Call It the ‘Summer Swell:’ 4 Clever Ways to Reverse Learning Loss

Worried about a summer slide? Think creatively to stimulate your child’s curious, clever ADHD mind over the long vacation and prevent learning loss. Try these fun activities to start a new tradition: the summer swell.

The summer slide is real and hard on kids with ADHD.

Let’s talk about that dreaded summer slide.

It’s real — and it’s hard on neurodivergent kids, especially those who have ADHD. Without the structure of school, they tend to drift. Learning often screeches to a halt as the siren song of screens lures them to Mario Kart and Minecraft, TV and TikTok.

Two months later, they have forgotten the academic material they worked so hard to master all year. Parents are stuck re-teaching. Kids are stuck re-learning. It’s a blow to their self-esteem. And, as we know, our kids need all the school encouragement and motivation they can get.

Some parents try to stave off the summer slide with worksheets and brain-building books. But imitating school invites ugly battles. Our kids might loathe traditional lessons, but deep down, they’re learners. They’re doers and movers. Most of all, they’re curious. My three boys, all with varying degrees of ADHD, would willingly waste all summer on screen time. But I manage to keep them reading, writing, and learning by playing to their strengths. Here’s how.

How to Beat the Summer Slide

1. Make Screens Work for You

We live in a golden age of game-based learning, with programs that reward kids for accomplishing academic tasks. Learners are incentivized to work on math problems, read history texts, study science experiments, and more. Many of these programs include a social component — kids can make friends while adhering to parental controls — and a reward structure that unlocks in-game fun with every completed academic task. My 10-year-old learned to type last summer because he wanted avatar swag.

Growing gamers may also enjoy online coding classes. Most start from the basics and work up to more complicated computer languages. My 12-year-old quickly caught the gist of Roblox coding. Now, rather than play games, he and his bestie work collaboratively to develop them.

[Download: Free Guide to Brain-Boosting Video Games]

2. Get Outside

We know children with ADHD require outdoor time. But banishing them to the backyard quickly becomes a big yawn. Instead, we scour our area for parks, nature preserves, and kid-friendly hikes. Since sedate woodland walks quickly morph into forced marches, we tote supplies — lots of them. If there’s water, we plan for wading. If there are low-branched trees, we plan for climbing. If there are berries, we plan for picking.

We almost always bring nets. The kids scoop up everything from mayflies to minnows and, with our packed field guides, we do our best to identify the organisms, or at least narrow them down by kingdom, phylum, class… you get the idea. Those field guides also help us decode animal prints, pin down tree species, and name a minimum of 20 birds per hike.

3. Don’t Police Their Book Choices

Maybe your child hates reading. But maybe your child, like many kids with ADHD, actually hates reading what they’re told to read. Ask my 10-year-old to plow through My Brother Sam Is Dead (#CommissionsEarned) and he’ll throw an epic tantrum. Hand him a college text on evolution and he tumbles into hyperfocus. If your children pick their own books, you may be shocked by their sudden motivation and reading-level advances.

Many reluctant readers are tempted by graphic novels — and before you scoff, graphic novels today aren’t the comic books of yore. Every kid in my house, including my 8-year-old, has devoured The Olympians (#CommissionsEarned), a series of accurate myths of Greek gods and goddesses. Nathan Hale’s Hazardous Tales (#CommissionsEarned)are torn and tattered (my kids rolled their eyes when I mentioned the Korean War because, duh, there’s a Nathan Hale book about it). Your local librarian would be delighted to point your kids toward books that play to their interests.

[Read: ADHD Summer Reading Guide]

4. Make a (Beach) Bucket List

Have you ever taught your child the basics of good photography, then turned him loose? We tried this in our downtown area, and now my oldest is a budding Ansel Adams. If your kid adores the family dog, enroll them both in an obedience class and put her in charge of puppy practice. Try planting an edible garden. Learn to tie-dye. Bake cakes. If you pick something you’ve never done, you can share some valuable bonding time with your kiddo.

Take some risks! Many areas have indoor climbing gyms and introductory classes. Tempt your child with a skateboard. Do martial arts. Check your area for fencing clubs. Try out diving. My kids love to kayak and canoe; fishing is another favorite. Maybe these new activities will keep your kid interested, learning, and stimulated. Give it a shot. But don’t be discouraged if they try a new skill, then bow out. Sometimes, it’s worth pushing through. If my kids want to stop because a challenge annoys them, we keep going. But if they genuinely dislike something, I let them quit.

Preventing a summer slide is about more than memorizing math facts. Play to their strengths. Let them move. Allow them to pick their own path. Kids who have ADHD may struggle in the classroom, so don’t replicate it at home. Instead of handing them worksheets, give them a chance to love learning. Your kid’s curiosity and creativity might just surprise you.

Avoid the Summer Slide with ADHD: Next Steps

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