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Top 5 Executive Functioning Skills to Practice This Summer


This post was written by Jennifer Sullivan and previously published on Collegiate Parent.


Long summer nights, BBQs, pool parties and pick-up basketball games aren’t the only ways to spend the summer before starting college. Summer is also a great time to practice skills that your new college student will need on campus.

Did you know recent studies show that executive functioning skills are even more important to student success than academic capability and intelligence?

Executive functioning is the set of skills that monitor and coordinate functions in our brain that allow us to get things done. Think: Planning a graduation party, applying for a summer job, completing a long-term project.


When they go to college, executive functioning skills will help students effectively manage their time, complete homework assignments, organize athletic and social obligations, etc. This summer is a great time to brush up on these skills with support from home before your teen is out on their own.


Here are five skills that your student can practice in the next few months to improve their time management and organization.

1. Manage Their Own Schedule


Independently following a schedule is an important skill in college! You can practice with your teen by printing out blank schedule templates and asking them to follow (or create) a schedule for the weekend, week or month.


Have them include tasks such as waking up, eating meals, doing chores, spending time with siblings or friends, working out, etc. Encourage them to follow the schedule as best they can. This simple exercise also helps your student practice time management — another key college readiness skill.


I recommend asking students what type of schedule they like to use. Different learners, and different brains, prefer different types of schedules. For example, does your student prefer to use a daily schedule — seeing only one day at a time? Do they prefer a weekly schedule, or is seeing seven days at a time overwhelming?

The type of schedule your student uses should be as individual as they are. Well-meaning parents often try to force their teen to use the schedule that works for them. But your teen’s brain is different and may respond better to a different type of schedule. Involve your teen in the decision making and they will have more motivation and buy-in.


Bonus tip: A tool I highly recommend and use often when I coach college students is the free schedule maker from StudyGizmo. The schedules can be color-coded (which is great for visual brains!) and the weekly schedule can be saved,

downloaded and printed.


2. Check Email


Teens naturally prefer to text or look for info "in their DMs," so checking email isn't a habit — yet! However, colleges and universities primarily communicate with students via email so it’s extremely important that your teen not only create a habit of doing this but understand WHY they should.


I encourage families to have an open and honest conversation about how up until this point in your teen’s life you have been the primarily recipient of their medical bills, school tuition (if they had one), dates for doctor appointments, meetings with teachers, sports schedule, etc. Most likely your teen doesn’t realize all of the important communication you have been receiving. They don’t know what they don’t know!


Email is your teen’s lifeline in college and it is very important that they understand this and then create a system for regularly checking their college email account.

Motivation builder: Encourage them to create a habit of checking email by offering small incentives. I send my daughter random emails that tell her I will buy her a free coffee if she reads the email on the day I send it. Every student is motivated by something — it could be a $10 iTunes gift card, a new book, extra time to drive the car, etc. Learning is most effective when we pair something motivating with a new habit we are trying to create.


3. Practice Setting Alarms


Managing their schedule and knowing where to be is an important first step. Actually showing up on time is a whole other story!


Professors don’t appreciate students who show up late for class, whether it's in-person or virtual. In fact, managing time is one of the most important tips in my book, Sharing the Transition to College: Words of Advice for Diverse Learners and Their Families.


One of the ways to practice time management is using devices such as your student’s cell phone or a smart device such as the Amazon Alexa or Google Home. Students can practice setting reminders for all types of appointments this summer — when they need to leave for work, waking up, dinner time, or when they have a counseling/medical appointment.


Practicing setting an alarm will create a stronger neural pathway in your teen’s brain that will make it easier for them to remember this routine in the future. Voice-activated smart devices can be utilized at home and then brought to college.

Parents, think about all of the things you remind your teens to do while they are at home. They will need to do all of these tasks independently at college. This summer is a good time to start handing over the responsibility!


4. Regularly Charge Their Devices


Will a video game system or microwave work without power? Of course not. Without electricity, all our electrical devices are useless.


Likewise, if your student forgets to charge their battery-powered devices they won’t be available when they need them to take notes in class, type homework assignments, or read a textbook online.


It’s very important to remember to charge the devices you will need the following day (such as phone and laptop). For this reason, your student should practice a nighttime routine this summer that includes plugging in and charging all of their devices.


Bonus tip: I recommend bringing multiple charging cords to college. Buy them when they are on sale and buy lots of them! You’d be surprised how many cords are lost or borrowed by friends never to be returned. Put a charging cord next to your student’s bed and another near their desk. I recommend colorful cords instead of white cords that blend easily into dorm room walls.


5. Buy Organizational Tools for Their Dorm Room


You can help your student stay organized on campus by putting visual tools in their dorm room. When moving them into the dorm this fall, be sure to put organizational tools in easy-to-see locations.

  • Labels help your student stay and remain organized, so label totes and bins with their contents (for example, cleaning, personal care, towels/sheets, etc.).

  • The back side of the dorm room door is a great location for a whiteboard or weekly calendar.

  • Use the most prominent wall space for visual tools like calendars and clocks.

To the extent possible, use the same executive functioning tools that were present in your student’s bedroom at home. For students who like color-coding, I recommend making a weekly calendar on their dorm room wall with colored Post-it Notes. Each day of the week uses a different color Post-it and each class, appointment, or task should have its own Post-it note. This is one of my most successful strategies to keep students organized and following a schedule!

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