Summer Camp, Hands-On!

by | Jul 13, 2021 | ADHD | 0 comments

Camp seemed like a given for my child with ADHD.  What could be better than the freedom to chase lizards on a nature trail, splash in a pool, or do arts and crafts with other campers?  At least, that’s what I thought until Lee’s first day. Join me in a blog where Lee and I discover what it takes for a camp to engage a child with ADHD

Dust rose as I nosed my car into a tight space in a small dirt parking lot. Day one of nature camp in the Santa Monica Mountains, advertised as a place “where children could interact and learn about nature” had come to an end.  Rolling up my windows, I sat in the quiet, thinking of a year ago.

My husband and I’d enrolled Lee in a day camp that emphasized hiking, arts and crafts, and swimming in the community pool.  It had seemed the perfect fit for our hands-on 11-year-old daughter with ADHD who loved nature.  Then she returned from her first day, and our bubble burst.

“Mom, I tried, I really did.  But they wouldn’t let me leave the trail, even to catch a lizard.  They said it’s against the rules!”

“Maybe if you give it time…”

“I won’t go back!”

Another casualty from Lee’s sensory processing disorder, commonly associated with ADHD.  Her hyper-tactile sense, that desperate need to hold lizards, skim her fingers over rosemary bushes, or inspect a toad, had ruined camp.  She spent the summer in our back yard, on her hands and knees, free to explore.  Still, I wanted her to experience camp and the greater outdoors, as I had done in the Sequoias so many years before.  

I left my car and walked over to rickety stairs that led into an old historic house, the camp’s headquarters.  Lee caught sight of me and ran over, her hands full.  “Mom, mom!  Look what I found.”  She opened her hands to reveal a tiny skull.  “It’s a vole.” 

Connie, the camp counselor and conservationist in charge of the kids. walked over, her boots clomping on the old wood floor.  “Your daughter is something else,” she said. 

I tensed.  Had Lee lost control of her impulses?  Had she wandered off the trail away from the group, found the skull, and stuck it in her pocket?

“She showed all of us things on the trail we never would have seen otherwise.  A hawk’s nest, a praying mantis case high in a tree, snake tracks…you name it, Scout found it.”

My shoulders relaxed.  “Scout?”

“Come on, you never thought of it before?  She’s Scout, from To Kill a Mockingbird, sure as I’m standing here.”

“Mom, we dissected owl pellets,” Lee exclaimed.  “And there were pieces of mice in the pellets the owls had eaten!”

By the end of camp, Scout was assisting the group, shoulder to shoulder with Connie.  She’d made emergency shelters from wood branches for survival and helped clean up a Malibu beach.  Her backpack held a jumble of bones, rocks, feathers, and turtle shells or treasures, as she called them.  With a summer full of hiking in the mountains and swimming in the ocean, Lee was in her element.  In the years that followed, she became a camp counselor there.

If your ADHD child is also hypertactile and you’re struggling with finding the right camp, consider looking for one which allows her hands-on learning and discovery.  Here’s a link for The Complete ADHD Camp Guide from ADDitude magazine:




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