If your child has difficulty getting organized, managing his/her time, remembering things, doing homework or finishing projects, he/she may have executive function deficits. Executive Function (EF) plays a crucial role in becoming a successful person at school and in life. When EF skills are strong, students will have greater academic success, better self-regulation skills, and better peer relations. EF skills are cognitive skills used to analyze tasks, break down steps, understand what is read, and solve multi-step problems.
What is Executive Function? Currently, EF is not a documented diagnostic category; however, deficits in EF are often linked to ADHD, Learning Disabilities, Autism Spectrum Disorders, and other conditions. The Center for the Developing Child at Harvard University reports that EF and self-regulation skills depend on three types of brain function. These include working memory, mental flexibility and self-control. For successful application of EF skills, these three functions must work together in goal-directed behavior.
A person is not born with executive function skills, but through practice, these skills are malleable and trainable. EF skills develop most rapidly in the early years (ages 3 to 5 years), but continue to grow throughout adolescence and into early adulthood.
What can parents do to assist with EF skill development? Below are a number of activities and strategies that support executive function development:
• Help your child organize his/her space to reduce clutter
• Teach routines (where and when to complete homework)
• Schedule weekly times to clean out the binder and backpack
• Play games that require a child to stop and start on command (e.g., FREEZE and Red Light, Green Light)
• Use color to help with organization (e.g., red for science, yellow for math)
• Write appointments, assignments, and other activities on Post-it Notes and stick the notes on a large calendar prominently displayed in the home. To help further, the Post-it Notes can be color-coded by activity, such as green for school, blue for sports.
• Exercise alone may be less effective in improving executive functions than activities that involve both exercise and character development (e.g., traditional martial arts) or activities that involve both exercise and mindfulness, such as yoga
• For younger children, provide opportunities for more creative play and for older students more improv or creative outlets
• Play games that allow for stretching mental flexibility, such as Uno and Crazy Eights
• Encourage games that promote self-control and decision-making, such as four-square, soccer, basketball and dodgeball
• Encourage learning a musical instrument
(Written by Jane N. Hannah, Ed.D, Assistant Head of School of Academics/Programs for Currey Ingram Academy)