Campfire Confidence: ADHD Summer Programs That Build Skills and Confidence
These ADHD summer camps offer more than canoe trips and S'mores. Here's how three ADHD boys built up self-esteem, social skills, organization, and academic strategies at sleep-away camps that made a difference.
Shira Nayman says that her son Lucas' ADHD makes him easily distracted, and that this inattention factors heavily in choosing a summer camp for him. "I wanted my son to have all the adventures that spirited boys enjoy, but in a safe environment. He's fun-loving and active, but I worried about his safety at a mainstream camp."
Distraction wasn't Shira's only consideration. Having him -- and his ADHD -- be accepted and appreciated were also high on her list. "We sent him to another camp when he was younger, but the counselors were nasty to him. They'd say, 'All the other kids can stay organized, what's wrong with you?' I never wanted him to feel that way again. Luc deserved to go to a camp where they'd see him as a smart, able little boy who has trouble with certain things."
Shira thought that the Learning Camp, in Gypsum, Colorado, was the perfect fit. The motto at the Learning Camp is: "We celebrate you and help you function."
"I wanted Luc to learn at summer camp that some things in life are going to be a challenge for him, but he can't use that as an excuse," says Shira. "If he wants to be a scientist, he has to learn to compensate — and not say that it's hard. I also wanted him to learn to celebrate who he is — and not to wish he were a different person."
Luc loved summer camp. "He took part in lots of old-fashioned stuff, like marshmallow roasting and telling ghost stories. He turned a truck into a float for the Fourth of July parade, dressed up for '80s night, and had adventures going white water rafting, rock climbing, and hiking."
It wasn’t all fun and games. Campers worked three hours a day on academics. "Luc had a wonderful teacher at camp, who gave him a game plan for what to work on during the school year," says his mom. "Luc came home a more compassionate person, with a stronger sense of self and the ability to rise to a challenge.
"Luc told me after he returned home, 'Mom, it was the adventure of a lifetime!' This cracked me up, since he was 10 at the time! When I asked him if he would like to attend a science camp the summer after, he said, 'I want to go back to the Learning Camp. They really understand me there!'"
Life Is Good – Again
Nolan Turner, age 13, has ADHD and dyslexia, and struggles with executive-function deficits. Traditional schooling wasn’t meeting his needs, so his parents put him in the Academy at Soar, in Balsam, North Carolina. After a semester there, they signed him up for Soar summer camp last year.
"We hadn’t considered a boarding school or a sleep-away camp for Nolan," explains Martha Simmons, Nolan’s mother. "But one of his teachers called the house, looking for incomplete homework assignments. Nolan turned to his dad and asked, 'Can my life get any worse than it is?' That's what made us consider camp. Life shouldn't be that bad for a 12-year-old."
Since Nolan’s mother was familiar with the Academy at Soar, she was confident that Nolan would benefit from its summer camp. "We hoped the program would help him with his executive-function deficits, disorganization, and self-esteem challenges,” says Martha. "Soar met these challenges through outdoor activities and strict academics. Nolan was empowered, and he went out of his way to help the new campers, who were unsettled about being away from home."
Soar offers adventure activities for kids who feel they can’t succeed. Outdoor adventures, like rock climbing, gave Nolan the confidence to try other things. He also enjoyed the responsibility the camp counselors assigned him. At Soar, a child has a different leadership role each day. One day he might have to cook, another day he might have to clean. Nolan discovered that he liked being in charge of creating dinner menus and cooking for his campmates.
Nolan also learned strategies to help him get organized and complete schoolwork. "As soon as Nolan came home, he said, ‘I need a watch and an alarm clock,’ and gave me a list of other items he would need to stay on task!" says Martha.
Everyone in the family noticed Nolan’s new can-do attitude, especially his siblings, who wanted in on the fun. They will be attending Soar later this summer.
You Gotta have Friends
Julie Bloomer's 12-year-old son, Ryan, had gone to a summer camp sponsored by the local recreation department. It didn’t go well.
"The kids complained about him — 'Ryan did this or that' or 'Ryan won’t leave me alone,'" she says. "So we thought that a camp for kids with ADHD would benefit him. We wanted the camp to work on Ryan’s social challenges, to build up his confidence, along with helping him learn to react appropriately in different social situations.
Ryan's academic challenges were also on Julie’s summer-camp to-do list. Ryan forgets things he learned during the school year, so reviewing academics was important.
Julie decided on Camp Kodiak, in Ontario, Canada, which has a range of programs to meet both goals. It has swimming, tennis, canoeing, overnight camping, fishing, as well as opportunities to interact with other campers. Ryan worked at putting on a play and participating in sports that downplay competition. "He loved the fact that the camp emphasized cooperation, not competition."
Ryan sent his mother a letter from camp. "He told me that he missed me but was having a great time," says Julie. "Then he listed his favorite things to do. It meant a lot to me knowing that he was having a good time!"
Camp Kodiak encourages the kids to keep up with campmates after they return home. Everyone in the cabin gets a list of names and contact information for everyone else — and Ryan has stayed in touch.
"Family and friends have all noticed how much Ryan has matured," says Julie. "Ryan's teachers comment on his progress, too. He seems to be working so much harder in school. Ryan grew up a lot over the summer."
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