As the world slowly returns to normal, many families are eager to travel after eighteen months of COVID complications. Vacations and family trips are a great way to relieve stress and reconnect, but they also provide a unique opportunity to improve a student’s executive functioning skills. Many families see executive functioning skills like organization, time management, study skills, and impression management as an August to May problem, but this is short-sighted. To truly help a child develop into a well-rounded, mature adult, executive function must be a year-round focus. From toddlers to teenagers, aspects of summer vacation can be utilized to improve these crucial skills. In this post, we’ll explain how families can weave executive function into their travel plans.
Top-notch organizational skills are the foundation for all other EF skills. That’s why the early part of our unique EF curriculum focuses on binders, backpacks, and study spaces. When students can locate everything they need in a timely manner, good things happen. Chaos begets chaos, and order begets order, so why not start working on organization over the break? One of the first things we do when with new students is the backpack audit. We ask students to dump out everything in their backpacks, and the results are often shocking. Stray P.E. clothes from last semester, crumpled permission slips, and dried-out highlighters rain down in a cacophony of disorder. Students often find items they lost months ago, which is both frustrating and expensive when it comes to missing assignments. Therefore, strengthen the organization BEFORE it is a problem. Namely, encourage your child to demonstrate organizational skills throughout vacation.
Everything from packing a suitcase to setting up a temporary home in a hotel room involves some degree of organizational skill. Encourage your child to be intentional with each of these tasks. For example, you might consider these questions when packing a carry-on bag for a long flight. What do I want to do while on the plane, and what do I need to have easy access to? Should certain items be more accessible than others? Should I pack anything in case of unexpected problems (i.e. headphones in case there’s a crying baby next to you?) Intentionality in design, systematic thinking, and proactive planning are all essential to organization for school, but also for vacation. Build the skills now so your child can thrive later.
Let’s move on to another crucial aspect of succeeding in school: time management. Deciding on goals, prioritizing correctly, and creating a plan of attack are fundamental to success. Why not practice these skills on a trip? We can practice these skills with small tasks as well as with larger ones. Try to involve your child in the planning of the larger trip, if possible. Treat it like a puzzle, because it is. There are numerous variables (number of vacation days, budgets, goals, etc.) that need to be considered on both a macro and a micro-level. See if your son or daughter has any ideas on where you should go, how long you should be there, and where you should start? Just involving them in this process and exemplifying sound time management principles boosts executive function. In smaller ways, involve your child in the day-to-day planning and decision-making of the trip. Give your child three or four options for family activities and see what he or she thinks you should do first. Vocalizing the reasoning behind the decision is critical here. As your child matriculates through the grade levels, more and more emphasis is placed on the ability to order variables and estimate timelines. Start practicing now.
Likewise, we can encourage sound study skills while on vacation, and, no, I am not referring to your child’s math packet or summer reading. Although these are essential aspects of preparing for the school year ahead, we can find more subtle ways of encouraging learning principles over the summer. Try to work on a novel skill on the trip. This could be anything from the basics of a foreign language to a physical skill like learning how to skip rocks across the water. We all love to learn, and the principles of learning don’t really change from algebra to surfing. With this in mind, encourage your child to develop meta-cognition, grit, and other vital learning skills with fun tasks over the summer, so these critical supports are there for calculus and biology in the fall. Simply asking your child to think about how they are learning a new skill is profoundly helpful. Is it easier to try, fail, and adjust or take a slower approach with small wins along the way? Does your child prefer to learn by doing or watching? Further, how does your child deal with setbacks and difficulties? Is that response ideal? All of these questions are essential to discovering your child’s potential both inside and outside the classroom. By asking them (subtly) on vacation, we can boost performance during the school year.
Our focus on impression management skills sets us apart as the premier executive function program in Texas. Why? Because the executive function is often the “missing ingredient” to student success. When students learn how to manage the impressions they make on teachers, parents, and peers, the possibilities are endless. Summer vacation is a wonderful time to teach impression management by building small habits and mirroring the behavior you wish to see in your child. The dimensions of impression management include self-confidence, self-advocacy, awareness, and other critical areas of self-development. What better place to practice these skills than in a new environment fraught with social interaction and new responsibility? For instance, encourage your child to practice self-advocacy and boost self-reliance on the trip by ordering for themselves at restaurants or venturing off on their own for a few hours. Also, bring attention to how your child interacts with strangers. Does he or she make solid eye contact, speak clearly, and say please and thank you? Improving these skills now will boost your child’s impression management during the school year.
Opportunities to enhance executive function are all around us. We just need to look for them. As we get back to normal and find ourselves on trains, planes, and automobiles this summer, we hope you can find time for executive function. Successful students practice organization, time-management, study skills, and impression management twelve months a year, not just from August to May.
For more ideas on how to help your child develop critical habits for school and beyond, please visit our blog page. Better yet, reach out today to learn more about our unique one-on-one executive function coaching.