Summer time and structure? Yes, this combination can help maintain fun and learning for children with (or without) ADHD

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By Cynthia Marple

Summer time means fun time. Children are free from strict school schedules and homework. Many families load up their cars for road trips or head to the airport to begin an extended vacation. On the flip side, nearly three months of unstructured time can feel completely overwhelming. Some academics will slip due to lack of practice. Budgets will limit how many trips a family can afford, and what started out as fun trips to the pool can become routine. The key to dealing with the challenge of tackling the wide open days of summer is setting a structure that makes time for fun, academic practice, and social interaction.

Pools, Public Libraries, and Learning:

I have two boys, one is six and the other is eleven. They are full of energy and easily bored. Fighting the easy allure of all day screen time for my “Texas Tornadoes” is hard. One thing I find helpful is to check the local libraries for summer events such as reading trophies or story times. Last summer, the Fort Bend County library system had a summertime reading program with four levels of prizes. Each level required the child read, or to have read to him/her, five books. The rewards, in order, were a bookmark, a pencil (last summer it was a color changing pencil – very cool), a certificate, and, once twenty books are complete, a trophy. This was a fun way to complete suggested summer reading lists. My boys and I are looking forward to the type of pencil and style of trophy that can be earned this summer!

I also buy a book for each of my children to use to get ready for the next school year. Many retailers offer these books and completing a page of math and a page of reading each day during the week takes a short time. Make it fun with a sticker chart and simple rewards for accuracy. Take Saturday and Sunday off so weekends remain distinctive and homework free.

Given the heat in Houston, my family tends to go to the park or the pool early, both to avoid crowds and the hottest sun. Many subdivisions or apartment complexes have pools as part of the complex or neighborhood. Also, check for local community pools or parks run by counties, cities, townships, the State or other entities. Some Harris County community pools even offer free swimming lessons. Make an effort to visit every free pool you can in the Houston area. A change of scenery can add excitement.

A typical schedule in the summer for Monday through Friday includes a morning trip to a pool or park, then a page or two of academic review before lunch. After lunch, I allow for screen time and reading. This also gives me a chance to catch up on chores. After screen time, we may go to the library to check out more books or play a board game together.

Going social in the real world – no screens needed:

All children benefit from structure in the summer. And, if a child has ADHD, structure is vitally important. According to WebMD, ADHD can cause a child to:

  • be easily distracted
  • constantly in motion
  • talk excessively
  • appear not to listen
  • interrupt or intrude on others
  • fidget or squirm
  • be unable to complete a task

All these symptoms combine to make the difficult tasks of making friends and succeeding in school even harder.

My cousin’s son has a vivid imagination and loves robots. So much so, that he will talk about being a robot and having robotic parts. Many other kids just think he is weird and want nothing to do with him. So, instead of learning how to talk to other children, he retreats deeper into his imagination and becomes angry. Added to the imagination is ADHD which adds even more “irritating” behaviors like constantly interrupting others, fidgeting and getting distracted.

The bigger the group, the harder it is for an ADHD child to focus. Scheduling a one on one playdate is a great way to work on social skills. Sit down with the child before the date to remind him/her to work with the other child. Encourage him/her to be open to new ideas and talk with the other child. This has helped my cousin’s child get along well with my boys.

Teaching concrete non-verbal cues to your child will help him/her notice when another child has lost interest or is nervous. Take turns acting out boredom by rolling your eyes and looking away. Have your child guess what you are feeling. Then ask the child to mimic an emotion with his/her face and body language. Practice how to read other people’s body language and facial expressions. This will give your child real world practice and more confidence.

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ADHD children are not insensitive – the condition makes it very hard for the child to focus and stay on task. As a result, the child will miss non-verbal cues that would help him/her adjust. Acting out scenarios and practicing conversation helps all children feel more relaxed.

If the child realizes the audience is getting bored or feels ignored, he/she can change the topic or ask the other child a question. Social “give and take” is a tricky skill regardless of whether a child has ADHD. This is also very helpful for shy children like my older son.

One skill that is important to remember is to ask the other person questions. Ask them what they like to do. And then listen – don’t just wait for a pause to start talking. The most charming person in the room is the one who listens to every word and asks questions or makes comments that clearly show she heard what you said.

So when you see the three months of summer looming ahead, instead of feeling overwhelmed, take charge by planning and creating a routine so that you and your child feel empowered. What strategies to you use for summertime structure? Please share your ideas in the comments section!

Additional Resources:

Local Library links:

Public Pools:

Summer Enrichment for ADHD – Additional Resources:

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