There is a strong relationship between executive functioning skills and academic function in early childhood. Early assessments of executive function predict school readiness for math and reading, as well as overall school achievement. In fact, executive function is often a better predictor of school outcomes than IQ.
The executive function skills develop well into adolescence but emerge as early as the first year of life as soon as the conscious control of thought, action and emotion emerge. As children grow, executive function can be seen as their ability to focus attention, manage impulses, and hold information "online" in working memory. Executive function skills are the self-regulating skills that help students to control emotions, learn from mistakes, adapt to different situations, and have flexible thoughts. How a weakness in these skills manifests can vary from child to child.
When executive function skills are compromised or delayed, young children can display distractibility and other behaviors that affect their ability to follow and remember classroom rules, control emotions, focus their attention, sit still, and learn on-demand through listening and watching, and be flexible when faced with unexpected changes or outcomes when at school. At home students with executive function challenges may have trouble learning and following routines, so they require many prompts and parental support to carry out routines, simple chores and small tasks. Some kids require multiple reminders to remember the materials they need for an activity or for school. Even with reminders, the student might remember their sneakers, but forget their backpack or homework at home. It can be a challenge to start and finish homework on their own without cajoling and incentives. Students may not have the materials they need for their assignments, they might lose papers or begin working on assignments a short time before they are due. For other students, they may spend hours on homework far beyond the expectations, or in contrast, some students rush through their work, making tiny mistakes or miss following all the steps of the directions. It can be challenging for them to organize their materials or know 'how' to organize their learning, play or bedroom spaces. Transitions can be tricky. For example, it can be hard for a student to turn off the TV or a device and transition to start homework or get ready for bed. If things do not quite go 'their way' they can be inflexible, sometimes resulting in emotional dysregulation.
Research shows that early intervention programs that explicitly foster executive functioning have positive influences on instilling early literacy, numeracy, self-regulation and academic achievement.
Executive function skills can develop through experience and practice. Executive function therapy can help students learn and establish skills to follow routines, learn how to break down and sequence the steps of a task, develop visualization and future imagination skills, follow directions and rules, control impulses, and develop cognitive flexibility.
At Cognitive Connections, we work with many elementary students, their families, and teachers. Intervention can focus on developing the following executive function skills and teaching children how to:
How to follow routines -
morning routine, bedtime routine, bathing, out the door, and homework routines.
Help students to independently know the steps, carry out the tasks they need to complete within allotted time frames, minimize distraction and minimize distractions.
Organizational skills: Many students are told to clean a desk, their room, or an area and they just do not know how to do it.
We teach the process of how to set up, organize and maintain organizational systems for backpacks, their room, materials, and shared spaces.
How are things organized in their spaces at home or school? What materials do they need to gather to complete a task?
How to record assignments, and bring home the correct materials.
How to break down, initiate and complete assignments, store and turn in their work.
We teach students how to use an academic planner to organize - their tasks, time, and materials.- even if the student is using an online learning system such as Google Classroom.
Task Management: how to help kids to be future thinkers and imagine what an end task or product will look like.
Helping kids learn to plan backward and determine the steps they need to take to complete a task or achieve a goal and then identify the materials they need and possible obstacles towards task completion.
Time management- how to read an analog clock, how to see and sense the passage of time, how to plan their work within given time limits, how to be punctual for routines and activities.
Learning the process of how to plan daily activities and tasks/assignments that are due over the course of several days or weeks.
Helping students accurately determine how long tasks will take.
Read the Room
Situational awareness: how to stop and read a room and be situationally aware to be mindful of what is occurring around them and to use this awareness to take action.
Read, Write and Remember
Written expression: how to break down writing prompts then retrieve, organize and expand their ideas for writing. How to organize their thoughts into cohesive paragraphs. How to edit and revise.
Reading comprehension: visualizing from text, determining the main idea, making inferences, and drawing conclusions. Understand elements of stories and consider character perspective.
Increase working memory to remember and follow directions, listen to whole group instruction.
Flexible thinking: how to problem solve, anticipate and tolerate novel and unexpected changes, and interpret figurative language.