Ilana Stoch

#14. Build summer structure. “Too much free time in the summer overwhelms kids and parents. It can also make it hard to transition to structured activities when it is time to go back to school. Keep your child and family anchored by having at least one consistent, scheduled activity that you and he or she can rely on every day — a five-minute morning exercise routine or 10 minutes of required reading before you head to the pool.”
Stephanie Lee, Psy.D. Senior Director, ADHD and Behavior Disorders Center, Child Mind Institute, New York

#15. Celebrate goals achieved. “Social and emotional goals can get lost in the summer shuffle, and it is easy for parents to forget to acknowledge a child’s gains and progress. Start a ‘good behavior brag book’ or a ‘shining star journal.’ Set a weekly reminder in your phone as a prompt to ensure that you add and review with your child times when he demonstrated pro-social behaviors. Share these “wins of the week” with extended family, so that your child knows how proud you are of his sharing, patience, and help with chores.”
Stephanie Lee

[Watch This Video: Stop the Summer Learning Slide]

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