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Navigating the Yearly Calendar: Executive Functioning in August

Welcome to the “Navigating the Yearly Calendar” series. This is a monthly series where we will explore strategies and tools that intersect with the calendar and the rhythm of a school year. 

There is a reason we as humans mark time. It is a vital part of our being that helps us make sense out of the world around us as well as our own existence. Marking time is not new; it dates back to the earliest of civilizations. However, in our fast-paced world, marking time can be complicated given all the simultaneous demands on our lives. Marking time has been further impacted by the COVID pandemic, during which, time as we know it, was disrupted. Even today, we are still grappling with the effects of this time disruption.

This series is designed as a reset of how we mark time as it relates to executive functioning skills. By looking at executive functioning on a monthly basis, we can help our children manage time, stuff, and information.

Let’s begin…

Executive Functioning in August

August is the month when thoughts and actions related to the upcoming school year increase in effort and intensity. Resist the urge to panic about purchasing school supplies, setting up schedules, or addressing the progress of any summer reading or work.

Instead, the theme of August from an executive functioning point of view is to be intentional rather than reactive in beginning the process of heading back into the school year.

  1. Markers, notebooks, and sharpeners-OH MY! Before purchasing new items, set a time to find and go through all the school supplies that are in the home. If they are in good shape, put them in one box or shelf. If they are not, throw them out. Then, check school supply lists against what you already have. You may be pleasantly surprised by how many items do not need to be purchased. 

This is an excellent activity to do with children. Physical organization is a great starting point for executive functioning. It is important for individuals to really know what they own by going through materials to rediscover what one has in stock. 

In addition to any supplies the school requests, it is important for each child to have a calendar (printed or reusable), highlighters, a small whiteboard and whiteboard markers, a filing drawer or box with file folders. These are executive functioning tools that when routinely used, assist with managing time, organization, and consolidating information.

  1. Create a workspace and an organization system for supplies. Together with your child(ren), create or recreate the workspace environment and storage system for supplies. Each school year is unique, and your child’s needs for a workspace should be updated to reflect their needs and what might work best in terms of the environment for “home” work. 
  • Does your child do best alone in a quiet room or do they need supervision?
  • Does your child have a workspace that can accommodate technology AND also have a flat area for paper/pencil tasks?
  • What is the system for accessing supplies? Are all supplies at arm’s length or is there a storage cabinet or shelf close by? 

The most important thing is that you work with your child to establish a system because they are going to be the ones using it throughout the year. 

  1. Create Schedules with intention. August is the time to begin to think intentionally about what the school year might look like as it relates to time commitments. It is also the time to plan what needs to be in place for a successful transition from summer vacation to the start of school. Being intentional means making a list of all of the activities and time commitments for one week and considering how these activities fit in with homework time, downtime, family time, drive time, etc. It also means including your child in the conversation so that they have a voice in the conversation. 

Remember, there really is no one correct way to do this. Although you may feel pressure to adjust sleep schedules and morning routines because others are, do what is best for your family. 

  1. Check in on Summer Work and Summer Reading. Some schools assign summer work and some do not. If summer work is assigned, it should be completed. This is an important opportunity to practice accountability and follow- through. Second, reading is an activity that all students in elementary, middle, and high school should be doing on a regular basis even in the summer. Why? Because reading is more than decoding words and retelling the plot. Reading is a muscle that needs continuous exercising so that deeper and more complex comprehension can be achieved. 
  1. August is still a summer month and should be treated as such. While July is a month where many truly immerse themselves in summer mode, the arrival of August can bring an increase in anxiety around school for many parents as well as children. August is a month to balance thoughtful preparation for the beginning of school with maintaining the freedom of summer vacation. So while it is productive to set aside time to work on summer work, set up a work space, and purchase school supplies, it is also important to enjoy all that summer has to offer. 

A couple of final thoughts on the last two school years…

The last two school years were beyond challenging for anyone involved in education, and there is no question we will feel the repercussions for years to come. We need to remember the impact of the disruption of school with the arrival of the pandemic while at the same time not anchoring all school-related concerns to the pandemic.

Acknowledging the difficulty of the last two years is important. It is equally important to look towards the future. An overarching concept of executive functioning is flexible thinking. While we all know the impact of the disruption of time and school experiences, it is important to be flexible when thinking about the upcoming year. We can get stuck in the thinking around “this plan is what I did last year” or “this is what I have always done.”  We need to exercise the muscle of being flexible in thinking, especially around our children’s academic development.  You can begin the practice of exercising flexible thinking by asking yourself: What can I do to ensure that during this coming year my child has the time, schedule, support, and materials to be as successful as possible? 

Parent Partnership is truly understanding that schools cannot possibly meet the needs of every child at all times and in every way. Administrators and educators are building classroom communities, school schedules, and learning environments that take into account the effects of the pandemic. They are prepared to review and teach the curriculum. However, there are children who will struggle academically, behaviorally, emotionally and/or socially. One of the major impacts of the pandemic has been in the increase in the number of students who need additional services.

It is vital for parents to voice their concerns. At the same time, the partnership between parents and school personnel will be strengthened considerably by the parent committing to partnership through words and action from the get go. Whether it is hiring support for a child, or parents spending extra time helping their child prepare for school assignments, these actions signal strong parent commitment and will be noticed and appreciated by school personnel. Most of all, these actions, along with school actions, will set the child up for maximum school success.

Wishing you a “balanced” month of August as we tiptoe towards the Fall.