Making the Most of Summer – Setting a Few Life Skill Goals (for College and Life in General after High School)

By | NESCA Notes 2022

By: Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS
Director of Transition Services; Transition Specialist, NESCA

Summer in the United States is looking more “normal” than it has in three years. Kids are in camps, summer school is in-person, and families are traveling. While there is a semblance of planning and activity that many of us missed greatly in 2020 and 2021, many teenagers are still finding their groove with changing work schedules, driver’s education, etc. No matter what your teenager is doing, this is great time to sit down and set a few “simple” life skill goals for the summer. In 2020, I wrote a two-part blog series focused on eight life skills that are critical to build before college:

  1. Getting up “on time” each morning
  2. Washing, drying, and putting away laundry—including sheets
  3. Basic kitchen skills
  4. Using basic tools (e.g., screwdriver, hammer, measuring tape, etc.)
  5. Medication management
  6. Money management
  7. Routine exercise
  8. Using a calendar for scheduling

For teenagers in high school or heading off to college, these are great skills to begin tackling over the summer months. For example, getting up by a certain time is something that can be especially important to work on when consequences are low. For instance, it is hard to let a teen sleep in when they are going to miss an AP exam, but it can be easier to let them practice using an alarm (and possibly oversleeping) when they are going to a movie with a friend or attending a camp. Summer is a great time for teens to be able to experience natural consequences as they practice taking on new risks and responsibilities associated with some of the life skills above.

A challenge when working with, or parenting, teenagers who have a lot of skills to develop is figuring out where to start or how to gain “buy-in.” One of the ways that I like to work with students to set life skill goals is to have the student take a basic life skills inventory, such as the Casey Life Skills Toolkit, Life Skills Inventory, or Adolescent Autonomy Checklist. After a student rates their own skill levels, I ask them to review skills that they cannot already do and identify how important those skills are on a scale of 1 to 10. Then, we go through the list again, and I ask which skills they would like to learn in the next 2 months, 6 months, and year. Once the teenager has identified the importance of a skill and the desire to work on the skill in the near future, it is much easier to set short-term goals. We can work out a skill-building plan for the summer. including how much time to dedicate on a daily or weekly basis. We can also talk about the types of barriers or challenges that might get in the way of the teenager practicing these skills. Additionally, we can set expectations for how often the teen is going to report back to me on the skill so that there is built-in accountability, and the teen knows to expect the check-ins rather than feeling like someone is checking up on them.

Every teenager is different. If you are a parent wanting to help your child make the most of summer, you may find that you can go through the same process that I do to help your child set a few short-term goals. Other teenagers will be able to work on goals themselves—once they have gone through the exercise of setting them. And others, may benefit from having a coach who can build a relationship, support development of executive function and coping skills, and partner with the teen in making the most of summer. If you think your child would benefit from some coaching or an “expert” to work with them, we have a great team of professionals here at NESCA who are ready to help.

If you are interested in working with a transition specialist, executive function coach or real-life skills coach at NESCA for consultation, coaching, planning or evaluation, please complete our online intake form: https://nesca-newton.com/intake-form/.

About the Author
Kelley Challen, Ed.M., CAS, is NESCA’s Director of Transition Services, overseeing planning, consultation, evaluation, coaching, case management, training and program development services. Ms. Challen also provides expert witness testimony in legal proceedings related to special education. She is also the Assistant Director of NESCA, working under Dr. Ann Helmus to support day-to-day operations of the practice. Ms. Challen began facilitating programs for children and adolescents with special needs in 2004. After receiving her Master’s Degree and Certificate of Advanced Study in Risk and Prevention Counseling from Harvard Graduate School of Education, Ms. Challen spent several years at the MGH Aspire Program where she founded an array of social, life and career skill development programs for teens and young adults with Asperger’s Syndrome and related profiles. She additionally worked at the Northeast Arc as Program Director for the Spotlight Program, a drama-based social pragmatics program, serving youth with a wide range of diagnoses and collaborating with several school districts to design in-house social skills and transition programs. Ms. Challen is co-author of the chapter “Technologies to Support Interventions for Social- Emotional Intelligence, Self-Awareness, Personality Style, and Self-Regulation” for the book Technology Tools for Students with Autism. She is also a proud mother of two energetic boys, ages six and three. While Ms. Challen has special expertise in supporting students with Autism Spectrum Disorders, she provides support to individuals with a wide range of developmental and learning abilities, including students with complex medical needs.

Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com, call 617-658-9800 or complete our online Intake Form.

From School to Summer – Life Rolls Along in the Era of COVID19

By | NESCA Notes 2020

By: Sophie Bellenis, OTD, OTR/L

Occupational Therapist; Real-life Skills Program Manager and Coach

This past March, families were thrown into the world of remote learning, Zoom classrooms, digital assignments and school at home. With little to no time to prepare, teachers and parents alike have worked tirelessly to provide a sense of routine and academic focus, while handling the social and emotional fallout of the COVID19 pandemic. As schools start to wrap up their years and families start to look ahead at what is sure to be a notably unique summer, there is a bit more time to plan, think proactively and chart a positive course for our children.

As summer camps, childcare options, volunteer opportunities, and internships are either cancelled, transitioning to an online format, or significantly limiting capacity, the need for children to manage and plan self-directed activities is becoming more and more apparent. With such an extended period of time ahead of us, let’s highlight some ways that we can create environments that allow our children autonomy while building important skills and leavings lots of room for fun.

Set Firm Boundaries

There is evidence that tells us our children most successfully build and demonstrate their executive function skills when they are allowed freedom and opportunities to make their own choices, within boundaries and limits set by their parents (Schroeder & Kelley, 2010). Consider what aspects of summer life are non-negotiable for your family. This may be a certain limit on hours of screen time per day, a time that all children are expected to be up and out of bed, or chores and expectations that they must meet as a part of the family unit. Make sure that these are clearly communicated and agreed upon by everyone in the home.

Set Goals

Helping children set and work on completing goals can provide a concrete representation of the accomplishments that they have achieved over the summer. There are many ways to organize and format this process, but one consistent theme should be creating goals that are measurable, achievable and specific. Consider the SMART goal format as a template. One way to help children to choose their goals is to have them focus on three categories: personal, family and community. Some examples are:

  1. Personal Goals – Develop a consistent exercise routine; try out a new form of exercise, such as running, yoga or Pilates; incorporate a mindfulness meditation into a weekly schedule; consistently wake up independently with an alarm; or drink the recommended amount of water per day for their age, etc.
  2. Goal to Benefit the Family – Cook dinner for the family once a week; commit to weeding a family garden; deep clean one room per week; learn which cleaning supplies are used for the bathroom and for the kitchen; add a new chore each week; or teach a grandparent or family friend how to use a new technology, etc.
  3. Goal to Benefit the Community – Collect box-tops from all of the food items in the home to give to their school once it’s back in session; take a walk and pick up trash on a road or beach; do a food drive for a local pantry; mow the lawn for a neighbor; or reach out to vulnerable people in the community and ask if they can do anything to help, etc.

Create an Activity Bank

Pediatric Neuropsychologist Dr. Angela Currie of NESCA recently explained why telling kids to simply, “find something to do,” rarely leads to positive results (Currie, 2020). One suggestion that Dr. Currie gives is to create an activity bank or “menu.” It is often difficult to come up with suggestions in the moment when a child mentions that they are bored or feel there is little to do. Take the proactive step of creating a list of activities that your child can go to when they are having a hard time deciding how to fill their time. This makes it easy to prompt them to independently choose something to do. The response, “Why don’t you go take a look at the activities bank and see if there is something that would be a great choice for today?” gives a child a concrete first step. Some families have used creative ways to help children decide between options, such as an activity dice, an activity grab-bag or a personal activity “menu” with specific options for each child.

Encourage Independent Learning

The old adage states that anyone can be an expert at something, if they spend 10,000 hours practicing. Teach this theory to your children and ask them what truly makes them feel excited and curious. What would they like to explore? Children are used to viewing themselves through the lens of a student; however, they rarely make decisions about exactly what they would like to learn. Help your child explore their personal interests and choose something they would like to learn about over the course of the summer. This could look like a 1st grader collecting sea shells at the beach and bringing them home to draw; a 5th grader spending a couple of hours a week researching underwater caves; an 8th grader learning how to keep a sourdough starter alive and bake bread; or a junior in high school doing a deep dive into the current cultural shift developing in the United States. The topic should be completely chosen by the child, with suggestions and support facilitated by their parents.



Currie, A. (2020). Why “find something to do” doesn’t work – Teaching independent play skills during quarantine, NESCA Notes. Retrieved from https://nesca-newton.com/why-find-something-to-do-doesnt-work-teaching-independent-play-skills-during-quarantine/

Schroeder, V. & Kelley, M. (2010) Family environment and parent‐child relationships as related to executive functioning in children, Early Child Development and Care, 180:10, 1285-1298, DOI: 10.1080/03004430902981512


About the Author

Dr. Sophie Bellenis is a Licensed Occupational Therapist in Massachusetts, specializing in educational OT and functional life skills development. Dr. Bellenis joined NESCA in the fall of 2017 to offer community-based skills coaching services as a part of the Real-life Skills Program within NESCA’s Transition Services team. Dr. Bellenis graduated from the MGH Institute of Health Professions with a Doctorate in Occupational Therapy, with a focus on pediatrics and international program evaluation. She is a member of the American Occupational Therapy Association, as well as the World Federation of Occupational Therapists. Having spent years delivering direct services at the elementary, middle school and high school levels, Dr. Bellenis has extensive background with school-based occupational therapy services.  She believes that individual sensory needs and visual skills must be taken into account to create comprehensive educational programming.

To book an appointment or to learn more about NESCA’s Occupational Therapy Services, please fill out our online Intake Form, email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.


Neuropsychology & Education Services for Children & Adolescents (NESCA) is a pediatric neuropsychology practice and integrative treatment center with offices in Newton, Massachusetts, Plainville, Massachusetts, and Londonderry, New Hampshire, serving clients from preschool through young adulthood and their families. For more information, please email info@nesca-newton.com or call 617-658-9800.