Building Executive Function Skills at Camp
Executive Function skills are mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and figure out how to complete multiple tasks. For individuals with ADHD, these skills are weak, or non-existent, and, as a result, impact the way they manage their daily activities. As may be the case with your child, many of our campers have difficulty with these skills. We believe that summer camp can help campers learn new ways of getting things done and feeling more successful, too.
The camp environment and staff provides a framework for modeling, mentoring, and teaching strategies for honing the campers’ Executive Functioning skills while they are participating in exciting, adventure-based activities. Many studies show that the best approaches to improving Executive Function skills are those that:
- involve children and teenagers keen interests, those that bring pride and happiness
- consider stresses in their lives and explore ways to resolve
- encourage to be active and in challenging exercise
- set up an environment of social acceptance and
- give chances to practice Executive Function skills
(Diamond and Lee, 2011).
Planning and Organizing for CAMP or “Figuring out What to Do and How”
At SOAR, campers are taught and shown ways for planning, organizing, getting things done, improving social interactions, and self-monitoring as they maneuver the various phases of the day. They are also given opportunities to practice these skills each day. A lot of planning and organizing is required to successfully complete each day’s activities.
- Setting goals to work on while at camp at the beginning of session
- Getting support from Instructors for working toward set goals
- Going over each day’s plans with the Instructors
- Learning and understanding the steps necessary to make the day’s activities happen
- Preparing gear for trips, including backpacks, duffle bags, mess kits, and more
- Keeping up with mess kits and keeping them washed and clean
- Coming up with a system for keeping clothes sorted and dry
- Learning steps for setting up tents and taking down tents
Responsibilities at CAMP or “Getting Things Done and Having Fun”
One of the hurdles for those lacking strong Executive Function skills is getting started with tasks and also in completing them. Some of the things that come into play for campers are just how interested they are in the activity, do they know how to go about getting it done, and overcoming feeling overwhelmed with not knowing where to start. A structured plan means each person has daily roles & responsibilities with meals, trip preparation, clean up, and more.
- Encouraging each other to get tasks completed
- Knowing when you need to ask for help and knowing when you need to offer help
- Working to be cooperative with the team schedule and plans
- Learning the value of taking the first step, or getting started
- Aiming for an attitude of “keep trying”
- Honing ways to make and be a friend
Self-Monitoring at CAMP or “How am I Doing”
Self-monitoring is a very effective practice for campers to use as they work toward improving daily habits, behaviors, and attitudes. Learning the practice of checking themselves for improvement is empowering as they begin to take ownership of their own set goals. End of the day discussions allow for campers to review their day and to reflect on successes and opportunities. Also, at the end of the camper’s session at SOAR, they take part in a review of their progress with their instructors and parents:
- Reviewing how things went for you and your group, revisiting positive things and reflecting on opportunities
- Thinking about activities and interactions that happened and how they may have been done well or may have been done differently
- Remembering and using tips from Instructors on good ways to get things done and then practicing those skills
- Using the support of Instructors on how to build friendships
- Reviewing with parents and Instructors the progress made on goals at camp
Helping campers learn and adopt changes in their daily behaviors and habits result in better outcomes with planning, completing tasks, keeping track of their belongings, and self-monitoring. They end their camp session feeling proud of all they have been able to accomplish while having a great time. Summer camp provides a structured, safe, and happy place for campers to hone their Executive Function skills in a light-hearted and fun-filled way.
Diamond, A, & Lee, K. (2011. Interventions shown to aid executive function development. Science, 333, 959-964.