Classroom performance may come in part from your child’s ability to focus and work through open ended tasks, be organized, stick to a schedule or calendar, manage time, work independently, and control impulses and emotions. Possessing these abilities requires executive functioning skills and are important for your child’s transition back to school.
But what is executive function? Executive functioning is the name for the brain’s control over processes like reasoning, working memory, problem solving, planning, and others. In the context of your child’s development, this term refers to the management of mental processes which determine abilities that help children to be adaptable and successful in the classroom.
There are many areas of Executive Functioning, however three essential cognitive processes managed are:
- Working memory – the ability to remember information long enough to apply that information, as well as being able to edit information held based on experiences. Children use working memory when they read instructions, remember those instructions, perform a task, and edit and add to the understanding of those instructions for better performance in the future. Thinking about making a paper airplane, remembering how to make one the next time, and learning to make a better airplane over time.
- Mental flexibility – the ability to shift responses and attention depending on what a situation requires. Ex working with a group to complete a project like making a bird feeder out of recycled materials requires fixing mistakes, compromising, and reimagining materials to make it work
- Inhibitory control– the ability to resist temptation and control emotions. Ex. a child throwing a tantrum when they don’t get their way, the older the child, the less acceptable this behavior is because we expect them to have inhibitory control
Occupational therapists and speech language pathologists can work to improve children’s executive functioning abilities, and they might suggest establishing daily routines in order to help your child develop the skills and ability to be a good problem solver. Complete freedom from a schedule can make children anxious, but routines can offer security and structure. Once children understand the time it takes to complete tasks and how much they can accomplish during a given time period, they’ll be better able to handle new tasks and activities.
Try some fun activities and games at home that might help your child improve problem solving skills and promote achieving goals in school later.
Hide and Seek – Play hide and seek! Hide and seek requires kids to organize think outside the box and re-imagine the space around them in order to accomplish a task.
I Spy – Games that require taking turns are excellent practice for the order of a classroom environment. I Spy requires players to take a second look at their surroundings, practice using language to describe surroundings, and be creative.
Songs or dances – Memorizing multi-step dances and multi-verse songs, and learning to perform these with other people works on memory and teaches the ability to work in a group.
Imaginary friends – Encourage kids to play make believe in groups with their friends. Making up characters and objects, then creating their own rules that guide the game will help kids work on creating structure and organization.
Grocery Shopping – Let your kids be a part of the selection and decision making process in grocery shopping. Which vegetables should we buy and why? Which brand of yogurt? This lets them think about price, freshness, and perhaps they’ll go so far as to think about where their food comes from and what goes into a meal.
Cooking – Teach your child to cook, or just let your child join you in the kitchen because reading, remembering, and fixing recipes to suit your needs is excellent practice for following directions, planning and organizing.
Storytelling – Encourage kids to write and tell stories. This works on creativity, writing, and oral skills.
Foreign Languages – Even if your family isn’t bilingual, try learning some basic vocab in another language. Practice new words together and learn about new cultures. Children who speak multiple languages and experience different cultures are much better at adapting to new social situations and transitioning between formal and informal environments.
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