Going as far back as the days of Pong and Space Invaders, there have been questions about whether video games have a positive or negative influence on a child’s development and overall well being. Unfortunately, much of the historical dialog around the topic has been about gaming’s contribution to mental and physical problems—despite a lack of scientific evidence to validate these concerns. Thankfully, professionals are now increasingly conducting studies to uncover the truth. While this research is emergent and isn’t yet conclusive, researchers are finding that digital games can be very beneficial to our social, emotional, physical, and cognitive health. It may be time to shift our decades-running mindset that videos games are bad for our children (and for ourselves), and embrace their plurality of positive benefits.
Contrary to common perception, games can promote healthy living and increased social activity. Through a variety of ways they benefit us cognitively, physically, and socially-emotionally. At Learnfully, games allow us to establish a strong rapport with our learners, strengthen underlying sensory-cognitive skills and create positive associations to learning through play. For example, we may start an instructional session playing a memory game—which kick-starts learning and increases their overall receptivity to the subsequent activities in the lesson plan. Games can also help those who struggle with social anxiety make connections and lifelong relationships. Importantly, they help us find joy by pursuing our interests in a variety of ways. They also have many positive impacts on critical thinking skills. Access to consoles like the Nintendo Switch or Wii can promote a better lifestyle, keeping someone active, socially engaged, and entertained at the same time.
As with any other activity, it’s important to optimize the benefits of gaming and not abuse the medium by engaging in it to excess. Maintaining a routine to limit the amount of screentime and review the content of the games your child plays is key to ensuring they attain the positive benefits of the medium. There will always cause for concern when it comes to emerging gaming spaces (yesterday it was online gaming, today it’s the metaverse, tomorrow… who knows) because so much is unknown. With your oversight as a parent or caregiver, your learner can benefit from these ten boosts to social-emotional, cognitive, and physical skills. Hopefully this article will help us rethink our mindset on video gaming and shift our attention to the positive things it can bring into our learners’ lives.
1. Mental Health
WebMD clearly states, “There are many misconceptions about video games and the impact they have on mental health. The truth is that video games have many benefits, including developing complex problem-solving skills and promoting social interaction through online gaming. Video games can be a great way to stimulate your mind and improve your mental health.” There has been a clear uptick in mental health diagnoses since the onset of the pandemic, particularly in teenagers. During this same time video games have been making a tremendous impact on learner engagement and responsiveness to therapy. SPARX, a game specifically designed to provide therapy to teenagers in a way that’s more active and enjoyable than regular counseling, has helped many families achieve drastic results due to the way it engages and more fully brings teenagers into the therapy experience.. Playing video games helps develop interpersonal skills, boosts a sense of accomplishment, and develops the ability to perform under pressure. Practitioners have also developed games that support mood, mindfulness, growth mindset, and self-regulation: it’s evident the gaming revolution in the mental health world has begun.
2. Social Skills
Many neurodivergent learners struggle with social anxiety and feel isolated and alone. To counteract this, some video games explicitly target the need to develop social skills by facilitating discussions, encouraging initiation and conversational discourse in a safe space. For instance, Social Cipher is the perfect example of a fun-filled, systematic social-emotional game that explicitly strengthens the five core social-emotional competencies through an autistic learner’s lens. The protagonist, Ava, simulates life as a neurodivergent learner trying to find her way in the communicative world, one social dilemma at a time serving as representation for learners who struggle with social skills.
The myth of the reclusive shut-in gamer is far from reality. “Gamers aren’t the antisocial basement-dwellers we see in pop culture stereotypes; they’re highly social people,” Dr. Nick Taylor, an assistant professor of communication at NC State and lead author of the study, said in a school news release. “This won’t be a surprise to the gaming community, but it’s worth telling everyone else. Loners are the outliers in gaming, not the norm.” Games such as Among Us, Fortnite and World of Warcraft strengthen ongoing relationships and spark new friendships through shared interests and collaborative opportunities requiring responsible decision-making.
3. Decision Making & Problem Solving
As reported by WebMD, “Action video games are fast-paced, and there are peripheral images and events popping up, and disappearing. These video games are teaching people to become better at taking sensory data in, and translating it into correct decisions.” As a slower-paced game player, I automatically associate action-packed, high-intensity video games as stress-inducing—and this very well may be the case initially —but as a learner acclimates to the game they begin building confidence and neural connections that support their ability to make decisions with urgency. This problem-solving skill generalizes into other environments in and out of the classroom. Other types of games can benefit a learner’s problem solving skills. A study published in 2013 in The American Psychologist found that the as adolescents reported playing more strategic video games (role-playing games, turn-based games etc.) the more they improved in problem solving and school grades the following year.
4. Physical Fitness & Health
Video games also have a positive impact on an individual’s physiological state. Gamifying (using elements of gameplay to engage with a topic or concept) physical fitness increases motivation, leading to more productive exercise . For example, Peloton has created an immersive, gaming-inspired workout called Lanebreak for its community of all ages. Lanebreak inspires its users to engage in a virtual world that builds excitement to develop positive associations to exercise and helps take members’ minds off the more grueling aspects of the workout..
The use of video games with medical patients has also grown tremendously. A study published in November 2014 in the journal Radiology reported that 24 MS patients improved their balance and even lessened their risk of falling as a result of playing video games using a Wii balance board, suggesting that other high-intensity, task-oriented exercises could help patients with multiple sclerosis. The game works by having users stand on a balance board while shifting their weight and following the interactive instructions on the screen. Games have also been used alongside treatment to reduce negative side effects. Studies have even shown that when children play video games following chemotherapy they need fewer painkillers than those who don’t.
Not only do video games incentivize health, they also can improve hand-eye coordination, motor planning skills, and visual-spatial skills and perception. University of Oklahoma pediatricians conducted a study to research active video games as an alternative to moderate exercise for children who are sedentary and at high risk for obesity and diabetes. Tests conducted measured the heart rate, self-reported exertion, and energy expenditure of the children while they interacted with games like Dance Dance Revolution and Wii Boxing. The research concluded that overall energy expenditure during active video game play was comparable to moderate-intensity walking. Another study, conducted by University of Rochester,, found that playing action games improves an ability called contrast sensitivity function, which is what helps us discern between changes in shades of gray against a colored backdrop. This is helpful in tasks requiring vision in low light, like driving at night.
5. Self-discovery & Creative Expression
Video games give players the opportunity to create, experiment, and leverage the full power of their imagination. Starting with creating their online presence by customizing their avatar (the virtual identity a game player assumes online), to expressing their imagination and creativity while playing with friends (or streaming online to others), and on to fanart (fan-created artwork inspired by the game), cosplay (performance art where a performer role plays as a character from a work of fiction), and much more—games offer many opportunities for creative expression. I have witnessed firsthand the incredible opportunity gaming offers in building an individual’s sense of self with my children’s experiences. At first I was apprehensive—I entered the space and brought my own biases, assuming that my children’s social skills were melting away every minute they were gaming online. I was pleasantly surprised to see the strides they made in finding their passions and expressing themselves creatively. A whole new accessible and inclusive world has come alive for my eldest child particularly as they navigate preteen life and search for themself and their identity. I know that it can be scary to send your child into the virtual gaming world; instilling the proper safety precautions in our kids when they go online will help mitigate our fears and help us trust they will turn to us for support when necessary.
Playing action video games increases the amount of gray matter in a person’s brain and promotes better connectivity in the subregions of the brain associated with gray matter functions. Gray matter is important, because its functions include muscle control and sensory perception skills such as seeing and hearing, memory function, and emotion, speech, and decision formation. One of the most noticeable impacts of video games in my children and the learners we serve is how much it has strengthened their working memory. Tried and true working-memory-enhancing games like Simon are now available online. Nintendo’s Rhythm Heaven develops players’ visual and auditory memory through musical experiences and interests. Learners sustain attention for long periods of time because they receive immediate feedback and gratification, further igniting their interests, feelings of productivity, and sense of success.
Evidence suggests video games may also slow aging’s effects on the brain. As reported by Huffpost, researchers at the University of Iowa found that playing a brain-teasing game for just two hours a week can help slow the degree of mental decline associated with natural aging. Just 10 hours was enough to slow the decline for up to seven years. This benefit was achieved using digitized crossword puzzles and a video game called “Road Tour.”
7. Cognitive Flexibility
Certain types of video games can help train the brain to become more agile and improve strategic thinking, according to research conducted by scientists from Queen Mary University of London and University College London (UCL). Researchers noted that while playing the popular strategy game Starcraft, participants were able to manage more information sources, leading to enhancements in cognitive flexibility.” In other words, the people who played the game boasted better cognitive flexibility since the game requires constant thinking and player input. While not all games may offer the same benefit, it’s good to know that at least some of our favorite games, especially real-time strategy games, may be helping us become better learners while entertaining us.
8. Shifting and Sustaining Attention
A chief concern among many caregivers today (myself included) is that their kids sit in class thinking about Minecraft and Pokémon instead of listening to their teachers. To determine whether games could help (rather than hinder) learner focus by by improving cognition and perception, researcher Vikranth Bejjanki conducted several experiments. These studies asked two groups of people, experienced gamers and people who don’t play video games, to perform several perceptual tasks, like pattern discrimination. The gamer group outperformed the non-gamer group. A subsequent study showed that playing videos games for 50 hours increased participants’ capability with perceptual tasks.The paper concluded that playing video games influences performance in perception, attention, and cognition. Put simply—playing games improves several abilities, including skills related to sustaining and shifting attention.
9. Application to Learning
Video games can help expand a player’s knowledge across a variety of subjects including history, geography, science, and foreign languages. A plethora of literacy and math educational games are available online that reinforce learners’ underlying skills, but many of them lack personalization, representation, and that excitement factor—all of which affect a learner’s engagement to the program. Minecraft has been used in the classroom for a decade (and is still going strong). I was personally excited to discover Brainika and use it with one of my children struggling in math. Brainika develops educational games on the population online multiplayer game-creation platform Roblox that help neurodivergent kids intuitively build their math skills..
The son of Brainika’s Founder, Anya (who goes by Anika), was diagnosed with ADHD in 2020. She turned his diagnosis into an opportunity to bring excitement to learning by developing language, coding, and math instruction for the virtual platforms of Minecraft and Roblox. She shared why she chose to develop on Roblox, “it is a great tool for SEND (Special Education Needs and Disabilities, a statutory code from the UK Department of Education) learning, it unlocks kids’ imagination by embodying six core metaverse elements: immersion, virtual identity, digital asset ownership, real-life experiences, social network and creators economy run on digital currency. For educators, Roblox allows limitless creation of educational experiences that students heartily participate in, developing both soft and hard skills.”
Goal-directedness, or goal-directed behavior, refers simply to the ability to set oneself to the completion of a goal. One of the primary purposes of playing any game is to meet the goal set forth by the game designers. Finding joy and meaning in video games naturally builds a sense of goal-directedness. By setting realistic goals, building a plan to achieve them, and ultimately acting on those plans, children are practicing a recipe for learning success that can be generalized across many tasks and settings. Learner motivation is also critical to learning success. Players are motivated to succeed in games by being given small goals (like leveling up) they can achieve easily. Once they see themselves succeed at this smaller task, they are more inspired to take on bigger goals. This confidence can carry over into a learner’s social, emotional and cognitive skills in learning and life. Reaching goals within games can create a cascade of confidence that supports learners when they apply themselves outside of the medium.
I recently had the chance to sit down and pick the brain of one of the top speech-language pathologists and board-certified neurofeedback practitioners in the country, Dr. Williamson. I have been fascinated by how she uses neurofeedback as an assessment and progress monitoring tool for ADHD and Autistic learners, and I couldn’t wait to share these learnings with our community. In this piece, Dr. Williamson provides clear insight into the ins and outs of neurofeedback. Let’s dive in!
What is neurofeedback?
Neurofeedback (also known as EEG Biofeedback) is a way to measure electrical activity of the brain. The measurement of brain waves involves receiving information from the neurons that are communicating with each other. For data collection, a cap is attached to a person’s head to take measurements according to the anatomical locations. A computer is used to analyze the brain wave patterns and provide feedback. The assessment involves taking measurements of these locations. After the assessment, the treatment involves lightweight sensors attached to any areas of need, which provides feedback to the client to determine if they are meeting their personalized goals. This is a reading or measurement, just as a thermometer measures one’s body temperature, so there is no voltage or electrical current sent to the brain. The neurofeedback (NFB) practitioner will program the plan based on the QEEG (Quantitative Electroencephalogram) and standardized databases. The screen will turn dark if a patient is not focusing or turn brighter if they are. The goals are based on standardized procedures set forth by the databases that neurofeedback uses. Sometimes, when we assess learners with a lot of energy or need to move, we provide a visual distraction (a movie, for example), to make sure we capture an accurate read.
When do you recommend children get tested in this way?
Just about any condition can be improved through neurofeedback. Many of the studies conducted are with children that have a diagnosis of ADHD and/or Autism which is who we usually have as patients. For example, we are able to test the efficacy of certain treatments such as medication and we have patients come to us that want the procedure to eliminate the need for medication, reduce or stabilize medication. We know that certain waveforms are prevalent that cause slow processing. Hence, stimulant medications excite these waveforms and balance them out for a short period of time. Neurofeedback is a training that has been shown to be effective and endorsed by the American Academy of Pediatrics as a Level 2 treatment. We feel it is the best treatment to effectively train neurons and balance them out without the need of medication or reduce medication. To learn more about what symptoms or diagnoses may warrant a scan as well as what to expect during the scan itself, check out this wonderful resource.
How do you ensure you capture an accurate appraisal?
Neurofeedback is done best when a QEEG is done. A QEEG is a diagnostic tool that measures electrical activity in the form of brain wave patterns. Only trained neurofeedback professionals are aware of how to test for this. The process involves a patient wearing a cap corresponding to specific areas of the brain. Electrogel is placed in tiny holes for the cap for measurements. Neurofeedback professionals are specifically trained on the implementation and reading of these brain maps. In addition, there are different procedures that are implemented for neurofeedback professionals. Only those professionals that are board certified by the Board Certification of International Alliance (BCIA) should be used. A patient can search by state/location to find a certified professional. BCIA trained professionals have gone through specific training and passed board exams to obtain this status. These professionals know how to obtain a good reading (e.g. reduce artifact or noise in the signal) as well as interpret the results and obtain a plan that can put caregivers and their learners on the path to success.
What are some common recommendations that may follow the scan?
Depending on the neurofeedback professional and the database used, the professional should present the patient with a QEEG report specifically indicating areas of the brain showing abnormalities and a specific plan to treat these areas. Sensors or electrodes are placed in a location (or locations) based on the QEEG to train these sites. Neurofeedback is based on self-regulation and self-control. The patient will learn what they need to do to focus on the stimulus. The treatment is based on the principles of operant conditioning: sensors are placed on the sites, and the patient can only see/hear the stimulus when they are at a certain level (a set threshold as programmed by the neurofeedback professional). Trainees learn from the feedback provided through the reinforcement and how to stay alert, relaxed, and focused. The neurofeedback practitioner tracks progress and is able to see the trend of activity of the brain through the measurement of the EEG signals provided from the sensors.
What is the anticipated impact of said recommendations (acknowledging that everyone is different)?
Although the number of training sessions varies and is individual specific, the general impacts have been research validated. However, the average number of sessions is 40. In addition, each person is unique with their own set of features and responses. The QEEG is a map of what to do for treatment, but not everyone responds the same way. Therefore, the reinforcement schedule can be modified based on a patient’s needs. Remapping can be done to determine progress, percent of brain change, or changes for a plan for an individual.
Can you diagnose using the results?
You do not use a QEEG by itself to diagnose solely, but it is part of a multidisciplinary approach. We will use it as part of our total assessment. If we do find there are frontal/executive lobe abnormalities, there are diagnostic codes that can be used to reflect these abnormalities.
Any final thoughts you wish to offer to our shared audience?
Neurofeedback has been studied for over 100 years and has been proven effective to improve processing and memory for many disabilities. Depending on the professional, neurofeedback practitioners can assess and determine improvement and percent of brain change after treatment. Neurofeedback is highly successful and is known to be long-lasting based on longitudinal studies. In addition, neurofeedback can be done at home; however, it is strongly recommended that the assessment be done in the neurofeedback practitioner’s office. Due to our specialty, we have added this to our cognitive procedures, so we have been effective billing and receiving insurance benefits for patients in the state of SC. Different professionals can do NFB as long as you are in healthcare—I am a PhD speech-language pathologist, but many doctors, psychologists, mental health counselors as well as chiropractors use this procedure. We are unique in that we have been successful receiving insurance benefits for this procedure. Reimbursement for insurance is based on the discipline/credentialing of the provider, benefits for a patient’s plan, as well as diagnosis of the patient.
Dr. Shannon Williamson is a speech-language pathologist and board certified neurofeedback practitioner. She received her Master’s and Doctorate degrees from the University of South Carolina. She has been employed as adjunct professors at the University of South Carolina and South Carolina State University, lead speech-language pathologist and curriculum coordinator for speech-language pathology in the public school system, and most recently administrator in two rehabilitation clinics in private practice. Dr. Williamson has helped children in all types of settings-public school, private school, homeschool, rehabilitation clinics as well as preschool/early intervention. She was recognized as a Worldwide Leader in Healthcare in 2014 and featured as a top ten leader in Healthcare by Women of Distinction in 2016. Dr. Williamson currently owns and directs Upstate Pediatric Speech Therapy Services, two clinics in Upstate, SC that provide therapy services for children with language and learning disabilities, communication impairments as well as ADD/ADHD.
Homeschooling is the method of educating your children in your home rather than at a school. Making the decision to homeschool a child can pose a formidable challenge, but parents have options—and ultimately much more control—when choosing to homeschool over traditional schooling. Each state has its own homeschool requirements, but the family has the last word on how to educate their children at home in a way that suits them best. In this article, I’ll lay out the common approaches to homeschooling and how to pick the best option for your family.
Understanding the Different Options
The classic approach to homeschooling: running a family school in the privacy of one’s own home allows a family autonomy on how to educate their children. The full responsibility of curriculum, teaching, and community building falls to the family. Parents have the freedom to choose their own curriculum, but also must assume the financial burden of paying for it. The family is fully responsible for facilitating the instruction to their children (ie. taking on the role of the teacher). Socialization and community are oft-talked-about concerns with respect to homeschooling. Developing friendships and social skills are important to education, learning, and life, and it’s certainly possible to achieve these needs while schooling at home. Community can be found in a variety of areas: a local homeschool group, a sport or social activity, a community or church group, or other kid-friendly community activities.
For some families, private homeschooling can feel overwhelming. Yet for others, the greater autonomy allows them the freedom to educate their children in very intentional ways. For those who don’t wish to take on the total task of educating a child independently, more contemporary options are available that give parents greater choice in pursuing home-schooled education for their youngsters.
Local Homeschool Groups
Many communities offer support for homeschool groups. Some of these groups are faith-based, while others are not—so look for the best option for your family! For example, for a more classical approach to education, there is a homeschool community group that focuses specifically on a classical approach to seven academic disciplines.
Generally these groups will meet on a weekly basis for group instruction or to introduce a specific topic or style of education. The family then takes that content to review and study the rest of the week before rejoining the group again the following week. Sometimes these community groups are less structured, offering a myriad of social options including sports, exercise groups, field trips, and time together.
The local homeschool community group approach is great due to how it naturally builds community into a family’s homeschooling day. Often, private homeschooling and local community homeschool groups go hand-in-hand. Many private homeschool families attend these groups regularly.
Virtual Charter School
Some families choose a different approach to educating their children, opting to enroll in a virtual charter school. Virtual charter schools are public state-funded schools. However, they are offered in a virtual setting, allowing parents to take the primary role in educating their children. Each of these schools takes a slightly different approach to facilitating education offerings to families, but they all have similarities. Many of them offer curriculum options to parents and will order and deliver it directly to the home. Our public education system being what it is, some schools limit what curriculum is offered. However, most schools offer a similar, highly recommended, homeschool curriculum option. The virtual charter schools may differ in certain policies, like how often the school’s teacher checks in with the families or the specifics of how virtual special education instruction is provided. Despite these differences, all virtual public charter schools are required to provide special education services (something my own family has greatly benefited from). If you have a child who may qualify for an IEP, researching the special education department of a public charter school is a great idea—don’t feel like you have to homeschool alone if you have questions or concerns, or need support. Virtual public charter schools are a great way to combine home education with necessary additional support structures.
Private Virtual Schools
Families can opt to enroll their children in a virtual private school. These schools offer either recorded or live video lessons—sometimes with a live class of other students. Other times, individual lessons or self-paced, pre-recorded services may be offered. Some private schools offer the option to decide between virtual classes or curriculum at home. This decision should be made based on a child’s personality, educational needs, learning style, and the quality of virtual instruction provided.
Choosing What’s Best for Your Family.
Narrowing down your family’s homeschooling preference may be straightforward or it may only get worked out through trial and error. My family had to try several forms of homeschooling before settling into a combination of working with a virtual charter (for general and special education services) and a local homeschool group (where my kids are challenged to participate in weekly presentations and listen to a teacher, all the while making friends).
When researching virtual charter schools in your state, look at your state’s Department of Public Instruction/Department of Education website—your public virtual charter schools will be found there. Not all public charter schools offer a virtual option (and not all are created equal). I recommend exploring a variety of options within the charter school community, focusing on what’s important to your family. Compare websites and available information, and contact each school with questions.
A family’s decision to homeschool is often based on personal decisions, family preferences, and the flexibility that comes with choosing to educate your child in a way that reflects your family’s values. Parents know their children best and should feel equipped to educate them. Choosing the best homeschool option for your child is important, but gives them the gift of getting to learn from their parents or caregivers. Keep in mind that not all children in the same family have to homeschool the same way. Find what works for each child in your family, and know that supports are available should you choose to educate at home.
About the Author
Erin Luchterhand has been working as an Educational Specialist for over 10 years. She has a Bachelor’s Degree in Special & Elementary Education and is Orton Gillingham Trained (for Dyslexia). She was recognized as the 2015 Exceptional Parent Magazine Teacher of the Year award.
When I was a kid, summer meant no school, no stress, and no structure. Growing up in the rural Midwest, my neighborhood group of friends and I had created a routine of our own. It included morning chores, kickball, or some random outdoors poking around. Later, we’d play board games over lunch and then spend the afternoon in the lake. We’d head home for dinner with our parents at our respective houses and then get together for a game of freeze tag or firefly chasing until it was dark. It was a quintessential summer. This is not the type of summer many neurodivergent children experience; this lack of structure may not be as well-suited for them.
Coping with Summer Schedule Shifts
If you are a parent of a child with learning differences, you know the importance of routines—neurodivergent kids need predictability and do much better when they have it.
Summertime can pose new challenges for parents and caregivers—especially for kids with learning differences, like ADHD, who crave structure. All the well-established routines from the school year go out the window during summer, when parents are faced with seven (or more) loosely structured weeks that have a minimal resemblance to their children’s school days. By the second week of school being out, it usually dawns on me how deeply I relied on that structure as summer camp begins—with its new pick-up and drop-off times, new friends, and new activities. I’m blindsided every time by the need to go over these new routines.
Some students are eligible for Extended School Year (ESY) services. ESY happens at the end of the current school year, and allows students to get used to their new classroom, peers, teachers, and support staff for the following school year. This is vital: we want the transition back into school in the fall to happen as smoothly as possible (note that I said “as smoothly as possible;” the start of the year typically isn’t perfectly smooth, but it’s a good target). ESY helps lessen students’ anxiety about returning to school seven weeks later. It also gives some parents four extra weeks of routines and less time to find camps and activities, summer caregivers, or part-time jobs for their children. It’s a win-win.
Although the camp, campers, coaches, and gurus change each week like a revolving door, consistency and structure is achieved by going to a “home base.” As with school, there is a drop-off point with a pep talk, and pick-up one with an after-class debrief, providing bookends to their day.
Communication with the counselors and instructors is essential for kids’ success, even in summer. It’s helpful to meet the people monitoring your children during the camp; it gives you the opportunity to speak to them about anything that might come up (like if your child needs to take breaks or gets overstimulated). When it comes to your kids, hearing how their day went is another great way to help support them. It provides the intel you need to talk through things that may need an adjustment for the following days, or praise them for their triumphs.
Changing Routines can be a Good Thing
Summer is a great time to work on maintaining the predictability families rely on and helping build resilience in our children by adjusting them to modified schedules. Be aware that disruptions can happen in the middle of a stable, structured routine (like school). Over the last school year, my son’s classroom faced numerous staff changes with little notice. This is not ideal, but sometimes it’s unavoidable. And sometimes, routines stop working and need adjustment, and we must help navigate the transition period until things settle back into something recognizable and familiar.
If you don’t partake in summer camps ( maybe you have a summer nanny or other caretaker), you’ll need to create a new routine for the summer weeks. If a caretaker reports to your home for the day, you may need to establish a new ritual that mimics the structure that going to school provides. Perhaps you make a point to sit, have breakfast, and go over activity choices for the day. Some parents may have a short morning meeting to review the plans and expectations for the day. Doing something like this provides a strong anchoring point of predictability for kids as they start their day.
Whether chatting with the caregiver in the evening (perhaps over dinner), your kids may be excited to share their day. You can leverage this approach when you get home to help bookend your kid’s day and transition them into bedtime. Parents.com gives a few tips to help keep things simple when discussing the day’s successes and challenges.
The bedtime routine is one of the most talked-about routines—for a good reason, sleep is of the utmost importance for young developing minds. Regardless of where we go or what camp we participate in for the week, I try to keep the same bedtime routine to end the day, which can be very comforting.
You can find structure and routine during the summer—even when it may seem challenging to do so. Implementing a few tweaks and updates to your family’s standard school year regime can promote both fun and growth in your children. Consistently starting the day with a summer morning routine and maintaining a usual bedtime routine helps provide consistency that all children need, especially as surroundings change for a few months.
About the Author
Kendra Demler is a single mom and parent writer living in the Bay Area. Her personal experiences have given her a talent for candidly retelling the good, the bad, and sometimes cringe-worthy adventures in neurodivergent and high-needs parenting. Raising her son as a solo parent has driven her passion for using her voice to spread awareness, increase acceptance, and provide support and resources for families of neurodivergent children.
Many parents of different learners go from not knowing the meaning of “executive functioning,” to not knowing how they didn’t grow up learning all about it. Executive functioning (EF) is truly the engine that makes our brains function effectively and efficiently. The better our executive function, the easier it is for us to adapt, recall information, and get those daily tasks done.
Next time you’re putting off something that you know is super simple and will only take you about five minutes to do, don’t call yourself lazy—blame it on your executive functioning: it’s your brain’s fault! You might need to give your brain—and your kids’ brains—a little extra oomph to put down the screens, stave off mindless distractions, and tackle the to-do list.
Whether you’re exercising your own EF skills or your kiddos’, summer is the perfect time to merge family fun with tuning up much-needed skills. Learnfully invited neuropsychologist Dr. Karen Wilson, EF Coach Elizabeth Boyarsky, and a mom of several children with learning differences (yours truly) to discuss how we sneak EF skill development into summer fun. Here are our favorite ideas:
Involve children in cooking and baking. So many EF skills are exercised in the kitchen. Measuring, following directions, taking turns, waiting for the finished product–all these tasks add up to strengthening self-control and even working memory. Plus who can resist sprinkling in some math practice with all the opportunities cooking provides?
Practice Mindfulness. Learning to be mindful and taking cues from how your body feels is important to everyone—but even more so for kids who have EF struggles. Recognizing how they feel is key to overcoming those times when impulsivity threatens to take over. Open the windows, settle in with your little one, and tune into yourselves; make mindfulness a family practice.
Reinforce healthy sleep habits. Sleep is critical to learning. Many parents tend to relax our kids’ sleep schedules a bit in the summer, and we’re missing out on a great opportunity to get sleep hours locked in. Work on putting devices away earlier in the evening, pick some great books to settle into and let the summer sun wake up the house more naturally. Before you know it a new school year will be here and everyone will be ready to rise and shine on time.
Explore a passion project with the family. Capitalizing on your learner’s interests is a great way to help build confidence while sliding in a bit of work on their EF skills. Take out books at the library on their favorite subject and have them flex their creative muscles by compiling a report that includes a hands-on project or demonstration. Let them plan out a section of the family garden or start a photography project. The sky’s the limit when it comes to passion projects and summer days.
Revamp systems that did not serve your child well last school year. The relaxed schedule of summer offers extra time to reflect on what worked and what didn’t from the previous school year. Involve your learner in the planning process for the upcoming academic year. What will help them get out the door with everything they need for school every day? How could they better organize their afternoons? Empowering them with choices can give a sense of confidence and control that will follow them long after they hang up their school backpack for the last time.
Provide structure with agency, strike the balance. We all run out of patience during the rat race of the school year—our kids included. Summer is a great time to work on the mental flexibility that allows us to change things up. Call a family meeting about your summer schedule and take everyone’s suggestions. Can your kiddo bend to someone else’s needs a bit, or are they inflexible? Work on a balance that gives them support along with a little bit of freedom to find what works best for them.
Pair the pomodoro (timer) technique with music. Music makes everything better. If your learner is struggling with distractions or has a hard time completing things in a timely manner, experiment with sound. Have them try to finish a task before the end of a song, or try soothing music to help get them through a chore they’d rather not do. Incorporating music may help keep them motivated to complete a task.
Plan outdoor activities. Summer provides endless opportunities to get outside and explore, so have your learner plan a scavenger hunt or create an obstacle course. Or take a nature walk, which can provide time to slow down and listen for unique sounds. Picnics can be planned, gardens can be planted, imaginary adventures can be taken… the possibilities are endless!
Facilitate honest, reflective discussions. We’re often rushing from one thing to the next during the school year so the often lazy days of summer give us more time to talk openly and honestly. Talk with your child about what’s working in their life and what isn’t. Making sure they feel heard can alleviate lots of frustration and build their confidence and ability to self-advocate.
Gamify gamify gamify! Play a variety of different types of games (card games, board games, role-playing, video games, etc.). No summer vacation is complete without a game (or ten, or twenty). Next time your kids are begging for one more game, remind yourself that every game provides an opportunity to work on turn-taking, mental flexibility, handling failure, and team-building. Games are a fantastic way to sneak in many EF skill-builders! If you need even more ideas for the next time one of your kids groans, “I’m bored,” we’ve created a sheet of activity cards to keep on hand all summer. Print the sheet off and cut the individual cards out, then grab one daily to exercise the corresponding EF skills. Challenge your family to see how many they can complete this summer, or fill a jar and let your kids take turns picking one each day. They’re sure to keep your family busy and your EF skills strong to prepare for back to school!
Executive Function Activity Cards
About the Author
Jessica Watson is a mom to several kids with learning differences, including one with autism. As a homeschooling parent, a published author in this space, and a marketing specialist, she has found a great balance between her personal life and her work with the neurodivergent community, and adds a blend of proven and practical advice to our Executive Functioning panel.
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