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How to work on executive function skills over the summer

Updated: Jun 1


This is an image with a chalkboard and the words: School's out for summer

Summer, with its extended days and relaxed schedules, is the ideal time for children to work on their executive function skills.


Parents often aim for their children to gain more independence, and the summer break provides a perfect opportunity to practice these skills.


Kids can take charge of organizing their own free time, perhaps planning a neighborhood sports event or a family picnic. They might manage their daily chores without constant supervision or even learn to prepare simple meals.


The freedom and flexibility that summer brings can encourage children to make decisions, solve problems, and manage their time effectively, all of which are key executive function skills. This crucial learning period can help children grow more independent and confident, much to the delight of their parents.


What could my child do to improve their executive function skills this summer?


Kindergarten through 5th grade

Summer offers a unique opportunity for K-5 students to cultivate their executive function skills in a relaxed and flexible environment. This period of growth and exploration can foster skills like problem-solving, time management, and self-regulation, providing children with a valuable head-start for the upcoming academic year.

  1. Maintain a Reading Log: This helps improve their planning and time management abilities as they track their daily reading progress.

  2. Create a Daily Schedule: Children can plan their day, choosing when to engage in fun activities and when to complete chores, which encourages independent time management.

  3. Engage in Puzzle Games or Building Blocks: These activities sharpen problem-solving and critical thinking skills as they figure out how to complete a puzzle or build a structure.

  4. Participate in Team Sports or Group Projects: These collaborative activities enhance teamwork and communication skills, as they learn to work and interact effectively with others.

  5. Practice Mindfulness: Age-appropriate meditation or yoga can help children learn to manage their emotions and self-regulate, improving their focus and calmness.

By incorporating these activities into their summer routine, children can significantly boost their executive function skills. These skills will not only make them more prepared for the upcoming school year but also foster their overall cognitive and emotional development, making their summer both fun and productive.


This is an image with 5 executive function skill builders for elementary students

6th through 8th grade (Middle School)

As students transition from elementary school to middle school, the summer break serves as an excellent time to focus on improving their executive function skills. The flexible, pressure-free environment of the summer months provides the perfect setting for 6th graders to enhance skills such as organization, planning, self-control, and memory, which are crucial for their future academic success.


  1. Create a Project Plan: Whether it's building a model, writing a story, or planning a small event, project-based activities can help improve their organizational and planning skills.

  2. Follow a Reading List: Encouraging students to follow a summer reading list can help develop their time management and perseverance skills.

  3. Participate in Team Sports or Drama Clubs: Group activities promote cooperation, patience, and communication skills, which are integral parts of executive function.

  4. Learn a New Skill: Whether it's a musical instrument, coding, or cooking, learning something new requires focus, patience, and memory, enhancing their cognitive flexibility.

  5. Practice Mindfulness or Yoga: Such activities can help 6th graders manage stress, improve focus, and develop self-control.

  6. Volunteer in the Community: Volunteering can foster empathy, responsibility, and self-regulation, as they must follow rules and work as part of a team.

  7. Maintain a Journal: Regular journaling can help improve working memory and provides an opportunity for introspection and self-regulation.

Incorporating these activities during the summer break can significantly enhance a 6th grader's executive function skills, setting them up for success in middle school and beyond. The summer's relaxed setting enables students to explore, learn, and grow, turning their break into a productive and enriching experience.


This is an image with 7 executive function skill builders for middle school students

9th through 12th grade (High School)

High school is a critical time for students to refine their executive function skills, and summer provides an ideal, relaxed setting for this developmental pursuit. As students prepare for college and future careers, honing their abilities in areas like self-regulation, task initiation, planning, and prioritization becomes crucial.

  1. Engage in a Part-Time Job or Internship: This can enhance time management, responsibility, and problem-solving skills as students navigate real-world working environments.

  2. Lead a Community Project or Start a Club: Taking on leadership roles can foster planning, organization, and social interaction skills.

  3. Prepare for Standardized Tests: Studying for exams like the SAT or ACT can help students improve their planning, time management, and sustained attention skills.

  4. Explore College and Career Options: Researching potential colleges or career paths can enhance decision-making and planning skills.

  5. Volunteer or Participate in Service Learning: Such experiences can help students develop empathy, self-regulation, and responsibility.

  6. Partake in Advanced Academic Courses or Programs: Engaging in challenging coursework or summer academic programs can help improve working memory, focus, and perseverance.

  7. Maintain a Planner or Journal: This can help students reflect on their experiences, set goals, and keep track of their responsibilities, thus improving their organization and self-regulation skills.

  8. Practice Mindfulness or Meditation: Regular mindfulness practice can enhance focus, stress management, and self-control.

By incorporating these activities during their summer breaks, high school students can significantly enhance their executive function skills. This preparation can make the transition to college and adulthood smoother, fostering personal and academic success in the years to come.


This is an image with 8 executive function skill builders for high school students

College and university students

For college and university students, the summer break is more than just a time to relax. It's an invaluable opportunity to develop executive function skills such as problem-solving, decision-making, self-control, and cognitive flexibility, which are essential for successful academic performance and future professional life.

  1. Internships or Research Projects: These offer practical experiences that can boost problem-solving, organization, and time-management skills.

  2. Summer Courses or Workshops: Engaging in additional academic pursuits can help students improve their focus, planning, and cognitive flexibility.

  3. Volunteering or Community Service: This can foster empathy, responsibility, and cooperation while enhancing problem-solving skills.

  4. Study Abroad Programs: These programs can broaden cultural understanding and adaptability, promoting cognitive flexibility and decision-making skills.

  5. Entrepreneurial Ventures: Starting a small business or a project can enhance planning, problem-solving, and decision-making skills.

  6. Physical Fitness or Yoga Classes: Regular physical activity can help manage stress and improve focus and self-control.

  7. Financial Planning: Managing a budget or investing can enhance planning, organization, and decision-making skills.

  8. Journaling or Blogging: Regular writing can improve reflection, self-regulation, and working memory skills.

By engaging in these activities during summer breaks, college and university students can significantly enhance their executive function skills. These skills will not only improve their academic performance but also prepare them for the professional world, ensuring a successful transition from college to career.


Adults in the workforce

For adults in the workforce, summer presents a unique opportunity to step back from the daily grind and focus on enhancing executive function skills. Improving abilities such as problem-solving, decision-making, time management, and emotional self-regulation can significantly boost productivity and job satisfaction.

  1. Professional Development Workshops or Courses: These can help enhance problem-solving skills, cognitive flexibility, and technical knowledge related to your field.

  2. Personal Projects or Hobby Pursuits: Engaging in creative activities outside of work can improve cognitive flexibility, planning, and stress management.

  3. Physical Fitness or Yoga Classes: Regular physical activity can help manage stress and improve focus and self-control.

  4. Networking Events or Conferences: These can enhance social interaction skills, decision-making, and broaden your perspective in your professional field.

  5. Volunteering or Community Service: This can foster empathy, cooperation, and enhance problem-solving skills.

  6. Financial Planning: Managing a budget or investing can enhance planning, organization, and decision-making skills.

  7. Mindfulness or Meditation Practices: Regular mindfulness practice can enhance focus, stress management, and self-control.

  8. Mentorship Opportunities: Becoming a mentor or finding a mentor can help with goal-setting, perspective-taking, and decision-making skills.

By incorporating these activities into their summer routines, working adults can significantly enhance their executive function skills. This investment in personal growth not only boosts professional performance but can also lead to increased job satisfaction and a better work-life balance.


Conclusion

The summer period presents a golden opportunity for everyone, regardless of age or career stage, to enhance their executive function skills. Be it a child learning to manage their time, a student preparing for academic challenges, or an adult striving for professional growth, the techniques and activities outlined in this article can serve as practical guides.


For more personalized strategies and in-depth understanding, consider reaching out for executive function coaching or take our free course, "Enhance Your Executive Function Skills."


Let's use this summer to unlock our full potential and pave the way for future success!


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About the author


Sean G. McCormick founded Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization, and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization, and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered.


He trains educators, parents, and other professionals to support students with ADHD and executive function challenges through his courses in the Executive Function Coaching Academy.

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Executive Functions, Inc. is a participant in the Amazon Services LLC Associates Program, an affiliate advertising program designed to provide a means for sites to earn advertising fees by advertising and linking to Amazon.com. Some of the links in this post may be Amazon.com affiliate links, which means if you make a purchase, Executive Functions, Inc. will earn a commission.


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EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

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