June 3, 2015

More ways to keep your children engaged as summer approaches

Let’s face it: When the weather gets warmer, the days get longer, and the final days of school dwindle, your children spend A LOT of time day-dreaming about the lazy days of summer ahead. They imagine summer camp, cookouts, and beach days very vividly, while conjuring up answers to their homework questions or final projects can be a challenge. Parents and teachers both struggle to keep their students’ heads “in the game” when the summer months approach. However, there are many ways to help keep kids focused, in the classroom and at home. Try these tips during your child’s study or homework times to keep your kids on track:

  1. Set an Enthusiastic Example at Home: Most teachers assign special projects for their students at the end of the year to keep them engaged and excited about new ideas. At home, parents can model enthusiasm for these projects, reiterating their interest and purpose when kids feel doubtful about getting their work done. Insist that the projects get completed and discuss the benefits of completing them, such as the satisfaction of a job well done, and a whole summer to enjoy! Your positive attitude will encourage your children to think positive, too, which helps maintain their focus more easily.
  2. Discuss the Consequences of Incomplete Work: In addition to emphasizing the positive benefits of completing coursework, it is important for parents to discuss the negative consequences of missed work with their children. Sometimes, missed or incomplete assignments can lead to long-term consequences that students do not expect, like summer courses or getting held back in their grade. Make sure that your child knows what will happen if they don’t keep up their focus through the end of the year; this is one of the first steps toward garnering their continued cooperation and hard work.
  3. Schedule Exercise and Outdoor Fun: Being cooped up in a classroom all day is never easy on young minds, especially when summer weather and daydreams of vacation set in. And, given increasing reliance on technology, students spend less and less time exercising outdoors, choosing movies, social media, and video games over outdoor play. When students’ bodies are sedentary, usually their brains feel pretty lethargic, too. So, it’s up to parents to ensure that their children have enough time to play outside, work out their excess energies, and come back to the classroom able to concentrate.
  4. Establish Routine and Stick to It: In previous blogs we’ve discussed the importance of setting household rules and sticking to them as a family. As the end of the school year approaches, and students’ responsibilities pile up, they need the predictability of daily routines to stay on track. Spring sports practices, concerts, or even standardized testing can alter your child’s daily routine, leading to stress. However, when parents work hard to maintain rules and rhythms at home, students are less likely to “check out early,” or succumb to end-of-the-year pressures. But–beware of the reverse outcome: if parents relax household rhythms, and let on that study time is no longer as important as the year comes to a close, students will follow that lead, too.
  5. Create a Calendar and Hang it Somewhere Visible: Sometimes having a visual and a plan is enough to keep kids on track. Use a large wall, desk, or whiteboard calendar to help your child track and manage their most important end-of-the-year dates. Generate a mixture of deadlines, including important obligations and fun relaxation activities, so your child has activities to set their sights on that encompass both work and play. When students can see highly-anticipated fun activities alongside tougher obstacles, they often feel more motivated to overcome the hard days.    
  6. Break Down Big Projects Into Manageable Pieces: Executive function coaches consistently help their students cut big projects down to size. Parents can do the same by sitting down with their children and brainstorming how to break their long-term assignment into manageable chunks. Assign “pretend” due dates for each part of the assignment and help your children stay accountable for their self-imposed deadlines. If your children become overwhelmed, remind them to focus on just one piece of the project at a time. Add these “deadlines” to your big calendar, or post a checklist so your children can track their progress and celebrate accomplishments.
  7. Double Your Positive Reinforcement: Praise for effort and achievement has immeasurable benefits for children, especially those too young to develop strong intrinsic motivation on their own. Rewarding your children’s efforts, with positive reinforcement or other incentives, can help your children “get over the hump” and continue achieving through the end of the school year. Set incentives for getting work done and use fun warm-weather activities as rewards for finished assignments. Plan a trip to the beach, a run through the sprinkler, or a tropical summer recipe. Then, let your students know what you have in mind so they can look ahead to the positive rewards of doing their work.
  8. Brainstorm Summer Plans: It’s okay to daydream sometimes, as long as your children learn how to reestablish focus and keep working. When you know your children are losing focus, take a break from school-related activities and make plans for the summer together. Making these plans gives your children the opportunity to practice executive function skills, while working on a project they are naturally excited about. Talk about packing for summer camps or family vacations, but be sure to get back to work! Your children will learn that it is okay to be excited for summer vacation, but it is essential to prioritize education first.

Although tips to use at home abound, sometimes students need an extra push from educators and supporters outside the home. Executive function tutors and coaches can help students plan for the end of the school year, initiate and follow-through with tasks, and stay on track for a strong finish.