A Summer Well Spent: How to Orchestrate Fun & Learning
Wondering what to do over the summer to promote relaxation, fun, and learning? Use these expert tips to help your child exercise their bodies and brains while setting and meeting rewarding goals during their break.
Summer is that tight wedge between a rock and a hard place. You want your child to relax and decompress after a long, arduous school year. But you also know that the summer slide is real — and that engaging and exercising their mind is critical.
Encouraging a child to read, write, and practice math over the summer feels a lot like nagging, though. We could all use a break from that, and what is the end goal of summer academics, anyway? Is there a balanced plan that keeps ADHD brains stimulated without inciting battles? In short, yes — and here it is.
What to Do Over the Summer: 3 Keys to Success
For a memorable summer that serves everyone’s needs, frame your summer plans around your child’s GPA – no, not grade point average, but Goals, Paths, and Activities.
1. Go for Goals
Your biggest task this summer is to help your child identify a meaningful goal and follow through on accomplishing it. Better yet, turn this into an activity for the whole family.
Grab some sticky notes and pencils, set a timer for four minutes, and ask everyone to answer these questions:
- How do you want to learn and grow this summer?
- What are the things you want to do?
- What are the things you want to accomplish?
[Free Download: 20 Secrets to a Smarter Summer]
When time’s up, have your family members go one-by-one to post their sticky notes to a poster board or a blank wall. Talk about their answers.
Finally, narrow down the sticky list of activities into two summer goals. Have each family member take one minute to think hard about these goals and write their answers in fresh sticky notes for the top of the board.
This collaborative activity is a fun, positive way to engage your child around their genuine personal goals — whether that’s beating a video game, joining a sports team, getting a summer job, mastering a new skill, visiting a certain location, or something else. It’s also a way for children to learn more about their parents’ interests. (For extra fun, complete this activity before your child.)
You want your child’s goals to be realistic, but you don’t want to be a critic. Strive to keep the activity light and to cheer on each person. Even if your child comes up with what seems like an outlandish goal, praise them for their creativity and ideas, and gently work with them to settle on a goal that can be realized in the summer months.
2. Plot the Path
No one can meet a goal without planning and organizing – critical skills for all children and teens. For youth with ADHD, these are especially important executive function skills.
[Read: How to Avoid Summer Learning Loss]
Demystify the big goals of the summer by breaking them down into smaller tasks. Spread these tasks and to-dos out on a weekly basis to help your child stay motivated. I find it helpful to plot out these tasks using a white board or simple planner. (For a free “Plot the Path” worksheet from Educational Connections, my tutoring organization, text “summergpa” to 554-44.) Either way, encourage your child to use a system that encourages them to track their progress.
As the weeks pass, check in with your child on their progress and frustrations. Plan a weekly family meeting where everyone can share triumphs and struggles. Avoid negativity during these check-ins. Don’t criticize your child if they didn’t take a step toward their goal that week. Don’t let perfection become the enemy of progress. Instead, ask the following:
- Looking ahead, how might you approach this week?
- What’s the first step you might take?
- Which day will you want to start?
Getting your child in the habit of planning, thinking ahead, and analyzing what works and what doesn’t in a low-risk setting will prep them to use these skills to tackle homework, projects, tests, and other school assignments.
3. Activities for Action
Don’t go overboard fitting educational activities into your child’s schedule. (If your child is heading to summer school, consider the academic portion of their summer taken care of. Focus instead on creating a positive, fun break for them.)
- Choose one or two areas of focus. Whether it’s reading, writing, math, or SAT/ACT prep, pick a reasonable commitment. No matter what you select, make sure that the activities are not too challenging and that your child is on board.
- Not sure what to pick? Ask your child’s teacher. To narrow down your options even further, ask the teacher to name one specific skill critical in the coming school year.
- Consider the review-preview approach – review core information from the last school year, and preview what’s coming up in the next. This method works well with students with ADHD, who are better able to pay attention to the material in the new school year.
- Set a time. Many kids focus best in the morning, and again in the late afternoon and early evening hours.
- Outsource supervision. If you’re worried that any talk of academics will create friction with your child, consider hiring a high school or college student in the neighborhood, a tutor, or an ADHD coach to lead the effort.
How to Build Up Core Skills
- Use engaging online resources like Khan Academy, IXL.com (better suited for middle and high school students), Arcademics (elementary school), College Board (for SAT prep), etc.
- If you want your child to take a screen break, use traditional math workbooks. Try to find a book that centers on a single skill or type of problem.
- Keep it short and easy. Have your child independently work on math for no more than 15 minutes a day. Consecutive days are ideal.
- Set up a work plan early in the summer. It’s tempting to give your child a long break from academics once summer starts, but it’ll be harder for them to take up practice after a break in routine.
This skill requires a tremendous amount of focus and working memory, which is why many kids with ADHD are reluctant writers. To counter this, encourage your child to write as much as possible with no pressure or fear of judgement.
- Use creative prompts to get your child excited about writing. Video Writing Prompts is a website that challenges visitors to come up with endings to video-based stories.
- Start a dialogue journal with your child. Think of it as writing back and forth through a single notebook. In the journal, note positive observations from the week and ask questions about the behaviors. For example, “That was a great pass in the second half of your soccer game. How did you know to pass the ball at that time?” You can exchange the notebook once or twice a week, and there are no hard rules about format, grammar, spelling, and/or punctuation – your child can use bullet points and even drawings. The purpose of this activity is to get your child used to expressing themselves through writing.
There are plenty of ways to introduce more reading into your child’s everyday life.
- Turn on subtitles. Whether they’re on YouTube or Netflix, encourage your child to watch content with captioning to improve fluency and comprehension.
- Refer to the school’s reading list. Let your child pick one or two books from the list – no matter if it’s the shortest book, a graphic novel, or one they’ve read before.
- Do a search on Amazon. We often enter specific items into Amazon’s search engine, but you can also search broadly for things like “books for reluctant middle schoolers,” “books for teens who like sports,” etc.
- Audiobooks are fine! Your child will still develop vocabulary and other skills as they listen to a fluent reader.
More Summer Tips
- Set screen time limits. Talk to your child about appropriate screen use and try to find common ground. If your child’s goal is to get as far as they can on a video game this summer, ask them how long they expect to play every day, and agree on a time. You may be able to set up a system where your child can earn more screen time as they do chores, work on academics, and take on another project that doesn’t involve screens.
- Choose your battles. Don’t worry about errors, illegible writing, and the like. If your child is clearly rushing through their work, have them pick up a book or do another academic activity until the clock runs out. Usually, this trick will help kids slow down when they realize the timer dictates their quitting time.
What to Do Over the Summer: Next Steps
- Free Download: Choosing the Perfect Camp for Your Child
- Read: Clever Ways to Stem Learning Loss This Summer
- Find: 15 Summer Activities That Build Stronger Self-Esteem, Independence & Academics
The content for this article was derived from the ADDitude Expert Webinar Make a Summer Comeback: How Students with ADHD Can Regain Lost Academic Ground and Have Fun [podcast episode #357] with Ann Dolin, M.Ed., which was broadcast live on June 2, 2021.
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