Outdoor Adventure Camp Experiences for Kids with ADHD

J Wilson

The great outdoors is a natural treatment center for ADHD.

In a national study published September 2004, researchers Frances Kuo and Andrea Taylor indicated that “Green outdoor settings appear to reduce ADHD symptoms in children across a wide range of individual, residential, and case characteristics.” This point is further emphasized  in the book by Richard Louv “Last Child in the Woods,” where he introduces the phrase “Nature Deficit Disorder.”

As the Executive Director for SOAR, an outdoor adventure camp and school specifically serving youth diagnosed with ADHD, I am often asked the question “What benefit will my child gain from attending this type of program?”

Let me begin by asking you to do a simple exercise:

Think about a place of serenity, healing and rejuvenation. Can you visualize it?  More than likely, you thought about an outdoor setting — maybe with a stream, or the wind rustling through the trees. The outdoors can be an amazing place to nurture the human spirit.

Choosing the right summer experience for your child can be a daunting task. Camp can and should be a time for children to have fun, expand their abilities, and learn more about their potential. Unfortunately, for many children diagnosed with ADHD, the experience can be fraught with disappointment, anxiety, and frustration. However, the right summer camp adventure may help your child develop problem-solving skills, effective communication strategies, increased self-awareness, and social skills. 

Outdoor Adventure Programs

Outdoor adventure programs offer a wide spectrum of activities that foster communication, creativity, and ingenuity. They are designed to empower children to make healthy choices, learn more about themselves, overcome challenges, and relate lessons learned from these experiences to other aspects of their lives back at home.

For example, they develop:

  • Life Skills: Camp can be an amazing place to learn and practice important life skills for children.  Campers have a chance to make new friendships, which give them an opportunity to practice important social skills. 
  • Problem Solving Skills: Children will encounter an array of opportunities to foster new problem solving skills, and to gain a measure of independence.
  • Relationship Building Skills: Camping provides the opportunity to practice relationship building, and offers wonderful chances to make life long friendships.
  • Leadership Skills: While at camp, most programs have systems in place to allow students to rotate responsibilities, ensuring all children have an opportunity to explore their leadership potential. 
  • Communication Skills: A summer camp experience gives young people a chance to learn to work together effectively, acquiring skills in group activities . 

 
New Areas of Interest: Let’s face it, time is a commodity, and during the school year there is only so much exploration that can occur. Many kids today don’t get a chance to be outdoors nearly enough. Possibilities include: climbing, hiking, canoeing, rafting, SCUBA diving, snorkeling, horseback riding, surfing, high ropes courses and zip line tours.

Transfer of Learning

In our camping adventure programs, we use an approach called the metaphoric transfer of learning. These are experiential opportunities where students participate in an activities, then discuss them and how they relate to real-life. 

For example, students climb a cliff. Then during reflective discussions, they look at the link between skills used during the climb, and similar skills needed to navigate friendships. For instance, the safety rope attached to a climber is a great representation of the trust relationship between children and the people who support them. Therefore, we take extra care to be careful with ropes, as we should with those relationships.

This kind of life lesson is just one of the great gifts that outdoor adventure can give to children.

The Learning Continues into Adulthood

The benefits of adventure camping do not end with a child’s transition into adulthood. I recently attended the wedding of a former camper.  When she saw me she rushed over and screamed “Big John, you came!” She looked so beautiful on this important day, and I was so impressed with how far she had come. Her parents joined me and reflected about the girl she was. Her mother expressed, with tears in her eyes, “We couldn’t have done it without you. We never thought this day would come.” 

You see, camp isn’t just a way to fill time in the summer. It’s a wonderfully unique opportunity to help children develop their potential, nurture their spirit, and provide a platform to launch their development. Perhaps the greatest compliment I have ever been given came from a camper who simply stated “At SOAR, I get to be the person I will someday become.” 

When you find the right camp for your child, the result can be increased self-esteem, a new-found sense of independence, and a magical place where children can get to be the person they will someday become.

 

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