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Preventing Summer Slide for Students With Executive Function Challenges

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Summer provides a much-needed break from the demands of schoolwork, especially for students who work twice as hard to keep pace with the curriculum. However, without the structure and routine of the school year, their academic and organizational skills can significantly regress, a phenomenon known as the “summer slide.” This decline in skills can be particularly pronounced for students with executive function deficits.

Students with executive function deficits can regress nearly twice as much as their peers during the summer months. This regression can be particularly pronounced in problem-solving, planning, and task initiation. The lack of consistent practice and feedback during the break can lead to losing hard-earned progress. Furthermore, increased screen time during the summer can exacerbate the decline in executive function skills. Children who engaged in more screen time performed worse on measures of executive function, including attention, working memory, and self-control.

Fortunately, there are effective strategies for parents to help mitigate the summer slide. Activities incorporating movement, goal-setting, adherence to routines, and problem- solving have been shown to maintain and even improve executive function skills.Common summer challenges and our suggestions for addressing them:

Challenge: The Summer Slump. Too much free time can lead to bad habits and regression.

Solution: Create a balanced schedule that includes regular wake-up times, dedicated reading hours, and structured activities. This routine can help with time management and provide a sense of structure, essential for maintaining and improving executive function skills. However, be mindful not to over schedule to improve problem-solving skills, children also need the freedom to explore. Striking the right balance between structure and free time is crucial for fostering the growth of executive function skills.

Challenge: Procrastination. Too much time, lack of urgency, and being overwhelmed by any tasks over the summer.

Solution: Big goals can be overwhelming, especially during the summer. Break goals down into into small, manageable actions. For example, a student could read for just 5 minutes, as this can often lead to a state of flow and continued engagement. This strategy helps build task initiation skills needed to overcome procrastination.

Additionally, consider creating a daily routines that bookends the day. This could include 10 minutes of movement in the morning and 10 minutes of working on their Youtube channel before getting ready for bed.

Challenge: Out of sight and mind. Forgetting the important tasks needed to reach summer goals.

Solution: To keep important tasks a priority, make them visible using tools like whiteboards, sticky notes, and phone reminders. Keeping these tasks at the forefront of your student’s mind can help them stay on track and avoid losing sight of their goals amidst the summer’s more relaxed atmosphere.

In addition to these strategies, four key areas significantly contribute to improving executive function skills and are often neglected during the summer months:

  1. Movement: Encourage your student to engage in physical activity regularly, whether walking around the block or training for a sport. At least 15 minutes of getting their heart rate up will enhance brain function and improve executive function skills.
  2. Summer Goals: Work with your student to create summer goals (we suggest one academic and one nonacademic goal). Then, break the goals into smaller, manageable steps, accountability, and daily/weekly actions. Setting goals and working towards them improves planning and organizational skills.
  3. Routines: Collaborate with your student to create a daily schedule that includes time for learning, exercising, hobbies, and socializing while bookending the day with structured activities. A routine simplifies daily life and decreases anxiety. Focusing on the process rather than the product will help children reach their summer goals.
  4. Freedom for Problem-Solving: Avoid over scheduling your student’s summer and allow them to explore and engage in unstructured activities. Encouraging your student to solve problems independently strengthens executive function by promoting critical thinking and adaptability.

By focusing on these areas and implementing the tips mentioned above, you can help your student with executive function challenges and combat the summer slide.

Consistent practice and reinforcing these skills throughout the break will set them up for a smoother transition and greater success in the upcoming school year.

Every student is unique, and progress may not always be linear. Celebrate the small victories and remain patient and supportive as your student navigates the challenges of maintaining and improving their executive function skills during summer.

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