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Summer Skills Series Part 3: 10 Executive Functioning Activities

July calendar with days marked off for vacation and vacation trinkets all around.

At a Glance

In this series, we are going to focus on some activities that are oriented around different types of skills, from self-advocacy to broader life skills to executive functioning.

For part 3 of our summer activities series, our focus is going to be on executive functioning activities.

Here are 10 activities to focus on this summer during the break from school. Make sure to tailor activities to fit the age and needs of the individual you are supporting!

Welcome back to our Summer Skills Series where in part 1 we focused on activities for practicing self-advocacy skills and in part 2 we focused on activities for working on life skills.

Executive functioning (EF) at its core represents the ways we decide what to do, plan on how to get it done, follow through, and evaluate our progress. There is a huge range of EF skills that a person can theoretically practice, and when it comes to EF we all have areas where we excel and areas where some practice might help us more effectively meet our goals. 

We have created some resources (including a free poster!) that try to categorize the range of EF skills we can practice, but as a general rule if it helps us figure out how to get the job done then it’s probably an EF skill!

While EF skills are undoubtedly important in a school setting, we are still practicing EF throughout the summer whether we are thinking about how to finish chores, keep up with personal hygiene, or finish an ambitious summer project. 

The great part about practicing EF skills is that they can be scaled to meet the person you are supporting where they are. While we practice many of these skills with an eye towards independence, it is equally important to provide guidance and support for as long as it is needed.

One thing worth remembering when it comes to EF skills is that sometimes when a person is facing challenges with a particular skill it is because they could use more practice, other times they may need an accommodation, and other times still it may be both. 

When considering different ways of practicing EF skills, it is worth considering areas where accommodations may be needed and discussing with the person you are supporting how best to meet those needs.

With that in mind, let’s dive into some summer activities we can try as part of building on our EF skills!

1. Create a Summer Schedule

One great way to promote time management and organization skills through the summer is to work on a summer schedule together. A summer schedule can have all different kinds of scopes and focuses, from daily routines to special outings or long-term projects.

For students just starting to learn about this particular skill it may be necessary to guide and support throughout the process. Alternately students who are ready for more independent scheduling can focus on their own summer plans, and perhaps you can plan together when it comes to family or group activities.

2. Set Goals

One helpful way to practice planning, self-monitoring, and metacognition is to set some long-term goals for the summer. Goal setting can start with thinking about what is achievable within a 2-3 month time frame, continue with tracking progress, and conclude with reflecting on how the process went and what goals you might set for the future based on lessons learned.

You may find your guidance is helpful in setting some parameters around realistic goals but it is also worth remembering that it’s OK to make mistakes or have ambitious goals that we may or may not completely achieve. After all, figuring out what is realistic, achievable, and worth our time for us as individuals is another EF skill!

3. Create a Summer Bucket List

A summer bucket list is a great way to brainstorm all the fun things we might like to do over the summer and is a great way to segue into setting priorities, planning, and organizing. Depending on the individual’s goals and interests, fitting in all these activities might just be a matter of getting the timing right. 

Alternately there may be so many activities that we can’t do them all, or there may be additional factors like money, distance, and the availability of people who might be involved. 

As fun as it can be to think about all the cool stuff we can do over the summer, the process of identifying those wrinkles and choosing how to manage them is an important skill that is always worth practicing!

4. Plan and Pack for Outings

Another great way to practice planning and organization is to work on determining what is needed for a specific activity, planning to meet those needs, and packing necessary equipment. Planning for outings is a great activity to work on together as a group/family. 

This is a perfect situation where there can be an emphasis on independence and a light focus on guidance if it is needed to help make decisions and in the event that something crucial is forgotten. Because packing and planning happens ahead of time, it is a great safe environment where we can make mistakes and if needed fix them before any genuine logistical issues arise.

5. Engage in Project-Based Learning

One great underrated activity during summer time is to work on planning, organization, and problem-solving skills via project-based learning. 

Sometimes it can be a little tough to get into the groove of working on a project, particularly since that term can so often be conflated with schoolwork, but the great part about summer projects is having the freedom and flexibility to work on the things that interest us and go at our own pace! 

Lean into the interests of the person you are supporting and focus on projects that require a decent amount of time and attention. Some great examples include building models, creating artwork, or conducting a science experiment.

6. Play Strategy Games

Strategy games are a great way to work on adaptive thinking, planning, and problem-solving skills all in a relatively controlled environment with fixed parameters and resources. The best part of strategy games is that they are ever changing and even a single game can have so many different permutations and combinations to explore. 

Mistakes are bound to happen in such an environment, and we are also bound to learn that mistakes are a thing we can recognize and recover from and still achieve our goal. And even if we don’t achieve our goal this time we can try again! 

Some examples of strategy games include chess, Scrabble, Sudoku, Risk, checkers, Settlers of Catan, and an almost endless list of other options that vary in complexity and time/focus required.

7. Practice Mindfulness and Relaxation Techniques

Two crucial components of executive functioning are self-regulation and being able to focus our attention on important details or the task at hand. 

The reality is that sometimes managing complex projects or even just our daily routine some days can be a frustrating process, and the more we get frustrated the harder it is to do what we need to get done. Those stressors can feed into each other and the stress of the situation may lead to needing to step away from the process entirely in some cases! 

Some basic mindfulness techniques like deep breathing or guided meditation can help us recenter ourselves in those challenging times and are great tools to have in our pocket for those times we may need them. 

Practicing these skills in a calm safe space ahead of time boosts your chances of being able to use them effectively once you are in crunch time.

8. Play Memory and Concentration Games

Memory and concentration games are simultaneously a fun way to build up our focusing and working memory skills while also helping us self-monitor and get a sense of how well we are doing in those areas. 

Some people for example know that focusing on key details is one of their personal challenges, and performing better on a memory game can be a good indicator of how the process of improvement is going. 

Matching cards is a classic memory game as are more complex toys like Bop It or Simon, while you can also try creating mnemonic devices for remembering lists or things or create your own memory games.

9. Engage in Physical Activities with Instructions

One great way to hone in on listening skills, focus, and task initiation is to practice some physical activities that require a degree of instruction. 

Some classic examples include yoga, martial arts, and dance classes. The great part about physical activities as a reflection of listening and concentration is that you can see how a person’s progress evolves over time, get a sense of their listening process, and engage in a dialogue about what is working and what is not to best situate the person you are supporting for success.

10. Daily Reflection and Planning

Two of the toughest EF skills to practice are those of self-monitoring and metacognition. When we are in the middle of working on something challenging it can be hard to evaluate what we are doing well and what we are not while our attention is focused elsewhere. Likewise, once we are done we don’t always have the energy or memory to think about what went well and what didn’t.

One great way to practice in this context is to try to make this type of reflection part of your day-to-day process, along with planning how to proceed on future days. 

Even answering a couple of straightforward questions like “What went well?” and “What could have gone better?” can make a big difference in getting us actively thinking about how to adapt as the situation warrants.


We hope some of the activities above have inspired some brainstorming on ways to incorporate them into the schedule of the person you are supporting. 

If you would like to hear more ideas on activities to try over the course of the summer with the person you are supporting then we’d love to hear from you! 

Drop us a line and and let us know the kinds of topics you’d want to hear more about. In the meantime good luck beating the summer heat and working on skills that get you closer to achieving your goals!

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Previous article Collaboratively Planning a Vacation as a Parent or Caregiver
Next article Summer Skills Series Part 2: 10 Life Skills Activities

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