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I get it: teachers want students to stay engaged and maintain their knowledge from the previous school year’s classes, and I don’t disagree with that one bit. For students, though, who have just come off finals, the thought of jumping into reading assignments or math packets could not be less appealing. Instead, vacations, camps, even internships or volunteer opportunities are a welcome reprieve from what sometimes seems like a singular focus on academics (even though we know teens’ lives involve much more than school).

While there are plenty of ways to get ahead over the summer break, let’s be real: summer homework needs to get done, one way or the other. Trust me, you’d much rather go into your AP Calculus class with a solid understanding of all the functions you learned about the previous year than be left in the dust when your class reviews all of that year’s content in the first two weeks of school (if at all), and that’s just one example. Ultimately, there is a way to get your summer homework done with minimal stress, and a little planning and forethought can help you do just that (even if that plan doesn’t go perfectly)! 

The key to conquering these tasks lies in executive functioning skills, which are essential for planning, organizing, and completing assignments effectively. Because teens’ brains are still developing, the reality is that high school students possess these skills at varying degrees, and that’s ok! Adults–especially me, as an executive function coach –can (and should) help to supplement a child’s executive skills with some of our own brain power. That’s the whole point of this post! Over time, the goal is to shift those expectations and responsibilities to students as they are able to accomplish these kinds of tasks independently and consistently.

With all this in mind, here’s a little bit of my brain power to help you tackle your summer homework with as little stress as possible (so things don’t become overwhelming, testing one of your executive functioning skills, emotional control):

Set Up a Study Routine (executive skills: planning/prioritization, task initiation, goal-directed persistence)

When is the best time during the day for you to focus on summer assignments? Would you prefer to spend half an hour each day reading or set aside one entire afternoon each week? There are very few wrong answers here as long as you actually give these topics the consideration they are due.

Once you have decided on days and times, hold yourself accountable to that commitment. Put “Summer Homework” into the calendar on your phone, and set reminders so you are ready to get started at the appropriate times. It might be a gorgeous morning to go for a run, but if that’s the time you’ve set aside to complete a math worksheet, you’ll have to make sure you’re back in time or put the run off until later in the day. Better yet, let the run serve as a reward for completing the assignment!

If getting started is a challenge, try breaking an assignment up into smaller, more manageable segments (this is actually what we’re trying to do with all your summer assignments!). This might also lead you to adapt your homework schedule, which is completely fine as long as you’re dedicating enough time to complete the assignments themselves. Again, committing to the time you’ve set aside here is critical: even if it’s ten minutes, set a timer on your phone and commit to working on something until the timer goes off. You can also incorporate breaks into your homework schedule, which should also be timed.

Create a Detailed Schedule (executive skills: organization, planning/prioritization, time management)

Spend the first five minutes of every homework session establishing goals for the work you will complete during that interval. Then track your efficiency: write start and stop times for each worksheet or chapter and compare those times to your expectations. If you end up underestimating how much time you need to complete segments of an assignment, consider revising your homework schedule. If you have time remaining, can you get a jump start on something else? Or maybe plan for your next homework session? Perhaps it’s a hot day, and some ice cream would be a perfect reward!

Navigating Summer 1

Seek Help When Appropriate (executive skills: flexibility, goal-directed persistence, metacognition)

Even the best plans need adjustment. If you find yourself running out of steam during your homework sessions, consider other parts of the day when you might have more energy, or shorten your homework sessions but schedule them on one more day each week. Maybe teaming up with a friend would help you both stay accountable and give each of you an outlet for your questions about the material. If you’re really struggling with homework content material, Mindfish academic support can help you get back on track.

Hopefully, the suggestions above give students some insights into planning and completing assignments over the summer, but there’s a bigger picture here: summer homework can highlight weaknesses in students’ executive functioning skills, such as planning, organization, and time management. These weaknesses often manifest through procrastination, difficulty breaking down tasks, and trouble adhering to a schedule. For example, a student may repeatedly delay starting assignments until the last minute, struggle to create and follow a plan, or feel overwhelmed by larger projects. 

Conclusion

Identifying these patterns can help parents understand the areas where their child may need additional support or strategies to improve their executive functioning. Mindfish’s executive functioning coaching programs pair students and their families with a 1-on-1 coach to tailor strategies and tools to help students develop the skills they will need as they become more independent, including planning, time management, flexibility, and problem-solving. Summer assignments can be the perfect way to evaluate a student’s executive functioning, develop systems to set them up for success, and set a solid foundation for the upcoming school year!