Executive Functioning is a really big buzzword in education and social science research right now. It’s a term researchers use to encompass several brain-related functions that are shown to have a significant impact on children’s future success. Children who display higher levels of executive function skills are more likely to finish college, be employed in a good job, have more successful relationships with a spouse or partner, be a better parent, and have fewer health problems in later life.
You’re probably thinking, “Where do I sign?” “I want that for my child!” The good news is that executive functioning develops over time, and we all play a role in helping to develop it in our children.
According to Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child, executive functioning is a group of skills that help us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time and revise plans as necessary. These skills include: working memory, cognitive flexibility, perspective taking, impulse control, and delayed gratification-directing attention and effort toward longer term goals, rather than what’s easy to accomplish NOW.
Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child has a wonderful video on executive functioning that I highly recommend to any teacher, parent and caregiver. Last month, our entire staff from both the Collins and Oxnard campus viewed the video together and engaged in professional learning about brain development and on developing executive functioning in children. We are very excited to integrate executive functioning development into all areas of the program and curriculum. Your child’s teacher can share ideas for fostering executive functioning outside of school (a few suggestions are listed below).
How do we build executive functioning in school?
- Circle Time/Morning Meeting
- Predictable routines
- Organized environments
- Clear rules and behavior expectations
- Games and songs that require turn taking, memory, sequencing, or stop/start actions
- Open-ended creative play
- Continually increase time on task
- Student-centered classrooms/student-led activities
- Involve child in solving problems/promote perspective taking
- Open-ended questioning
How can you build executive functioning at home? SOAR
Support imagination: Being able to step outside of the present moment is a key aspect of executive function. It is easier to use good executive functioning when thinking about a problem as if it was happening to another person rather than to oneself.
Offer choices within limits: Avoid telling your child what he or she is going to eat for breakfast (no choice) or asking your child what he or she wants for breakfast (unlimited choice). You might ask if your child wants cereal, oatmeal, or eggs (choices within limits).
Assist reflection: Talk with your child about options available and the consequences of different choices. When your child interacts with others, talk about emotions that other people may be feeling and how other people’s point of view may be different than your child’s.
Raise activity levels: Increases blood flow to brain and reduces stress. Many exercises are also good practice for executive function skills such as body awareness and control, remembering rules, and controlling emotions.