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How to Hone Executive Functioning Skills This Summer: 4 Fun, Easy Ideas

School isn’t the only place to sharpen executive functions. Take advantage of the summer months to build EF skills with activities like sports, gardening, field trips, and more.

As parents of children with ADHD, you’re always looking for ways to strengthen their executive functioning skills – the mental abilities that allow us to plan, organize, remember, and self-regulate.

School is one sure setting where these skills come into play, but it’s not the only place to practice and hone them. Everyday life — even during summer vacation — offers some of the best opportunities to practice planning, organization, and inhibition skills.

Summer Activities to Build Executive Functioning Skills

1. Organize a Sports Tournament

Summer presents ample beautiful weather for basketball, tennis, soccer, and basketball tournaments. Organizing a friendly sports competition is a great way to practice all of the components of executive functioning skills.

To successfully pull off the tournament, your child will need to set aside time each day to work on this task (and will need to practice inhibiting, or choosing not to participate, in other desired activities like watching TV or scrolling on their phone).

Working memory comes into play when setting up the different teams/races and bringing together tournament logistics (where the tournament will take place, how players will get invited, what awards the winners will receive). And when unexpected changes pop up (e.g. one player can’t attend, so who can step in?), that is a great opportunity for practicing cognitive flexibility and shifting.

[Get This Download: 20 Secrets to a Smarter Summer]

As an added bonus, sports and physical activity have been linked to enhanced executive functioning skills!

2. Plan Field Trip Fridays

Summer presents many opportunities for local trips to pools, nature preserves, museums, amusement parks, and more.

Instead of doing the planning yourself, why not deputize your child to take over planning a field trip? Invite your kids to develop a “proposal” for desired trips that includes justification for the excursion, distance to the location, a transportation plan, and costs and supplies needed for the day.

They will use inhibition, planning, organizing, and prioritizing as they practice narrowing down the options to propose one field trip.

[Read: A Summer Well Spent: How to Orchestrate Fun & Learning]

They will also strengthen working memory and cognitive flexibility as they’re looking at transportation options and ticket pricing (maybe entrance was more expensive than expected). As an added bonus, they’ll get some real world math practice adding up trip expenses.

3. Plant a Garden

Find inspiration for your at-home garden by taking regular summer evening walks.

Work together with your child to determine garden goals (a good practice in working memory). Will you cook with the herbs from your garden? Do you want to create the most beautiful flower garden?

Consider your available space. Will your garden be indoors? Do you have a spot on the balcony for potted plants? Or a plot of grass outdoors? Cognitive flexibility and shifting skills may be needed if your space (and sunlight exposure) don’t fit your original gardening goals.

Together you can research plants that will thrive in the climate and sunlight your have available. Regular watering and care will help the garden grow and thrive — good motivation to practice the related skills of inhibition and working memory.

Search for gardening communities on social media to find opportunities for meeting and socializing with neighbors who share a common passion.

4. Do One Thing at a Time

During the busy school year, life can feel like a constant rush. The summer is a great time for your child to slow down, unplug, and practice focusing on one thing at a time.

Especially during online learning, your child may be tempted to have multiple devices open at the same time and to constantly check their phone. This summer, build inhibition skills by practicing tuning out whatever else is going on and focusing on one thing at a time.

Help your child brainstorm a long-term project for the summer. When they’re working on the project, they can practice staying away from their phone, the computer, and other distractions. Remember to start small with focus goals, and build from there!

Executive Functioning Skills Activities: Next Steps

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