Three Easy Tips for Boosting Executive Function Skills During the Summer

by Lori Benson Adams, MEd

Ahhhhh, the delight of summer!  Lighter schedules, late nights, time with friends and family!  But summer can also be a great time to sneak in some good brain work as well! Our executive functions are the skills that help us focus our attention, plan, organize, and engage with people and activities around us.  The natural, relaxed rhythm of summer can provide a lot of opportunities to practice using skills necessary for success in school and life.

Tip 1: Keep a monthly calendar in a highly visible place and USE it! Add activities, appointments, swim meets, etc. If several family members use the same calendar, consider color coding by person. Use the calendar as a jumping point for conversations about which days look busy, which days have nothing scheduled and more relaxed, and for anticipating the amount of time between planned events. Calendars provide a visual sense of the passage of time.
Tip 2: Play board or card games and puzzles. Family game night can be about more than just laughs and memories. Board and card games provide a natural opportunity to work on logic and reasoning skills with your child. Think in terms of strategy while playing. Model your thoughts for your child: how you knew which move to make next, how you plan your actions. Ask questions about what your child is thinking when he or she makes a move or plays a card: Why did you make that move? How did you know I had that card? What were you thinking when XYZ happened? These types of thinking questions actually help children develop metacognitive skills, which are the skills that allow us to think about our thinking. By bringing awareness to the hows and whys of what they do, you promote higher level logic and reasoning skills, all while having fun!
Tip 3: Plan trips and adventures. A major component of executive functioning is the ability to put together pieces to make a whole. If we want our children to be able to successfully and independently plan for things like science fair projects and book reports, we need to first give them real-life opportunities to practice. We all learn best while working on things that highly motivate us. Let’s say you’re planning a trip to visit Grandma. Allow your child to participate in the planning. They could mark days on the calendar, select clothing to take, decide which toys and books to bring, and even help to pack the car. Questions such as “What do we need to bring for the long drive?” “Sometimes it gets chilly at night by the lake, what do you think we should pack?” and “Do we need snacks for the trip? Let’s go to the grocery store and see what looks good!” provide opportunities for children to participate more fully in preparations, therefore feeling more proud of and excited by the outcome.

Summer seems to zip by at lightening speed, but making a few conscious choices about how to maximize your time and schedule can provide wonderful opportunities for growth! But most important, be sure to have lots of fun!

These courses provide more in-depth information on addressing executive functioning skills: