By Kari Jo Wagner
Summer, yep, summer break is one of my favorite times to help my students build and strengthen their executive functioning skills.
I often hear parents worry that without homework or school activities it will be difficult to maintain or build on executive functioning skills. On the contrary, summer can be a great time to continue to build executive functioning skills!
Executive functioning skills include time management, initiation, organization and flexibility. We all use and need these skills to be successful in our daily lives, not just when school is in session. Summer can be a great time to focus in on executive functioning skills without all of the added stress and activities of the school year. There are five ways that I love to build executive functioning skills during the summer:
1. Getting Household Chores and Routines Down Pat
Many students are overloaded during the school year with homework, projects, sports and extra-curricular activities and I often hear parents lament that messy bedrooms, dirty laundry and unloaded dishwashers are a challenge. From September through June, school is a priority and chores often fall to the wayside. Taking time to create and learning to stick to a household chore routine during the summer makes it much easier when school comes back around because these chore and household routines have become second nature.
2. Projects of Interest
One of my favorite ways to build executive functioning skills during the summer is to have students create a project of interest. Researching, writing about and creating a hands-on exhibit about a topic of interest is not only fun, but we get to work on all the executive functioning skills as we go. One of my favorite projects of interest was working with an elementary student whose dream was to travel to Japan. We researched, created a travel guide and a poster board all about Japan, using all the executive functioning skills as we went.
3. Preparing and Packing for Camp or Trips
Summer vacation often means packing for road trips, vacations or summer camp. As a parent myself, I know that we all want our kids to help with the packing and eventually become independent with this skill! It’s as important to learn to pack for a day trip as it is for a week at summer camp. Do you need to bring three changes of clothes for a day trip? Probably not, but you might need sunscreen and a jacket for evening. Teaching students to create and utilize packing checklists is a necessary lifelong skill to build.
4. Summer Reading
Most teachers and schools assign summer reading to students and it usually seems students have the WHOLE summer to do this. I find that summer reading often gets left until August and this leads to procrastination and a stressful end to the summer. It’s often hard for a student to
plan out their summer reading across such a long-time span as the summer. Summer is a great time to work with students to create and stick with a long-term plan. Between vacations, camps, summer activities and some well-deserved relaxing, many students are surprised to find how busy their summers actually are. Having a plan to start that summer reading early, learning how to set goals such as how many pages to read and having regular check ins make it all manageable to finish that summer reading stress free by the time school starts up again.
5. Summer Organization
Summer is also a great time to tackle major and minor organization projects. If your student says they’re doing homework at their desk in their room but they’re really distracted by technology it might be time to move that study space to another room in the house. That’s a major project, obviously. However, most students need to clean out last year’s workspace and also organize last year’s files on their computer.
If they’re not using one already, summer is the perfect time to learn how to utilize an online calendar to organize chores, activities, summer reading and vacations.
Summer is an excellent time to work on executive functioning skills as these are skills we all use daily, not just when school is in session. The more consistent we are with working year-round to build executive functioning skills, the more success we will see.