As an ADHD mom with a (mostly) ADHD brood, I’ve had a lot of experience with taking ADHD kids on field trips. Since we homeschool, we do a lot of learning on the road at historical sites, nature areas, zoos, and museums.
Over the years, I’ve learned that a few tactics can make or break a field trip with an ADHD group. Teachers of ADHD children may find these especially helpful. ADHD kids can really blossom and grow when you take them out into the field for a learning experience.
1. Set expectations ahead of time. ADHD kids will do better on a field trip if they have some idea of what they’ll see, what they’ll do, and what behavior in expected of them. It’s not enough to specify ‘museum behavior.’
There’s a big difference in expectations at an art museum, a zoo, and a hands on science museum. Rules may even vary from exhibit to exhibit. Go over field trip expectations before the trip. This will give your ADHD students a chance to internalize the rules and mentally prepare for the trip.
2. Bring an appropriate number of chaperones on the trip. ADHD kids have a tendency to wander off or hang back and lose the group. It’s not because of malice. It’s just that when an ADHD kid stumbles across something really interesting it absorbs all his attention. He no longer has any ability to track the group or hear teachers call his name. And, when he does come to himself, he’ll probably forget what his chaperone looked like (unless he knew her really well) and follow the first group of kids he sees who look like they’re on a field trip.
If you want to have a hassle free trip, make sure that chaperones responsible for ADHD kids have no more than 3 or 4 kids to keep track of. If you know a child has the tendency to wander off, alert the chaperone before the trip. Many times, ADHD kids get overlooked because they’re good-natured. However, a cheerful, eager to please nature is no protection against getting lost on an interesting trip.
3. Ditch the dittos and hang the handouts. Nothing kills a field trip for an ADHD kid faster than a packet of boring busy-work. Suddenly, what should have been a day of hands-on science or living history becomes yet another exercise in filling out forms, handwriting, and regurgitating simple facts.
In other words, a handout on a field trip is like Kryptonite for the ADHD kids. Instead of a handout on the trip, have the students in your class write a paragraph on what they liked, didn’t like, and learned on the morning after the field trip. The exercise will improve recall and make the field trip more fruitful.
4. Let the ADHD kids ask all the questions they want. While long streams of enthusiastic questions can throw off a classroom schedule, docents, tour guides, park rangers, and zookeepers love interacting with kids who are really enthusiastic about their specialties. On one field trip my family attended, a good portion of the crowd was ADHD. The 1-hour site visit ended up taking 3 hours, and the tour guide was ecstatic. She said she’d never met a group of kids who were so involved, interested, and ready to ask questions and dig deeper.
If you have ADHD kids in your group, make sure to leave time for questions and answers with the experts. Let the kids know that asking questions on a field trip is a good thing. You’ll be surprised at the depth of questions the ADHD kids ask, and if you pay attention to the answers, you’ll find that you learn as much as they do.
5. Create a flexible itinerary. If you can, build some free exploration time into your itinerary. ADHD kids get upset when they’re frog-marched through interesting places. In fact, some scientists use the inability to ignore cool stuff as a test for ADHD. For instance, in the infamous zoo experiment, researchers sent ADHD kids and normal kids on an unchaperoned walk through the zoo, with directions to navigate the zoo as quickly as possible. The ADHD kids ended up deviating from the assigned route and pausing to watch the animals.
ADHD kids tend to break down if they’re forced to make abrupt transitions. Their attention just doesn’t shift quickly enough to accommodate the change. If you plan a lot of extra time into your field trip, you’ll give these kids a chance to really explore and dig in deep.
Taking ADHD kids on a field trip doesn't have to result in disaster. If you take into account their strengths and weaknesses, you'll discover that field trips with ADHD kids are actually fun!