It’s Amazing What Camp Does for Kids with ADHD


Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada

This article first appeared in the April 2015 CADDAC (Centre for ADHD Awareness, Canada) newsletter.

By Rob Deman & Donna Segal, Directors of Camp Kennebec

Parents and experts agree that non-medical approaches to ADHD, like a summer at camp, play an important role in helping children and teens with ADHD cope, manage and thrive!In February, Camp Kennebec hosted a talk entitled Striving at School, Thriving at Play at the University of Toronto by two ADHD experts, Drs. Doron Almagor and Brenda Miles. Dr. Doron Almagor is a child and adolescent psychiatrist who recently opened The Possibilities Clinic in Toronto, and Dr. Brenda Miles is a pediatric neuropsychologist and children’s book author. Dr. Miles began by discussing non-medical strategies for boosting children’s striving at school and thriving at play. Dr. Almagor, an expert in ADHD, continued by dispelling common myths about inattention and hyperactivity, and explored medical options for children and teens whose striving and thriving is challenged by inattention and difficulties regulating behaviour. (For a follow up interview with Dr. Miles & Alamgor, please click on this link.

In this article, we’d like to follow up on their talk, by offering you our first hand observations as Camp Kennebec’s directors, of the lasting benefits we’ve seen from a summer at camp for kids and teens with ADHD.

Top Benefits of Summer Camp for Kids & Teens with ADHD

Fresh Country Air, Sunshine & Being Physically Active Uses Energy

The most obvious, but often overlooked benefit of a summer at camp is that campers expend so much energy each day, having so much fun that they are exhausted by bedtime! Being physically tired, after a great day is one of the best non-medical approaches we’ve ever seen to help kids manage their ADHD. Campers sleep well when they’ve walked several kilometers each day to activities, games, and adventures. Interestingly, campers often take this increased interest in physical activity home with them, giving parents one more non-medical way to help kids and teens with ADHD thrive.

Effective and Fun Ways to Learn Self Control

Here are a few examples of how campers unintentionally learn self-control and patience at camp:

  • Speaking quietly, acting calmly and moving slowly and deliberately around horses, so campers earn the horses’ trust
  • Focusing intently, standing still, and concentrating to aim a bow and arrow at an archery target
  • Learning the proper sequence for using a safety harness, and following a specialist’s instructions, so campers can try our climbing wall

Increase In Self-Esteem and Self-Confidence

Camp is a wonderful opportunity to gain confidence and self-esteem in a supported, structureImage-2d environment. Through a system of merits and other acknowledgements, we privately and publicly recognize camper accomplishments. Sometimes accomplishments are activity-based like getting up on water-skis, trying the zip line, performing in the talent show or passing a swim level. Other times we recognize self-control improvement such as completing an academic assignment, improved cooperation or respecting rules. Our third category of “merits” are the ones where we recognize empathy such as helping out at an activity, caring for younger children, being a good friend, and comforting another person.

Growing Independence

Overnight camp is the first chance many kids have to be away from home for an extended period. We offer a high degree of choice so that campers must make their own decisions on how to spend some of their activity time. It’s amazing how quickly campers begin to thrive on the freedom that comes from making their own decisions based on their preferences, skills and talents, without parent, teacher or medical involvement. Interestingly, campers typically welcome suggestions from camp staff who they see as helpful and team-like vs. authoritative.

Gains in Cooperation & Coping Skills

Communal camp living provides many planned and unplanned situations to learn and improve Image-1coping skills. Campers share a cabin, washrooms and meals with at least six other campers and counsellors and must learn to live and play together. Even “fun” activities like canoeing, sailing and camping require the cooperation of a team or at least a duo. It takes cabin cooperation to build a tree house, start a campfire, prepare for a skit, write a cabin cheer and even clean the cabin. Though the focus is on fun, camps geared for campers with ADHD, have counsellors who suggest and explain techniques to self-regulate, deal with conflict, cope with frustration, and control impulses.

Build and Use Social Skills to Make Meaningful Connections

Camp is a great place to develop, improve and practice social skills. Virtually every waking minute of the day involves interactions with peers, younger and older campers, counsellors and activity staff. Campers quickly learn that their actions and reactions have a very real and positive impact on their community and summer experience. What a great way for campers to hone their empathy skills and practice social skills. Trained staff help problem solve, suggest appropriate interactions, and encourage socializing.

Skills and Improvements Often Last a Lifetime

Most of the research we’ve seen confirms what we’ve known all along: The key to meaningful improvements in ADHD is to identify and begin to treat ADHD as early as you can. That’s why Camp Kennebec now accepts children as young as aged six. We know that the valuable lessons our campers learn about the importance of physical activity, how to interact with others, taking responsibility for the decisions they make, and strategies to improve self-control and cope with difficult situations are transferred to many situations outside the camp season. Perhaps that is one reason why parents often tell us that the improvements that they see in their children and teens after a session at camp, last well into the school year and beyond.

We thought we’d close with a parent testimonial that reinforces all we’ve seen about the good a summer at camp can do for kids and teens with ADHD

“I believe that my son grew more in camp each year, more than school or therapies combined, because of the staff caring enough to help him grow. At Camp, you see the person each child is, and who he can become. My eldest graduated high school last June with 37 credits and the confidence that he could become a chef. In August, he will graduate from Humber College with his Blue Seal. Could he have done it with just his parents behind him? Maybe, but he would not stand strong and tall the way he does now, because he wouldn’t have learned a very valuable lesson…other people…people who aren’t family…can care about you and believe in you when you are at your worst self and show you a way to be YOUR best self! Every child has the right to learn how to grow through going away to camp, but it can only happen for our kids if it’s the right camp…Camp Kennebec.




About the Authors:

Rob Deman and Donna Segal are co-directors of Camp Kennebec, an overnight summer camp for children with ADHD, autism and other special needs located between Ottawa and Toronto, Ontario. Together they have more than 40 years of camp experience. Both bring a wealth of knowledge and hands on experience and have a shared vision that camp must be a fun, happy place that offers one-of-a-kind experiences and huge sense of accomplishment that kids will cherish for years to come.


"I believe that my son and my other children grew more in 2 weeks of camp each year (more than school or therapies combined) because of the staff caring enough to help them grow. They see the person each child is, and who they can become." — Parent


"I like all the new counsellors. I met new people. It was an awesome experience. Camp means a lot to me. I love it!" — Camper


"I’m incredibly glad that I chose to work at camp this summer. I’ve had many great summers before, but I think I can honestly say that this was a summer of a lifetime. I wouldn’t want to miss all the experience I gained and the people I met!" — Counsellor


"I have referred families to Camp Kennebec for years, and those families that look into Camp Kennebec have wonderful experiences. As campers begin to outgrow their stay at our inclusive day camp, I am always looking for camp programs that they can grow into. Camp Kennebec is among the top camps that I recommend for our campers and families when a child who requires more support and/or modifications than a traditional overnight camp can offer. The feedback that I receive from our families and campers, who take advantage of all Camp Kennebec has to offer, is extremely positive."


"This camp and all of the staff are so amazing. It is incredible the love, compassion and enthusiasm you all show for the campers (and their families). Having our son recognized by name as soon as we arrived at camp this summer, made him feel so welcomed." 


"I learned to knee and waterboard as well as tubing. They are somethings I have never done before and really enjoyed learning to do them." — Camper


"There is no place that I have felt more like myself, ever. I immediately felt at home and that feeling has not changed in four years, if anything it has only gotten stronger. This is a place that EVERYONE should be able to experience, to just laugh and play and be a kid." — Counsellor


"Camp Kennebec allows children with ADHD and other special needs to become confident and independent. Novel activities and social situations allow children and teens to conquer fears, develop friendships, learn how to communicate, resolve disagreements. The overall message a summer at Camp offers is that campers can be successful and autonomous individuals no matter what they encounter throughout their lives." — Expert


"It’s a great camp for kids with special needs. The application process gave me the confidence in knowing that they have a screening process to meet the needs of the campers and it’s not about filling spots!" — Parent


"I am so happy to be here. I love my new friends. Next year we will all be in the same cabin again!" — Camper


"At camp, I learned to become flexible and just have fun. I spent my summer outside helping children have an amazing summer! What more could you ask for?" — Counsellor


"I grew up, and I mean that in the complete sense, at Camp Kennebec when it was still a camp for all children. Kennebec was not just a camp but indeed a second family for me and thousands of others who were joined in a huge Kennebec extended family. The care, imagination and absolute commitment to each child as an individual could not be surpassed. Our summers were magical and every Kennebecer still feels connected to his/her peers, even 45 years later. When Kennebec evolved into a Camp for special needs students I, as a special needs teacher in my professional life, could only admire the complete dedication and Kennebec commitment that went into each child. Now, as a school board commissioner in the West Island area of Montreal I meet parents of special needs students who tell me of their children's experiences at Kennebec when they find out that I went there too. I am not surprised at all to hear how Kennebec changed their lives because it changed mine." — Expert


"He felt confident and happy each and every day. It was clear to us that all the staff really tried to connect with him and make him feel respected, important, and valued. He started talking about going back to camp, the minute we pulled out of the gates. I had high expectations and you definitely met my expectations for him. Thank you!" — Parent


"It's not just about the time we spend here in the summer, I have friends that I talk to during the year now. I start counting down to camp on the first day of school." — Camper