Summer Slide Prevention In Children with ADHD
By Ezra Werb, M.Ed.
Summer should allow kids and parents to recharge, but depending on how this school year went for your child—and how much learning loss occurred—a summer slide may seem inevitable. For many, interventions like private tutors, in-school support, and summer programs are not monetarily or logistically feasible. And most parents are not equipped to be academic intervention specialists.
To bolster specific areas and skills that need work, teachers have traditionally assigned homework packets to help students review during the summer. If your child struggled during remote learning, thick packets like these—online or on paper—aren’t likely to help, and will probably lead to yelling matches. As an educational therapist, I’ve found that summer is an ideal time for students to engage in high-interest, project-based learning. Let me share some examples.
Reading with a Personal Twist
I once worked with a student with ADHD who hated reading but loved horror movies. For his summer read, he picked a comedy/horror novel that set the “Faustian bargain” story in a high school. I’d never seen this student so engaged in reading. We had conversations about characters and themes in a way that had been near-impossible. I’ve seen reluctant readers improve their fluency and comprehension over the summer with Pokémon books, the Diary of a Wimpy Kid series, and even Stephen King novels.
Writing Projects to Spark Your Child’s Interest
Instead of assigning standard essays, how about encouraging your child to do a book review in a medium of her choice? She can make a video blog or a podcast or a slideshow. These days children are adept at using video and audio recording, whether on a laptop, tablet, or phone. She could also write fan fiction or adapt scenes from her book into a screenplay. It all depends on her talents and interests. But what about writing? In my observations, reluctant writers often jump at the chance to write out scripts for themselves to deliver on video or audio. This doesn’t feel like schoolwork, and it works with their strengths. And it is really fun! If your child is into drawing, perhaps she can work on a graphic novel version of her book, summing up key scenes with short paragraphs and writing new dialogue for characters.
Math Tasks That Add Up for ADHD Students
There are many ways to get kids to learn and practice math skills. Speak with your children and brainstorm project ideas that correspond to the skills they need to practice.
How about a baking project to help a student explore fractions? He could compare different recipes for the same treat (chocolate chip cookies, anyone?). To make sure there’s enough for all family members, he can increase the ingredients by multiplying the fractions. He can figure out how many cookies to bake by dividing possible totals of cookies by the number of family members.
To practice area and perimeter, she can use graph paper to design her dream home, drawing each room on the paper to certain size specifications. If she’s a LEGO fanatic, she could use those for the same project. I once used players’ football stats to help a college freshman—a huge NFL fan — in his statistics course. Sports data could become a whole project for a student studying percentages, averages, and coordinate grids.
You could challenge your child to develop a business plan based on her interest. Have her draw up a budget, determining the percentages to allocate to different materials and resources. She can figure out what to charge and calculate her potential monthly profits.
Science Projects: Turn Home into a Laboratory
Science, by definition, is all around us. It doesn’t matter what specific branch your child is learning—it’s all applicable to real-world projects.
For ecosystems, he could grow his own plants, start a compost, or identify the flora and fauna in the yard or neighborhood. To learn about evolution, he could do research on your household pet and figure out how Buddy evolved and came to be domesticated. Or he could design a pack of original animals who have evolved in interesting ways.
If she’s into sports, she could study the physiology of athletes and how they train their bodies to maximize performance. If she likes video games, she could analyze the physics of the characters and gameplay and determine how realistic a game is. For chemistry, there are all sorts of household experiments she can do. Anyone want to make ice cream or create a volcano?
Parents as Project Managers
We want our students to re-engage with learning after a tough, remote-schooling year. Project-based learning encourages students to explore concepts in a real-world setting, allowing them to problem-solve and give the content more meaning. Parents can work as “project managers” to help kids set goals, make schedules, and follow through on deadlines—building executive functioning skills, self-esteem, and self-discovery.
Project-Based Learning This Summer: Next Steps
The idea is straightforward: Students learn best when they’re participating. PBL does this by engaging students in an extended inquiry process structured around complex questions and carefully designed tasks. At the core of each PBL lesson is a driving question that is critical to the curriculum and leads to constructive investigation.
Project-based learning is defined as experiential learning, not just reading about something. It means getting involved with real-life issues, such as ecology, politics, social change, the arts, science, asking probing questions, investigating timely problems, researching topics thoroughly, and then creating projects or outcomes that reflect the acquired learning.
During summer vacation, when your child or teen might be looking for something to do, ask him what in the world he’d most like to find out. He may change topics a few times, and that’s okay. Topics might include your family history, outer space exploration, dinosaurs, a social issue (like feeding the poor), famous sports records, a historical event (like the Civil War), the life of an admired person, a foreign country, a political issue (like abortion), creating a collection of bugs (or coins or stamps), learning how food is processed, or a favorite animal.
Give your child or teen space somewhere in or around the house to serve as his project place, and provide (or point him toward) the resources he needs to explore his topic. Include a bulletin board, where he can post ideas, images, and articles to help him in his quest.
Steer a middle path between leaving him completely on his own and taking over the project. Gently guide him in exploring his topic, let him take the lead, but offer your support and suggestions as needed.
The process of engaging in a project is more important than the final product. If he does a final project, don’t evaluate it with either praise or criticism; instead, ask questions about the content of the project. By pursuing a project that fills him with enthusiasm, he’ll develop his ability to plan, think critically, express himself creatively, communicate with others, and make decisions. Such a project is worth a thousand worksheets! A final outcome for a project could take the form of a video, a poster, a display, a map, a photo montage, a written work, a three-dimensional construction, a multimedia presentation, or it might manifest in some other way.
PBL can foster independence by trusting students to take charge of their own learning and by preparing them for real-life projects at school and work. It can help students learn the following: autonomy, social skills, self-regulation, self-esteem, motivation, problem solving, self-efficacy, critical thinking, and time management. PBL often benefits students with ADHD and learning disabilities who struggle in a traditional classroom, in part because it allows teachers to strategically pair students with complementary strengths and needs. #
Ezra Werb, M.Ed., is the author of Teach for Attention! A Tool Belt of Strategies for Engaging Students with Attention Challenges, is an educational therapist working with students with attention deficit, learning challenges, and spectrum disorders.