The 5 Best Extracurricular Activities for Your Child with ADHD

parenting kids with adhd

Extracurricular activities can help ADHD kids learn to release stress, burn excessive energy, and maintain focus. Matching the right activity with the child's needs and interests is key. Here's a list of the top five activities for children with ADHD.

The Big Five

If you're looking for a way to help your ADHD child burn off extra energy, reduce ADHD symptoms, and even strengthen his or her ability to focus, stay engaged and follow through with tasks and assignments then check out the world of extracurricular activities. To help in your search, here are five of the top activities for children with ADHD.

1.) Sports

Sports are definitely at the top of the list when it comes to activities that motivate children to get up and go. Studies such as those in the Journal of Pediatrics have found that providing even 20 minutes of exercise a day can help children with ADHD improve mentally and socially. However, keep in mind that not just any sport will do. Each child with ADHD has a different set of symptoms that are unique to him or her. Because of this, the sport that works best for your child may not work best for your best friend's child. When looking for a specific after school or weekend sport to get your child involved in, try to find something that meets the following suggested criteria:

  • Find a sport that your child enjoys or has an interest in. If you're child isn't interested then he's not going to focus and put enough time and energy into the sport.
  • Look for sporting activities that are set up with a ratio of one adult for every five children.
  • Sports should be well supervised whether it's a group or one on one activity.
  • Outdoor components are a plus. For instance indoor swimming is great, but indoor swimming with a class or two in the outdoor pool is even better.

Sports can also be divided up into different levels including team, individual and natural sports.

Kids playing basketball.

Team Sports

Depending on your child's ADHD needs team sports may be more beneficial than individual sports. For instance, team sports can help build your child's social skills and ability to play well with others while at the same time providing physical activity to burn off extra energy and keep them focused.

Choose a team sport that doesn't allow for a lot of downtime. Baseball, for example, is not the best team sport for children with ADHD because it involves a lot of time sitting on the bench waiting for a turn at bat or standing around in the outfield waiting for the ball that may never come. On the other hand, basketball and soccer are fast-paced sports that require players to keep a constant eye on the ball and on their opponents. Look for similar sports that encourage frequent play throughout the game.

Individual Sports

ADHD children that need more one on one instruction may benefit from individual sports like martial arts, tennis, archery, track and field, and even wrestling. CHADD.org also highlights individual sports as a means for ADHD children to build what it refers to as islands of competence. For instance, martial arts is taught as a class, but it can be an individual sport as it allows kids to set their own pace for learning and memorizing step-by-step routines. Working on their own schedule, children grow in self-control, discipline, and respect of others. They build confidence that may expand to other areas of life.

Sports like track and field and even cross country running create opportunities for children to set goals, learn to pace themselves, and work to improve in persistence, stamina and determination.

Tennis is another sport that doesn't require teamwork. In fact, some experts believe hitting the tennis ball can be a great way to teach kids to focus as well as provide an outlet for releasing stress or frustration.

If you want to incorporate some important team building skills in your child's life, yet you also need to ensure your child receives individual coaching, then sports like swimming and gymnastics are great choices. Gymnastics, for example, involves teamwork, but focuses on individual progress. The sport itself also helps children develop their sensory skills, core strength, sense of balance and muscle awareness.

Kids hiking.

Natural Sports

When looking into possible sporting activities don't forget to include natural sports in your search. Studies show the more outside time your ADHD child encounters the better; research has demonstrated that an activity completed outdoors is more effective at improving ADHD symptoms than the same activity indoors. Natural or 'nature' sport activities include walks in the park, gardening, farming, hiking or backpacking, fishing, horseback riding, working with animals, etc. According to Childmind.org, spending time outdoors can improve overall mental health in children making them smarter, happier, more focused and less anxious or stressed than those who don't get outdoors much. Time outdoors is more effective in improving ADHD symptoms whether the activity involves a small or large number of children. This is something to consider if you're looking for ways to get your child involved socially, yet you still want to incorporate one on one time to help grow your child's confidence and skill.

2.) Music

Extracurricular activities aren't just referring to high energy sporting activities and events. Extracurricular actually refers to any type of activity outside of school, work and required volunteer activities. When searching for the best activity for your ADHD child remember that music can be highly beneficial.

Music actually requires your child to use both the left and right side of the brain at the same time while sports require the use of one or the other at different times. Learning to play a musical instrument or sing in a choir can help your child learn to multi-task. Being part of a band, orchestra or choir can also help children learn to build up social skills and become part of team.

3.) Drama and Art

If your ADHD child isn't interested in outdoor activities or sports then he or she may have an interest in the arts. Whether it's music, drama, or drawing there are lots of extracurricular activities geared towards helping kids to sharpen their skills and encourage creativity.

For instance, according to ADDitude, through the development of artistic skills such as drawing, painting, and sculpting, children can learn to work through emotional issues, develop social skills, learn better behaviors, release stress, and increase self awareness and self confidence. Art is often recommended for children with all kinds of learning disabilities including ADHD.

Drama or theater can also be beneficial for children with ADHD. Memorizing lines, attending rehearsals, and even being on stage at the right place and at the right time can help children in the areas of time management, setting schedules and routines, and learning to concentrate and focus on what's going on around them.

Cub Scout.

4.) Boy Scouts and Girl Scouts

Being part of the boy scouts or the girl scouts can help kids with ADHD learn to set goals and achieve those goals with persistence, hard work and determination. Many activities in these clubs require focus, attention to detail, and organization skills. They incorporate a variety of indoor and outdoor activities such as arts and crafts, camping, sports, etc. There's also badge earning, which motivates kids to learn new skills in order to receive awards and recognition.

5.) Old Fashioned Games

Sports and the arts aren't the only extracurricular activities that can provide ADHD kids with opportunities to release stress and improve in areas such as organization and self discipline. If your child is looking for something simple, laid back, yet competitive then look no further than the old fashioned games of chess, checkers, Chinese checkers, dominoes, Bingo and more.

For example, Bingo can teach children with ADHD to focus, pay attention and strategize. Games like checkers and card games can often be shorter which is great for kids with short attention spans. Frequent wins can also build self-esteem and encourage kids to keep playing and moving up to longer and more strategic games like chess.

Thumbs up for fun!

Keeping it Fun

There are numerous opportunities available when it comes to extracurricular activities. From sports to music and arts, to clubs and old fashioned board games, there's something available for just about every unique ADHD need out there. Encourage your child to help choose a sport or activity of interest. If it doesn't work out, don't worry, just take a break for a time or choose another activity. Remember to keep it fun for you and your child.

By Amanda Johnson
March 2017
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