Executive Function: What is it and why does it matter?
Executive function is a newish catchphrase in early childhood. We see the term presented in curriculum materials and early learning standards, during professional development, and within online resources. But, what exactly does Executive Function mean, and more importantly, why does it matter?
There are four components that make up Executive Function (EF) Skills:
- Inhibition – the ability to resist impulses and temptations and rather, set goals.
- Interference Controls –the skill of staying focused on the task at hand.
- Working Memory – the power to retain or manipulate information over short periods of time.
- Mental Flexibility – the ability to think and apply creative solutions that meet the needs of ever-changing circumstances.
In other words, EF are brain skills or capabilities that we can develop which promote healthy development. Children are not born with EF but possess the potential to develop these skills – with our support and encouragement – over time. A hopeful message for adults too: EF skills can be improved at any age!
Children naturally apply EF Skills when promoted by the Teacher in a high-quality early childhood environment. For example, Toddler Teacher Jill plays the same video song daily before Gym Time. Jonas, aged 16 months, recognizes the tune and begins to sway his hips back and forth. He searches for a play instrument and pretends to play along while Teacher Jill responds with joy. Jonas is demonstrating two EF Skills: Working Memory and Mental Flexibility: He remembers the tune from listening to it each day and he creatively moves his body and plays an instrument to the music. High-quality experiences such as music and movement support the development of EF in young children.
Executive Functions are skills that can be developed over time and allow us to manage tasks in our lives more effectively making for a better life. Through careful preparation of the child’s environment with attention to developing EF Skills through both curriculum and instruction, we will support the child in flourishing.
For the main article Promoting Executive Function Skills, CLICK HERE
For the article The Science of EF: Building Better Lives, CLICK HERE
For the article Strategies to Build EF Skills for Children and Families, CLICK HERE
For the article Strategies to Build EF Skills for Teachers/Adults, CLICK HERE