So, the kids are done with school and are intent on swimming, hanging out with friends, playing video games, and delaying their summer reading until the last possible moment in August. As a parent, you know that they need this time to recharge after a hectic school year. Yet something keeps nagging at you. That little voice in your head rudely interrupts as you apply the umpteenth layer of sunscreen on your kids, demanding “What are you doing to help them improve their Executive Function skills?”
Luckily, you have the means to help them gain these critical self-management skills such as planning, prioritizing, organizing, problem solving, and time management in a painless, and yes, even fun way. They won’t even know they are working on these skills, but you will. (Diabolical!) And that will stop that hectoring little voice in its tracks, while keeping the summer fun rolling for your kids.
1. Cook up some skills
Is there a future Top Chef in your household? Even if none of your kids aspires to cooking fame, we all appreciate a delicious home-cooked meal. Selecting a menu, preparing dishes, and cleaning up after a meal involve important Executive Function skills. Depending upon the age of your children, they will likely need guidance and structure for each step. Break down the steps needed for each phase of the meal with your chefs.
Create checklists to help them self-monitor. Use math skills to calculate how long each item will take, and then list goal times for starting each step. Older kids may enjoy the added challenge of keeping within a budget or trying new techniques requiring research on youtube (what does chiffonade mean, anyway?). Maybe a budding filmmaker in the family could record the proceedings to document everyone’s contributions to the meal project. Finally, facilitate a self-assessment of how it all turned out. What went well? What was difficult? How did you solve problems when they arose? What would you do differently?
2. Plan some fun
Planning family vacations presents an extraordinary opportunity to develop Executive Function skills. Kids in middle school and high school can research destinations, given specific parameters (distance from home, types of activities available). Once a destination is selected, they can research hotels or campsites and organize their results into a document to share. Likewise, they can research attractions in the area, costs for tickets, and hours of operation. They might use a template like this to track information:
Older children can be given a budget to work within, to increase the challenge. Given specific dates, ask them to propose an itinerary for each day, or just a single day. They could use a template like this to plan a day or several days:
Can you imagine a more motivating way to develop skills that directly relate to academic demands?
3. Sell some stuff
Finally, entrepreneurial kids will enjoy the fruits of their labor when they plan, prepare, setup and cleanup from a family or neighborhood yard sale. There are a lot of websites that provide tips about yard sales, which would be helpful research for kids to do first. Preparing for a yard sale is a great way to flex organizational muscle; materials for sale need to be gathered, tidied up, priced, and displayed in sensible groupings. Time management skills are developed when planning the day and time, marking it on a calendar, and then chunking out daily tasks that need to be completed to lead up to the big day (oh, yes and planning for a rain date might be a good idea). Working memory skills are used when kids make change for customers or add up their purchases. And you get to clear out some household clutter in the process; that’s a win-win! On a smaller scale, the time-tested lemonade stand also provides a platform for younger kids to practice planning, production, and organizational skills.
So, you can see that summertime need not be downtime from developing Executive Function skills. You’ve just discovered how to improve these skills through cleverly disguised fun projects. Just don’t forget the SPF50.