We hear it all the time, “Executive Function skills are essential for success in life”. . . “Executive Function skills are better predictors of school success than a child’s I.Q.”. . . Strong executive function equals higher SAT scores. . . Yikes! These sound really important, but what exactly are they, and how can you ensure your child has them?
In a nutshell, Executive Function (E.F.) is simply how the brain organizes and acts on information. These are the skills that interpret information, remember it, apply it, block distractions, and help us mentally shift as needed. Believe it or not, these important skills begin developing in infancy.
Kinderberry Hill partners with Reflection Sciences to assess executive function skills and guide children to develop these skills. Our teachers intentionally incorporate E.F. activities into the daily routines and lessons taught in our classrooms. You can learn more about Kinderberry Hill’s approach here. The collaboration promotes school readiness and success as children graduate from their early childhood years and transition into elementary school.
As parents and caregivers, we know how important it is to give our children every opportunity to learn and grow. Families can easily facilitate development in executive function with just a bit of intention. Here are just a few simple tips:
Infant (6-18 months) E.F. Practice:
Talk, talk, talk to your baby! For your new little one, simply notice objects or activities they are seeing. Name the object and talk about it. Be sure to repeat keywords and phrases often. This simple activity helps lengthen the child’s attention and build their working memory. As your child learns language, they develop a memory of your words, later connecting vocabulary to objects.
Play hiding games. Place a blanket over a favorite toy and encourage your child to find it. When they can successfully find objects under the blanket, begin to hide objects while they watch you. This builds their working memory as they remember where you moved while hiding the object. It also builds attention as they watch you and then search for themselves.
Toddlers (18-36 months) E.F. Practice:
For young toddlers, ‘Follow the Leader’ and ‘Freeze’ are a big hit! During Follow the Leader, the child needs to use their working memory, sustain attention, and practice blocking out other impulses or distractions. Another great game is ‘Freeze’ or ‘Freeze Dance’! When children stop the movement they are doing and freeze in place, they are practicing impulse control and attention.
For your older toddler, sorting games are a great way to practice attention. Another twist to further practice E.F. would be to sort items in an unexpected way. For example, put the green blocks in the red bucket and the red blocks in the green bucket. This can be a challenge for toddlers as they need to resist the impulse to put similar items together and engage their attention and working memory.
Preschoolers (3-5 years) E.F. Practice:
Encourage your preschooler to create their own toys and play scenes! For example, for your child to turn your kitchen table into their ‘cave in the woods,’ they need to decide what materials they need, remember these items, and the steps necessary to implement them. They also must adjust when things do not turn out as expected and try again! All resulting in fantastic E.F. practice!
Provide your preschooler with many opportunities to challenge themselves physically. For example, when your child climbs, balances, jumps, runs, skips, etc., they need to focus their attention, adjust themselves as needed, and persist in order to master a task.
Components of executive function are virtually in almost every moment of your day and your child’s. By offering a few specific activities and being mindful to fully explore the executive function practice, you will be able to help your child develop these oh-so-important E.F. skills too!