Improve Executive Functioning Skills this Summer

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Summer is coming! And, I have some fun ways to improve executive functioning skills during the summer months, while the kids are on a break from school. Working on executive functioning doesn’t need to involve boring projects, long checklists, or tedious tasks that make the kids run. These executive functioning activities can help to improve the skills that translate to better planning, prioritization, and staying on task during day-to-day functional tasks and when back in the classroom.

How to Improve Executive Functioning Skills This Summer

When school ends for the year, we can all have wonderful intentions of a great summer filled with enriching activities to continue our student’s growth. Sometimes, that means having plans that are hard to achieve. Sometimes, that means having absolutely no plans, but then realizing this is a bit too unstructured!

Whatever camp you are in, a middle ground is a more attainable place to be. Check out these ways to work on executive functioning skills this summer.

Under each activity idea below, you’ll find strategies to improve executive functioning skills. Use these tips to work on areas like:

  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Organization
  • Task Completion
  • Attention
  • Working memory

Then, when children see success that they’ve made in fun and meaningful tasks, they can carry those skills over to other tasks. Be sure to point out hard work, worthy attempts, and small successes. This auditory input can help to get a point to stick later down the road.

Get started with some fun summer games. Planning a weekly game night with the family can get this on the calendar and make game playing an event. Think about even adding themes or special fun snacks to the game night events.

Interest Based Occupations to Work on Executive Functions

Occupational therapists use meaningful occupations (or the tasks that occupy one’s time) as a therapeutic tool to improve independence, functioning, safety, and meaning in one’s life. The use of motivating interests play a strong role in building essential executive functioning skills, too!

Use your child’s interests to improve executive functioning that carries over to less preferred activities (like school, homework, and even chores).

Whatever your child’s leisure interests, there is likely an easy way to integrate executive functioning growth opportunities!

sports to work on executive functioning skills

Do you have a budding athlete in your family?

  • Have them set up a tournament for your family or neighborhood: create the brackets (requires planning and organizing, working memory, and initiation)
  • Winning/losing (requires emotional regulation and impulse control)
  • Create the court or field (planning and organizing, organization of materials)

Art to work on executive functioning skills

How about your budding artist? There are so many fun summer-themed crafts for all ages!

  • Have your child think flexibly about different materials they can use, especially if you do not have all of the items needed to make a certain masterpiece!
  • Plan projects
  • Set a completion date and write out steps with small goals that need to be achieved before the next step can be accomplished
  • Use a large project such as a mural, pottery, or painting garden planters to expand executive functioning development over weeks or months

Reading to work on executive functioning skills

Have a bookworm?

  • A summer book club could be fun! They could create a plan for each club meeting, including creating the invitations and agenda, working on their skills of initiation, time management, planning and organizing, and working memory.
  • Mark off on a calendar when library books need to be returned
  • Schedule time daily for reading and make it relaxing: a book picnic in the yard, taking books to the park, or reading under twinkle lights can be fun and interesting, and all need to be planned out with thinking ahead.

Chores to Improve Executive Functioning Skills

Summer is a great time to start integrating family chores without the pressure of starting a new routine in the middle of a school year. Activities like cooking and recycling are approachable for many ages.

Cooking to work on executive Function

Find a recipe that works for your family’s ages, needs, and foods. Then, to work on executive function, try some of these tips:

If cooking is something that you would like to try with kids, be sure to pick out a recipe that is motivating to the child. Here are tons of cooking with kids recipe ideas.

  1. Break up the recipe into the planning stages, the executing stages, and the eating stages!
  2. With each step of the recipe (including preparation and clean-up), assign different family members different jobs, like making the list (while giving them 3 steps to remember and write down for a working memory challenge).
  3. Work on planning and prioritization by estimating when each step will need to start for more complex recipes (time management).
  4. Think about the items and recipe ingredients that are needed as well as steps of the process, including smaller tasks like emptying the sink or dishwasher after you finish cooking (organization of materials).

Recycling to work on executive function

Take the opportunity to teach your children about recycling. Here are tips to use recycling as an opportunity to build specific executive functions:

  1. Can they identify what items should go in the garbage versus the recycling (working memory)?
  2. Can they initiate and show impulse control in this task, such as taking the extra steps to the recycling bin, rather than just throwing that can in the garbage?
  3. Use a calendar to mark off the day when recycling materials should be collected and the bin taken to the curb or recycling center.
  4. Use a list to identify materials that can be recycled.

Summer Learning and Executive Functioning Skills

While neither a strong academic focus nor a lack of academic focus tends to be the best for any child, there are ways to integrate academics into the more relaxed environment of summer activities.

Have some sidewalk chalk? Work on sight words (both from previous grade and the soon-to-be grade), letter formation, math problems, you name it!

If slime is still a trend in your house, find a good recipe and have your child use their executive functioning skills to complete and reflect on the creation. What went well? What did they struggle with or would they change?

Make a ninja or obstacle course! This takes incredible amounts of executive functioning skills: initiation, shifting, impulse control (“No, Johnny, it probably would not be best to put that plank on top of the playground as a launchpad.”), emotional control/failure tolerance, time management, working memory, planning and organizing, and organization of materials.

Have fun this summer, stay safe, and keep the growth going!

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

improve executive functioning skills this summer