November 2020 Student Spotlight – Josh Jonietz

My passion for children began when I was a vacation bible school volunteer.  When I was in high school, I was told I needed one more credit in order to graduate.  The school counselor thought it would be a good idea for me to enroll in the work program class.  For this class I needed a job outside of school. I decided to apply at my church nursery and I got the job. I really liked working with the young children.  My first job assignment at the church was with infants through elementary age children.  I even worked at the Kids Night Club, the club that allowed parents to have a kid free evening.  I worked at this job for 14 years.

After graduation from high school, and knowing I enjoyed working with small children so much, I decided to get an Early Childhood Teachers Assistant Certification from San Antonio Community College.  Also during college, I was an intern at a special needs school and helped with PE and also would watch the children during their parent teacher meetings.  After graduation from SAC I needed to find a full time job and I knew it needed to be in childhood.  I worked at one other daycare until I landed a job at my current location La Petite Academy in San Antonio, Texas.  Here I was awarded Teacher of the Year and the Going the Extra Mile Award.  I have worked at La Petite for 5 years.  I started in the infant room and now work in the early preschool room.  My career began because of the work study program in high school even though they discovered later I did not even need that credit.  I am thankful for that mistake.

My favorite time of day to spend with children is free center time.  I get to see their little imaginations work.  For instance, one early preschooler invited me into “his kitchen” to enjoy and see the types of bread he has cooked.  He had lined up a plastic hot dog bun, regular bread, a pretzel stick and a hamburger bun.  He was so proud.  The student told all his friends not to touch because the bread was hot.  Another instance during free center time, a child asked for the first time a particular song.  He quoted the words of the song “get up get up and go now.”  He had never asked for a song before and immediately had all the kids in the room dancing to the song.  Another activity I like is when the children color on the butcher paper.  They scribble and tell me about what their scribbles are.  They’ll tell me things like it’s their parents even though their scribble may not look like their parents at all.

My motivation to work with children comes from knowing that I am someone who could be making a real difference in their life.  I am contributing to their development and growth.  It is satisfying to see their growth and their smiling faces.  They give back to me also by asking for me to participate with them on their activities and also talking to the parents about me when they are at home.  The parents have commented on this to me and the director of the center.

In my free time I love to work out and make sure I workout 6 days per week.  Working out makes me feel healthy.  I also enjoy playing video games particularly sports and wrestling games.  I love to watch wrestling events on television also.  The Spurs basketball team, the Dallas Cowboys and Texas Tech football are my sports passions.  I try never to miss a game when they are broadcast. I love it even more when I get the opportunity to attend a Spurs game in person.

In the future I could see myself becoming a lead teacher in my own classroom.  I am always interested in taking continuing education courses with ChildCare Education Institute.  I have taken my final exam for the CDA course and I have passed!  I will begin working on my portfolio soon.  I would recommend CCEI to any of my co-workers because it furthers your education and I feel like I gained important knowledge from the CDA certification course.

November 2020 Newsletter – Executive Functions: Executive Functions and Adults

As you may recall from the introduction, executive functions do not fully develop until adulthood. This means that it is likely that you will work with adults who are still developing these skills, whether they are employees or families.

Understanding the impact of executive functioning on daily tasks and interactions can help you shift your approach to working with members of your program’s community. Here are just a few suggestions:

Provide meeting agendas: Let people know exactly what you will be discussing and why it is important.

Prepare for meetings: Help employees shift their focus from their day to the meeting. Guide them in a quick self-check-in activity that encourages them to let go of what is on their mind before the meeting and prepares them to be active participants in the meeting.

Encourage problem-solving: Ensure that team members and families are active participants when coming up with solutions to problems. Use brainstorming as a tool to promote creative problem solving and collaboration.

Share meeting recaps: After a meeting, write up a summary of the meeting and share it with attendees. Be sure to include details of agreed-upon action items and important upcoming dates.

Delegate: Create buy-in and a sense of community responsibility by delegating tasks to team members. You may need to practice cognitive flexibility yourself because the way they complete tasks may be very different from how you complete tasks.

Accountability: Help your staff members by holding them accountable for the tasks they are assigned or agree to complete. Create a culture where team members hold each other accountable for their work and the quality of the program initiatives.

Ask questions: Encourage others to think deeply and reflect on their plans or intentions. If you think a person may have trouble with time management, ask questions geared to helping the person identify steps they can take to accomplish the task in a timely manner.  You can also ask questions after the fact that encourages the individual to assess their performance, successes, and challenges.

Breaks: If you are planning a long meeting or professional development event, be sure to make time for breaks and movement opportunities.

Mentors: Some people benefit from working with a mentor. Mentors can model strategies for organization, planning, and time-management.

Organizational tools: Develop forms that are easy to use and help teachers organize their thoughts, plan curriculum, and setting goals.

Technology: Use technology to set meetings and communicate rather than writing things down on a piece of paper that could get misplaced.

Talk about executive functions: Share information about executive functions with adults who are not aware of these skills and how they help us navigate life. Discuss strategies for improving these skills and why it is so important for adults to have these skills in place in order to work effectively with children. See this article for more information.

For the main article Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article How are Executive Functions and Executive Assistants Alike?, CLICK HERE

For the article Examples of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Promoting the Development of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

November 2020 Newsletter – Executive Functions: Promoting the Development of Executive Functions

Different strategies can be used to support the development of executive functions.  Remember, the area of the brain where these skills reside is not fully developed until early adulthood. These strategies are helpful for people of all ages.  Keep in mind, different strategies will work for different people. Remain creative and open to altering these suggestions to work for you and the children in your care.

  • Consistent routines- Learning the predictable flow of the daily routine is an important executive function. Create a daily schedule that promotes security and has a few downtime periods as possible. Transition children in small groups, rather than moving large groups through the routine all at once. For example, send a few children to wash their hands before snack rather than having all of the children line up and wait for their turn to wash hands.
  • Advanced warnings- If part of the routine is going to change, it is important to let children know in advance. A common example is to let children know that they have a few more minutes to play before it is time to clean up. This warning will help children practice cognitive flexibility
  • Manage stimuli in the environment– Decrease clutter, Quiet areas should be set up away from more active areas. Small group workspaces should be arranged to minimize distractions. Large group seating should be arranged to limit distractions. You may have to put a piece of fabric over the block shelf to minimize distractions during large group time.
  • Break tasks down into smaller chunks– Whenever possible, break tasks down into multiple steps. Walk children through each small step until they have mastered the skill.
  • Visual cues – Here are some examples of visual cues:
    • Visual schedules of the daily routine
    • Illustrated steps to common tasks, such as handwashing
    • Pictures of what learning centers look like when they are cleaned up properly
    • Visual cues on calendars for special events, such as birthdays, holidays, etc.
    • Pointing, gesturing, or the use of sign language,
    • Graphic organizers
    • Illustrated rules to games
  • Visual time displays – Incorporate the use of egg timers, countdown clocks, sand timers, gel timers, These tools allow children who cannot yet tell time to see a visual of how much time they have to wait for a turn or to move to the next activity.
  • Checklists lists – Older children will benefit from creating to-do lists and checklists to keep track of the steps of large projects or tasks.
  • Brain breaks – Some children will benefit from taking breaks during sustained periods of focus. This strategy works well when you break tasks down into smaller chunks. Breaks can be given in between chunks. For example, if a child has to read a passage for homework, you could divide the reading into small sections and offer a movement break between each section.
  • Proximity – when you notice a child is off task or having trouble staying focused, move closer to the child. Sometimes your presence will help the child refocus attention.
  • Opportunities to practice making decisions– Offer choices throughout the day. Whenever possible, give children two options and allow them to make a choice. We don’t automatically become good decision-makers without having the chance to practice when the stakes are small.
  • Opportunities to practice making a plan – Ask children to think about a play scenario before they begin their play in the dramatic play center. They don’t have to plan out all parts of their play, or even stick strictly to their original plan, but asking them what they would like to do before they begin can focus their attention on their play and give them a chance to practice making and following a plan.
  • Understanding – most importantly, it is necessary for educators to recognize that executive functions are still developing in children. Not every child of the same age will be able to focus for the same length of time or regulate their emotions in the same manner. These skills must be taught and practiced, just like math and literacy skills!

For the main article Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article, How are Executive Functions and Executive Assistants Alike?, CLICK HERE

For the article Examples of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Executive Functions and Adults, CLICK HERE

November 2020 Newsletter – Executive Functions: Examples of Executive Functions

There have been many studies conducted on the executive functions of the brain in recent years. Depending on the resource you find, you may see different areas or skills associated with executive functions. You may also see the skills described or named something different from the list below.  Let’s take some time to explore some of these associated skills in more detail.

Working memory: Working memory is the ability to retain information for a period of time in order to use it in the future.  For example, a child needs to have working memory to follow multiple-step directions. They must be able to remember all of the steps and the order in which the steps were given, to accomplish the task. Children also use working memory to answer questions about stories they hear or passages that they read when taking tests.

You may notice that young children are not very good at following multiple step directions. This is because the area of the brain responsible for executive functions, such as working memory is the last to fully develop, which occurs in early adulthood.

Cognitive flexibility: This is described as the ability to think about solutions to problems from multiple angles. People who are good at brainstorming have strong cognitive flexibility as opposed to people who stick to one and only one way of doing things. Cognitive flexibility helps us deal with unexpected changes. It also includes the ability to take on another person’s point of view.

Attention control: This refers to a person’s ability to maintain an appropriate level of focus regardless of the external stimuli in the environment. In some cases, a child may have difficulty sustaining their attention for long periods of time, especially on non-preferred activities. That same child may be able to focus intensely on a preferred activity, almost to the exclusion of other stimuli in the environment.

Inhibition: This is the ability to refrain from acting out when feeling strong emotions. It can also be described as the ability to control impulses and think before acting. When children are young they are very impulsive, which is the opposite of inhibition. They see a toy they want and they grab it. As children mature and develop inhibition, they are less likely to grab toys from others and better able to use language to request the toy or come up with a plan to play with the toy together.

Self-regulation: This is the ability to manage strong emotions in appropriate ways. It includes things like having the tools to calm down when upset and to express a socially acceptable amount of excitement in public settings.

Organization: Placing items in a way that is logical and conducive to accomplishing tasks. It includes the ability to visualize where items should be placed in an efficient way and the ability to recall where items have been placed in the past. Think of a child’s backpack or binder for school.  A child with strong organization skills will have all of the math materials dated and placed in order behind the math tab and all of the science materials in the same manner. A child who struggles with organization will misplace work often because things are not in the correct spot.

Planning: Planning requires the ability to imagine the tasks that are required and the order in which they must be done. The ability to determine which tasks are most important and prioritize those tasks first. It also includes knowing which items are required to complete tasks and the ability to acquire those objects. Planning can include time management as well.

Initiative: This is the ability to start and continue the required steps to complete a task independently. It can be related to motivation, which can be intrinsic or extrinsic.

Self-monitoring: This is the awareness of and ability to assess one’s mental functioning. It is the ability to recognize that you are off task and bring focus back to the task at hand. It is a reflective skill that allows children to see how well they are performing and to make adjustments.

Remember, these skills are developing in young children and do not fully mature until we reach adulthood. Be sure to use this knowledge to adjust your expectations of the children in your care.  Be sure to approach these skills with the same intention that you do other skills in your curriculum.  Build their confidence while you build their skills!

For the main article Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

How are Executive Functions and Executive Assistants Alike?, CLICK HERE

For the article Promoting the Development of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Executive Functions and Adults, CLICK HERE

November 2020 Newsletter – Executive Functions: How are Executive Functions and Executive Assistants Alike?

Executive functions are a set of skills that allow us to successfully navigate the tasks and challenges of everyday life. They are the skills that we use to help us plan, organize, and follow through with the execution of our plan.

It might be helpful to think about executive functions as the executive assistant of your brain. The list of skills below (left column) is from a sample executive assistant job description from  Let’s take a look at how these skills relate to executive functioning in the brain (right column):

Executive Assistant Roles and Responsibilities Executive Functions in the Brain
Answering phones and routing important calls to the executive. Filtering which stimuli and messages get through and which messages are saved for later or ignored.
Filing and retrieving corporate records, documents, and reports. Storing relevant information in an accessible location where it can be found later and retrieved.
Accurately reporting the minutes from meetings. Identifying the most important and relevant information from an interaction and documenting it for future reference.
Using various software to accomplish necessary job responsibilities. Deciding which tools or resources are necessary to accomplish a task.
Helping prepare for meetings. Thinking ahead to determine what materials will be necessary to successfully accomplish a task.
Greeting visitors and determining who gets in to see the executive. Managing emotions to ensure successful interactions with others and filtering stimuli.
Making travel arrangements. Planning steps required to get from point A to point B.
Ordering and inventory of supplies Knowing the tools and resources on hand, what is missing, and taking steps to get the needed materials.
Scheduling meetings and appointments. Organizing and managing time.
Ability to organize a daily workload by priorities. Identifying the importance of tasks and basing the order of completion on the importance of the tasks.
Must be able to meet deadlines in a fast-paced, quickly changing environment. Being able to maintain focus to complete tasks and shift focus when necessary.
Proactive approach to problem-solving and strong decisions making skills. Thinking through the pros and cons of options and making informed decisions based on the available information.
Excellent verbal and written communication skills. Ability to regulate emotions when interacting with others and the attention to detail needed to notice errors in written communication.
Conducting research and analyzing data and reporting findings in a clear manner Taking steps to seek out new information, determining what information is necessary, and organizing or clearly communicating that information.

For the main article Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Examples of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Promoting the Development of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Executive Functions and Adults, CLICK HERE

November 2020 Newsletter – Executive Functions

Have you ever had a day when you were just distracted and disorganized; where it felt like your normally centered mind was in complete disarray?  This is not uncommon and it is likely that after taking a short break or getting something to eat, you were able to return to your tasks with a stronger sense of focus and purpose.

The human brain is flooded with messages from the senses on a regular basis. These messages travel through our sense organs and are directed to different parts of the brain for processing, all in the blink of an eye. This command center is responsible for managing every body function, emotion, memory, response, and decision we make.

Touch the back of your head near your neck.  The part of the brain behind this area of your skull is called the brainstem. This area controls the body functions that you don’t have to think about, such as breathing, digestion, sleep cycles, and heart rate. This is the first part of the brain to develop, beginning in the womb.

Now place your hand on the center of your forehead. The area of the brain behind this part of your skull is considered the “thinking area” of the brain.  This most forward area of the brain is where the left and right frontal lobes are located.  These are the last areas of the brain to fully mature, sometimes not fully developing until the mid-20s.

In this month’s newsletter, we will explore a specific set of skills, called executive functions that reside in the frontal lobes of the human brain. These skills are extremely important for children of all ages as they navigate both the academic and social environments of today’s education system.

For the article How are Executive Functions and Executive Assistants Alike?, CLICK HERE

For the article Examples of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Promoting the Development of Executive Functions, CLICK HERE

For the article Executive Functions and Adults, CLICK HERE

Self-Regulation Skills

The ability to manage emotions, behaviors, and attention is often referred to as self-regulation.  It is a term closely related to executive functions, which is the topic of this month’s CCEI Newsletter. Essentially, self-regulation is the ability to stop and think before responding to a situation. It means taking a breath to calm down before responding to someone’s actions or words. It is noticing when you need to walk away to compose yourself and having the skills to do so. Self-regulation impacts how we set and achieve goals and how we bounce back after experiencing challenges.

There are a number of strategies that can be used to promote the development of self-regulation. First and foremost is modeling. Educators and parents must be able to regulate their own emotional responses so they can model self-regulation to children. Imagine trying to teach a child how to manage strong emotions by expressing strong emotions in from of the child. It is not exactly a recipe for success.

Adults should model for children how to practice deep breathing during stressful situations, how to take a break during times of frustration, how to ask for help when feeling overwhelmed, and how to communicate needs in safe and respectful ways. Children are watching the adults around them for clues on how to respond to different situations, so adults must be on their A-game at all times!

After modeling, adults can help children begin to recognize and label the strong emotions that they experience. Teach children emotional vocabulary words so that they can express themselves effectively. Before children are overwhelmed with emotion, read books and tell stories that contain characters who experience strong emotions.  Talk about how the characters feel, how they react, and different options they could use next time they feel strong emotions.

Have conversations with children about how they feel inside when they are mad or sad. See if children can compare those physical feelings to how they feel when they are happy or excited.  Pointing out these differences helps children become aware of the changes in their bodies that often accompany strong emotions.  You can use color charts to help children identify how they are feeling, with green meaning great, yellow meaning, bothered by something, and red meaning upset.

Mindfulness practices include bringing attention to what is going on inside our bodies and minds in the moment. Children can be taught to check in with themselves to identify how they are feeling.  This can be done on a regular basis to help build this skill as a habit.

Self-regulation develops slowly and children will probably make many mistakes before they master the ability to regulate their emotions and reactions. In all fairness, adults often lose their tempers or become frustrated with situations, too. Everyone benefits when there is an intentional focus on teaching and practicing self-regulation in learning environments.  How will you incorporate some of these ideas into your practice with children?