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“The Joy of Summer Fun, Year-Round: Lessons from Lockdown with 6 ADHD Kids.”

“Like most families, we never looked forward to the end of summer, knowing what it would mean for our children. But I learned something at the outset of the pandemic that we’ll be applying to the upcoming school year and beyond for our ‘summer children’.”

We piled into the car at dawn. All six of my kids — the same ones who usually can’t get up in the morning, and who can never find their shoes as the school bus is pulling up — were uncharacteristically ready to go.

What caused this miracle? One word: motivation. We were headed on an excursion to the Dead Sea, a remarkable wonder of nature where one can easily float in a huge, salty body of water. My kids, eager to experience it, got up early, helped load the car, packed the picnic, and promised not to fight in the car. Motivation will do that to kids.

We hiked and explored the next day. It was steaming hot, and it was hard to convince everyone to leave the air-conditioned house and switch off their screens. But when we entered the embrace of Mother Nature, it was magical! My kids were touching everything, climbing over most things, finding (and jabbing each other with) porcupine needles, and researching which plants and trees were edible and which were deadly.

After the hike, we took a guided tour of a local Druze community. I smiled as, once again, my kids touched everything, asked all the questions, walked in lock step with the fascinating tour guide, and learned more about history and culture in one afternoon than they normally would in a full school year.

In the days that followed, tension formed in the pit of my stomach. Summer will soon be over, I realized, and with it the joy my kids experience for two solid months every year.

Perhaps I should call my brood “summer children,” as they come alive in this time.

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The Promise of Summer

Summer kids love to learn. They love to experience with all of their senses. Summer children are creative, smart, strategic, energetic and incredibly happy when given the space to shine. When motivation is high, they will get up early and go to bed late so that they can develop their unique skills.

Then the school year begins, and all the magic fades.

Summer kids learn through experience, informal settings, movement, and expanse — elements often missing in traditional classrooms. The kid who bounced out of bed to hike during vacation can’t be dragged out of bed when his alarm clock rings for school. Why face another day where all his weaknesses are emphasized, and all his strengths ignored?

This is when life goes south for parents. We spend the school year pushing our kids with ADHD up proverbial mountains, coaching, begging, scolding and punishing them along the way.

It doesn’t have to be this way.

[Read: Vacations Are Supposed to Be Fun, Right?!?]

Life on Lockdown

Like most families, we never looked forward to the end of summer, knowing what it means for our children.

But I learned something at the outset of the pandemic that we’ll apply to the upcoming school year and beyond for our “summer children.”

As schools were figuring out “distance learning” (a euphemism for the gaping divide where no learning happens) at the beginning of lockdown, my husband and I allowed our children to get creative. We expected some traditional daily learning, like math and reading. Other than that, our kids got to choose what they wanted to learn.

Without realizing it, we had brought our typical structure of summer fun to the middle of the school year.

One of our kids did loads of science experiments and read every book in the house. Another built a car with his friends out of metal structures and scraps. Another turned the house into a gym and got really “buff,” while another became an online yoga instructor. One learned to edit videos (a project that involved the whole family as we filmed adorable shorts for her to edit). My littlest one became a pro slime maker.

We all did Cross Fit together every day, with me as the trainer. Besides learning how to get along (which was a project in itself), we also all developed new skills and built confidence in our particular specialty. There were a few blips along the way (mostly me on the verge of losing my sanity from the sheer amount of cooking and cleaning this “program” required), but perfect is never our goal.

Lessons from Lockdown

While we must not forget about the kids who seriously struggled during the pandemic (and are continuing to), I believe there is much to be learned from those who thrived in this strange time.

We discovered under lockdown that motivation and structure are essential for success. They are the keys that help strike the balance that our summer children need to thrive year-round so that their amazing traits and skills emerge.

Along with motivation and structure, the right environment for summer children must include these components:

  • External structure: Vital for our kids with ADHD because they have not yet developed the mechanism to create it themselves. We all got up at the same time daily and followed a morning routine that included chores.
  • Limited screen time: Our kids are drawn to these devices, so we must set clear boundaries so they don’t suck up the whole day. During lockdown, screen time was limited to a family movie in the evening only.
  • Movement: Our kids desperately need to get green time and lots of vitamin D.We got outside every day, even just to jog within a 500 meter-radius from our home – the extent that our government permitted at one time.

Motivating Summer Children Year-Round

As a new school year approaches, use this model to inspire your child and get them in the right state of mind for learning.

  • What does your child love to do? Do they build things? Paint? Play sports? Dance? Whatever the activity, make it a permanent part of their life throughout the school year – not just over summer break.
  • Get your child’s morning structured with external motivation. Set up a routine that clearly states expectations (like brushing teeth, dressing, eating breakfast, etc.), and allot points for every item completed. Discuss possible prizes for points and be consistent about paying out the prizes.
  • Use the weekends to get out in nature or engage in experiential activities. No malls or stuffy indoor activities please! Summer kids need nature to thrive!
  • Get screens in check. Too much screen time can make for agitated, fussy kids. Reducing screen time will be a labor-intensive project for a couple of weeks, but your kids will soon catch on and find other activities. (It can be very helpful to write a list of social, creative, and active options with your child before setting new screen reduction rules.)

Here’s wishing all parents and their remarkable summer children a productive and enjoyable school year!

Summer Fun: Next Steps

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