By now you and your family have firmly settled into your summer routine. This looks different for each family, but, for just about all of us, we can expect to have kids complaining of boredom from time to time with a few battles over screen use thrown in for good measure. However, with a little creative planning and forethought, parents can take advantage of this less-scheduled time and really foster their child’s critical thinking and executive functioning skills in some truly fun and engaging ways. It’s like sneaking the spinach into the brownie or the carrots into the spaghetti sauce. All the kids know is they are having a great time and if their brains are being developed at the same time, well, who could complain?
The activities you choose need to be age appropriate and correlate to your child’s developmental level. Here is a general guide you can follow:
During this time in a child’s life, they are becoming increasingly independent and more capable of engaging in games with simple rules and physical activities that require coordination and focus. Development will be varied for this age group, so make sure to select activities that will challenge, but not frustrate, your child.
Puzzles, brain teasers, and matching games work on attention and problem solving
Organized sports require children to focus and make decisions based on constantly changing information and provide opportunities to practice self-control.
Family story time. Have one family member start a story and then go around the table with each family member adding to the plot. This requires the child to utilize working memory (holding learned information) and fosters creativity.
Charades and games like Pictionary delight 5-7 year olds and, they will be exercising their creativity and critical thinking while having a blast.
Children are now ready for activities that require complex and critical thinking, they are becoming increasingly motivated by their peers, so activities that provide opportunities for social interaction should be considered.
Games that require kids to think several moves ahead and navigate multiple outcomes are ideal. Think chess! This is a good place to start: No Stress Chess. Jenga is another example that would work well.
Activities that require quick decisions and strategy require kids to utilize impulse control, selective attention, and cognitive flexibility. This one is fun for all ages: Slapzi by Tenzi
This is the ideal age to introduce a musical instrument. Learning how to read music and play an instrument are phenomenal ways to grow the brain!
Increasingly complex brain games like brain teasers and crossword puzzles will give those executive functioning skills a real workout!
Ages 13 and up:
The pre-frontal cortex, which is the part of our brain that houses our executive functioning skills, is not fully developed until we are in our mid-twenties! However, this age group is getting closer with each passing year, and these kids need to be provided with as much age-appropriate autonomy as possible.
Peers are becoming increasingly important in the teen years, so activities that include socialization should be encouraged. Organized sports, camps, and clubs are perfect for teens. Being around other kids creates lots of opportunity to problem-solve and navigate complex situations.
Part-time jobs can be an impactful way to foster independence, competency, and critical thinking.
Solving their own problems. This age-group should be encouraged to think through their challenges and to develop their own solutions rather than having a parent step in and do it for them. Ask them what they think they can do to overcome a challenge and encourage them to create an action plan.
Continued and more significant participation in organized sports or music groups are called for. Both require significant self-regulation, attention, and use of working memory.
While I have not listed any computer or screen-based activities, there are some out there that actually do a great job of incorporating executive-functioning skills.
From ADDitude magazine: “Legend of Zelda, SimCity and its variations, Command & Conquer, and other problem-solving video games call for sustained attention, response inhibition, planning, organization, metacognition, and goal-directed persistence.”
So, if you do want to incorporate some screentime, just keep those factors in mind, and always have clear boundaries around how much time your child is allowed to be on a device.
Summer doesn’t have to be a bummer! Have some fun, go on adventures, do the unexpected, and sneak in a little learning along the way and your child will be ahead of the game when September rolls around.