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For Some IL Students, Summer Means Practicing School Preparedness

 Close up of child's hands playing with colorful plastic bricks
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Tasks like packing a suitcase for summer travel may be difficult for some Illinois children.

Experts said parents and caregivers can help kids over the summer with the skills known as "executive functions." Adults can be alert to a child's difficulties with their ability to adjust thinking and stay on task, as well as impulse control.

Katie Gleason, director of children's mental health consultation for the YWCA of Metropolitan Chicago, said plenty can be done during the summer months to help prepare children for the next school year, not necessarily with assigning homework.

"It's play-based, it's relationships, it's routines," Gleason outlined. "Another thing is making sure we're breaking down big tasks into smaller steps; working on a puzzle, you can help them identify the steps."

Gleason noted rapid growth in executive function skills for children takes place from ages 3 to 5, and then again in adolescence and early adulthood. Gleason said the YMCA is one place to learn more about executive function and what adults can do to encourage these skills.

"An air traffic control system at a busy airport" is how Harvard's Center on the Developing Child refers to executive function skills, and it said they are critical to healthy development.

Gleason agreed, and cautioned parents and caregivers not to blame a child for poor behavior when it may be connected to what is developmentally appropriate.

"If we shift our way of thinking and saying, 'Oh, this child can't do this,'" Gleason urged. "Instead, we need to be thinking as adults, and as education and care systems, 'What are we doing to help the child develop?'"

Reflection Sciences offers a play-based screening tool to assess levels of executive function skills in children. The results can help parents and teachers follow up with strategies tailored to their child's developmental level.

Born and raised in Canada to an early Pakistani immigrant family, Farah Siddiqi was naturally drawn to the larger purpose of making connections and communicating for public reform.
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