Encouraging Summer Math and Reading for Kids with ADHD

By Dr. Mary Rooney, Ph.D.

Summer gives kids with ADHD the opportunity to take a break from the pressure and hard work that comes with staying focused and on-task all day long. They have more time to explore their creative side, burn off their extra energy while playing outside, and become absorbed in activities that they truly enjoy. Given how challenging school can be, many parents of kids with ADHD want to provide them with a complete break from academic activities over the summer. As tempting as this may be, and as important as non-academic activities are, some academic learning is necessary to avoid a summer learning backslide. Studies show that on average kids lose up to 2 months of math and up to 1 month of reading over the summer. Engaging in educational activities over the summer can help prevent summer backsliding. Unfortunately, many kids with ADHD will push back against these activities in large part because of negative experiences they have had throughout the school year. As a parent, how do you get your child to read a book or practice his or her math facts without engaging in a summer-long power struggle?

  1. Start with clear expectations. Let your child know that summer represents a break from school, but not a break from learning. Describe the summer backslide and explain that by reading and doing math problems over the summer he or she can help his or her brain grow stronger so that school will be easier when he or she returns in the fall. Develop a summer learning schedule and share the plan with your child in advance. It may be helpful to also highlight the amount of time he or she will spend on fun activities, like attending camp or going to the pool, so he or she can clearly see that the entire summer isn’t being consumed by academic tasks.
  2. Set goals and track your child’s progress. Even with the best of intentions, very few kids will be satisfied with learning for learning’s sake over the summer. Set clear goals for daily academic activities and give your child the opportunity to track his or her progress. Seek out summer learning programs that focus on building specific academic skills and monitoring growth and progress over time.
  3. Be a role model for your child. Set your own summer learning goals and share them with your child. Your goals can be simple, like reading for a few minutes every day or spending time each week learning something new about an interest you would like to explore. Set goals for yourself and share them with your child. You can both track your progress together.
  4. Set your child up for success. Much of the stress that kids with ADHD feel during the school year comes from struggling to keep up with their peers and hold their own in classroom settings that aren’t designed for their learning style. Counteract these negative experiences by providing your child with the opportunity to experience academic success in the summer. Set initial goals that are easily achievable, like completing math worksheets that are quite simple, or reading books that are well within his or her current ability level. Then gradually make the goals and academic material more challenging. Aim for targets that are just ahead of where your child is at currently, but are still within his or her reach.
  5. Praise and reward effort. Spending time on math and reading over the summer, and working to achieve academic goals will be challenging for most kids with ADHD. Let your child know that you recognize his or her hard work and praise his or her effort. If your child needs extra motivation, then consider offering activities or privileges that can be earned for achieving his or her goals.

Encouraging kids with ADHD to participate in reading and math over the summer isn’t always easy. So, make a solid plan, set clear expectations, be a good role model, and praise and reward their effort. The payoff will be great when their school year gets off to a great start in the fall.


Mary Rooney, Ph.D., is a licensed clinical psychologist in the Department of Psychiatry at the University of California San Francisco. Dr Rooney is a researcher and clinician specializing in the evaluation and treatment of ADHD and co-occurring behavioral, anxiety, and mood disorders. A strong advocate for those with attention and behavior problems, Dr. Rooney is committed to developing and providing comprehensive, cutting edge treatments tailored to meet the unique needs of each child and adolescent. Dr. Rooney's clinical interventions and research avenues emphasize working closely with parents and teachers to create supportive, structured home and school environments that enable children and adolescents to reach their full potential. In addition, Dr. Rooney serves as a consultant and ADHD expert to Huntington Learning Centers.


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