Do you remember the fun of riding bikes when you were a kid? Maybe you still ride as an adult? Bikers realize that one of the funnest experiences on two wheels is flying down a steep hill, picking up speed with little effort, while the wind blows in your face. Just enjoy the ride. However, this typically meant you had to pedal hard up the other side of the hill in order to reach the summit. As one approaches a steep hill it’s crucial to pedal quickly, get your speed up, and create momentum that will take you to the top. If you don’t pedal fast enough before the rise in the slope, the momentum stops and it becomes much more difficult to pedal, or you may even have to hop off the bike and walk it to the top of the hill. That’s just physics.
For well over a century, the K-12 school calendar in the United States has included a lengthy summer vacation. The reasons were complex and varied from state to state (following the agrarian calendar is a myth). But by the turn of the 20th century, a long summer break was the tradition and nobody wanted to interfere with everyone’s favorite time of the year. Unfortunately, this calendar format has its drawbacks, as it does not provide for optimal learning or healthy habit building. Teachers will admit that because of the 2+ month break each summer, that they will need to spend at least a full month, and possibly more, reviewing the material that their brains have forgotten over the summer hiatus. That’s just neuroscience.
In much the same way that bikers need to keep momentum to wheel up a steep hill, teenagers with executive function deficits must continue the positive momentum they achieved the past school year through the summer months.
Here are some tips for parents to implement with their teens over the summer:
Get consistent sleep. Go to bed at the same time and wake up at the same time. Yes, you have heard us preach this before. If there were 10 Commandments of executive function skill-building, this would be the 1st commandment.
Keep a daily calendar. Work with your teen as they update their calendar each weekend, establish a color-code system, and have them share the calendar with you. This provides an easy opportunity to review what is going on with them daily and check in with them regarding progress. Even though it’s summer, be creative about how to fill up their time, since they do not have assignments and school projects to complete, unless they have summer school.
Assign daily opportunities/chores. Integrate these home tasks into their weekly calendar by setting times for them to be accomplished. And be sure to reward them for successful completion. We recommend just set the expectation, and don’t get caught up into a philosophical lecture about the value of hard work or how much easier they have it than you did or their grandparents did.
Read. Many schools provide summer reading lists, or you could simply Google search “summer reading list for teenagers” to discover dozens of good lists to choose from. Teens should read at least 3 books over the summer. During and after completing each book, ask them questions about the storyline, characters, and generally how they liked it. Often in high school, the English department will have required reading to complete before school starts again too. If that is the case with your student, that helps round out the list.
Plan and prepare a family meal once in a while. Meal preparation utilizes numerous executive function skills and can be more fun than many other duties around the house. Depending on their age, have your teenager figure out the ingredients and items needed, shop if necessary, follow a recipe, cook, and serve the family at a set time. Maybe let them choose a movie for the family to watch together as well, and they will have planned a fun evening that required organization, task initiation, planning ahead, time management, and chunking down the dinner project into manageable steps.
There are many other possible options for parents who want their kids to keep up momentum during the summer. And you know your children better than anyone. Use some or all of these ideas, or come up with your own. Our encouragement to you is don’t allow your teenager’s brain to atrophy over the summer because of a lack of structured days, too little responsibility, and too much entertainment. Summer is certainly a time to relax, but maintain a healthy balance.
We realize many parents are busy with work and other life responsibilities. If you want your teen to keep momentum over the summer, but your schedule can’t fit daily and weekly check-ins, our executive function coaches can keep them moving forward in their skill development over the vacation months. Don’t stop pedaling over the summer, but keep it going! And please let us know what we can do to be part of that process with your family.
Have a great summer!