Avoiding the Summer Backslide

By: Emily Bottegal


Last week I watched my niece board the bus to take her to sleepaway camp.  She took one step on the bus, waved goodbye to us, and that was it. While the rest of us worried about this eight-year-old, hoping she would make friends quickly, wouldn’t get homesick, and would remember to brush her teeth twice a day, she was facing forward excited to take on the next two weeks of her life in a new place with new people.  I couldn’t help but think back to my summer camp days: sleeping on a bunk bed, participating in Ga-Ga Ball tournaments, sliding down a gigantic inflatable slide into a filthy lake, even trying the trapeze for the first time. I remember the tears I had knowing camp was over, but the excitement I had when my disposable camera’s film was developed and I could relive the moments with my mom explaining to her exactly who and what was happening in each picture, even the blurry ones.  

It wasn’t until a few years ago that I realized just how connected I am to those pictures- each one of them is in a special photo album with a label reminding me what camp and year they were from.  I guess I enjoyed organizing even as a young kid. That was my summer though, checking out of school mode, going to sleepaway camp for eight weeks, and coming home knowing I was going to get to develop, sort, and create these special memories before I headed back into school mode.  

As a pre-teen I thought I was just doing what all other campers did, but as an adult I realize just how many executive function (EF)  skills I was utilizing and how important it is to practice those skills over the summer. Photo albums and scrapbooking was my fun project, but definitely not the only way to be creative and avoid that “summer backslide” with EF and other academic skills.  Whether your child is going on a memorable family trip, heading to summer camp, learning a new talent, or even staying home and relaxing, there are many ways to encourage them to build their EF skills over the summer. Make this a fun experience, and encourage your child to be creative and brainstorm an interesting and engaging summer project they can work on and complete over the next few weeks. 

Our coaches work with students over the summer to help them identify their interests, find the perfect project, and breakdown the multi-step process into manageable and achievable small goals.  We assist those students in listing the steps, creating deadlines, and following up mid-week to make sure they are on track and feeling comfortable and confident with the task. 

Below are some great project ideas for your child to work on over the summer to help them build and develop their executive function skills.

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If your child is into technology, or even just likes to talk or perform, creating a podcast is the perfect project for him/her.  Podcasts are fairly easy to create and record, especially if you have a Mac computer. Remember, your child doesn’t have to actually upload their recordings to a website for them to be successful- just the act of planning, researching what they’ll need, finding/purchasing the materials, picking a podcast topic, organizing his/her thoughts, writing a script, and then recording the material is an accomplishment.

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Opening a Lemonade Stand or Small Business

This sounds like a cliché “right-of-passage” for any pre-teen, but opening and running a lemonade (or iced-tea) stand is a great way to get your child to use their executive function skills over the summer.  It’s not as simple as standing outside and pouring lemonade into a cup. Have your child think about all the different steps that are involved in not just making lemonade, but running a stand. What will they need for the stand?  A table, a chair, a change bank? What about advertising? Who will be picking up the lemonade materials? Will they be using powder mix or make freshly squeezed lemonade? How long does that take to make, and what are you using to hold/pour the lemonade?  Did you forget cups? What about the business side- how much is each cup? Will you be paying mom/dad back for the materials? Where are you setting the stand up and what time will your stand be open? Where can I set up my stand (check to make sure this is allowed in your neighborhood/area). Just a few questions to get you thinking about the process.

For older students, encourage your child to be an entrepreneur.  Think about small businesses they can start and how they can advertise.  Ideas include starting a lawn mowing company, a babysitting business, or even becoming a dog walker in the neighborhood.  Your child can start by making flyers or even posting their new business on social media.  

Write a Comic Book, Novel, or Blog

Is writing your child’s passion?  If so, encourage your student to think about writing their own blog or novel, maybe about a special place they went to this summer or a memorable moment they had.  If they also like to draw, a comic book is a great project to work on over the summer. There are lots of cool apps and programs for this if your child would rather do this electronically.  Just like with essays or other writing assignments, your child should choose a topic, develop a thesis statement, and utilize some sort of graphic organizer to help sort through their thoughts before diving in.  I created one for this blog post! Encourage your child to do the writing before adding pictures or graphics. If you notice he/she is having trouble putting thoughts onto paper, try sitting together and having them talk things out, maybe even taking notes for your child that they can refer back to.  Still having trouble with the thesis statement or intro? Skip it and come back to it! No need to spin your wheels. There are also great websites out there that will help your child publish their book so you can order (and even sell!) the finished project (Blurb or Student Treasures).

Powerpoint or Prezi

Is your family planning an amazing family trip somewhere beautiful?  Having a family reunion? Going to camp? A Powerpoint or Prezi presentation is a great way to capture those pictures and memories in a fun way.  My brother-in-law did something similar after his trip with friends to Croatia. We all sat in front of the TV and he went through a photo slideshow of his recent vacation.  Students can even add a fun song or sound effects to the project as an extra step.

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iMovie or GoPro Film

Let’s face it, our children love their phones and technology.  Instead of battling your child over the summer about putting their phone down, come up with a great compromise and have your child make their own movie or documentary.  Encourage your child to think about topics they are interested in and would like to record. Maybe a baseball tournament, summer camp, or even “A Day in the Life of…” are great ideas.  Is there something your child is passionate about, such as a cause in the community or something they want to change? Perhaps even a family vacation? Have your child think about what they would want to film (either with their phone or even a GoPro) and edit the clips together to create their own movie.  There are many ways to do this, and a great way to get your child to practice EF skills relating to breaking down larger projects, chunking, and even meeting deadlines. Use a planner (we have a wonderful Project Planner- contact us for this tool!) to help your child set small goals to get their movie finished on time.

Redecorate Your Room

It may be called “New Year’s resolutions” or “spring cleaning”, but summer is a great time to get yourself into a fresh mindset for the August or September back-to-school mode.  Letting your child redecorate their room is a creative way for them to practice skills like task initiation, focus, flexibility, and organization. Before your child starts moving things around, have them design a blueprint of what they want their end room to look like.  Talk to your child about what they want to change and why; identify problem areas in the space and brainstorm solutions. For example, if your child always has a big pile on their desk or paper clips and pencils on the floor, get a container for the miscellaneous items. If they are moving furniture, make sure they measure (and ask permission) before they start.  

Vacation Project/Scavenger Hunt

Are you going out of town this summer?  Even if you are going somewhere you have been before, create a scavenger hunt or bingo sheet for your child.  Research interesting sites or different places in the area that your child would want to see or would be fun to look for, even something as small as a sand crab or a boardwalk roller coaster.  Have your child take a picture of the item as their “proof” and they can cross it off their list or put a sticker on it. This is a great activity especially for younger children.

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College Visits

College visits do not have to take place during the school year and most college campuses have students on campus year-round.  If you are going to see grandma and grandpa in Ohio, or visiting a fun new city, think about spending a few hours to look at nearby colleges.  Traveling can be a great time to go see a college campus. Even for younger students, this is a wonderful way to get them used to the idea of college and how different campuses are.  You can even make a fun checklist of things they want to see on the campus. We have a great campus journal your child can use to write notes to help them remember their college visit- contact us for more information!

Give these fun projects a try and help your child make the most of their summer!