Learning doesn’t stop once summertime starts. In fact, the freedom and flexibility of summer can be a fantastic time to build on critical executive functioning skills like planning, problem-solving, and perseverance.
Whether you are teaching summer school to your students, or you’re a parent looking to give your own children a boost in the summer months, consider some of these executive functioning activities:
Plan a Trip
Skills Targeted: planning, organization, time management
Whether real or imagined, have kids plan their own trip! Write lists for where you are going and what you’ll need to bring to be prepared. Learners can even create their own itinerary for what they’d like to do on the trip.
Some ideas include:
- Plan a trip to the zoo.
- Plan a trip to another country (of your choice).
- Plan a trip to the beach.
- Plan a trip anywhere in the neighborhood.
Sidewalk Chalk Messages
Skills Targeted: growth mindset, confidence, perseverance
Help learners build their brain power by writing positive messages to themselves and others. One engaging way to try this in the summer is to use sidewalk chalk. This is a great way to help boost confidence and remind kids that they can grow their brains with hard work. Some messages to try include:
- I’m building my brain power.
- I can do tough things.
- I believe in my strengths.
Use this free list of affirmations for more self-talk messages to write.
Skills Targeted: attention, self-awareness, mindfulness
A nature walk is a healthy time to reconnect with nature and ourselves. It can bring out self-awareness, attention, and teach skills for mindfulness. While you don’t need anything fancy on your nature walk, here are a few ideas to add extra learning after the walk:
- Draw and write about something that inspired you on the walk.
- Come up with 3 questions you could research after the walk.
- Write a poem about our walk.
- Make a list of 5 things you noticed on the walk.
- Reflect on your feelings. How did the walk make you feel?
Skills Targeted: self-control, calming strategies, planning
Use rock painting as a healthy way to teach about calming strategies. Painting itself is relaxing! In addition to that, learners can paint symbols that are happy, peaceful, and calming to them. Have learners plan out their designs first on paper. Then, when you have supplies and rocks ready, paint away!
An extra fun twist is to bring your rocks to a local park and leave them somewhere for someone else to enjoy.
Skills Targeted: flexibility, perseverance
Use a building challenge to strengthen skills for mental flexibility and perseverance. A few ideas to try include:
- Free build. Create anything within a given time frame.
- Build your own bird nest.
- Build anything you want with only these sticks (or any material you assign).
- Build your own sandcastle.
Drawing and Coloring
Skills Targeted: planning, organization, self-control, time management, and more.
In times when weather calls for indoor learning, use drawing and coloring as a tool to teach skills for problem-solving and creativity. Some ideas to try:
- Draw something green.
- Work with a partner to plan and draw anything you want together.
- Draw and color something that starts with the letter A.
- Draw anything you want without lifting your pencil.
For more direction instruction with these skills, try these executive functioning coloring bookmarks. Every page teaches a new skill with a coloring bookmark for kids to keep with them.
Explore and Investigate
Skills Targeted: attention, metacognition, flexibility
Head outside with some helpful tools like a magnifying glass and binoculars. Explore and notice something new. Document your findings and then head back inside to investigate and learn. This is a great way to inspire love of learning while building background knowledge for the future.
Some ideas to explore and investigate include:
- What are some different types of insects we have?
- What birds can we see? How do they spend their time?
- What plants are growing nearby? How do they help us?
Outdoor Scavenger Hunt
Skills Targeted: attention, mindfulness, self-control, perseverance
An outdoor scavenger hunt is an interactive challenge for kids to find specific items or materials around them. This builds focus, perseverance, and self-control as they work through the challenge.
A few scavenger hunt items to assign:
- Find 10 things that are green.
- Find something that starts with each letter of the alphabet.
- Find something for each color of the rainbow.
- Find 5 things that make you smile.
If you need a head start, use these mindfulness scavenger hunts. Bonus is that they can be used indoors and outdoors!
Skills Targeted: planning, organization, perseverance
Grab a clipboard and head outside for some outdoor writing. Writing can be a helpful way to boost executive functioning skills because it includes planning and organizing before you write, as well as flexibility and perseverance as you write. Students can build on these skills as they embrace their creativity too.
Some writing prompts to try:
- If you could travel anywhere this summer, where would you go? Why?
- Imagine you were a hawk flying overhead. What might you see? What would you do?
- Write an outdoor adventure you would love to take with a friend.
- Make up a story about a magical creature from the woods.
- Write a list of the most interesting things you find outdoors.
Skills Targeted: flexibility, time management, perseverance
Brain games and puzzles are always a favorite for so many kids. These activities encourage kids to “think outside of the box” all while solving engaging challenges. Some favorite brain games to try include:
- Word Whiz – Take a word and scramble the letters. Have learners list out all the different words they can make with those letters.
- Mystery Number – Give a set of clues about a number. Have students figure out what number you are referring to. For example: “I’m a two-digit number more than 10 but less than 20. If you add my digits, you will get 6. What am I?” (The answer here is 15!). You can make these as easy or challenging as you’d like.
- Decipher the Code – Use symbols to write a message. Then, have students use a decoder to uncode what the special message is.
If you need these, grab this Brain Games Workbook to put your learners to the test.
Skills Targeted: attention, problem-solving, flexibility, planning
Free play is always one of the most under-rated strategies for boosting executive functioning skills. Kids and young adults need the freedom and flexibility to think on their own! Free play is one of the ways to help them use these skills.
It helps to go over some ground rules first, such as staying within a certain area of the park or backyard for safety purposes. After that, allow for less-structured free play time with friends. If kids aren’t sure what to do or play, encourage them to think it through on their own. It’s okay to be bored! This is how creativity can be sparked.
Skills Targeted: planning, time management, organization, perseverance
Gardening is a healthy life skill that all kids and teens should learn. Beyond that, it also teaches and strengthens some important executive functioning-based skills too. Have learners plan out a garden space, tidy it up, and put their plan into action.
Gardening also requires patience, time management, and perseverance, as students will come back to their gardening space day after day. This can also be a great reflection tool to see something grow over time.