January 2024 Newsletter – Promoting Executive Function Skills: The Science of EF: Building Better Lives

The Science of EF: Building Better Lives

Executive Functions are simply skills or tasks we need to cultivate to have a better quality of life for ourselves, our children, and our families! Although the term multi-tasking has come under some scrutiny, there are many times when it is necessary. Multi-tasking is when we act on many tasks all at once. For example, an adult may be helping a child dress, while making breakfast and packing their backpack. To carry out these “tasks” well, we need EF skills. These EF skills are essential for improving the quality of our lives.

Executive Function includes four components:

Inhibition, Interference Controls, Working Memory, and Mental Flexibility each of which includes a set of tasks to develop. As educators, we promote the mastering of these skills:

  • Selecting what we need to do when in a tug-of-war with what we want to do. (Inhibition)
  • Focusing solely on the task at hand. (Interference Control)
  • Pulling information from the past and applying it to the here and now. (Working Memory)
  • Thinking of diverse ways to solve a problem. (Mental Flexibility)

Here is a scenario that demonstrates the EF function of Inhibition. During block play, Tabitha, 4 years old, wants to negotiate with her friend for preferred blocks. When frustrated during negotiation, Tabitha raises the block to hit her friend. At that moment, she stops, brings her arm down, and chooses to use her words instead. Tabitha has successfully demonstrated that she can resist her impulses when not getting what she wants.

Another scenario demonstrates the EF function of Mental Flexibility. Ty, age 3, is creating a storefront in the dramatic play area. He wants to sell fruits and vegetables from the booth, unfortunately, most of the vegetables have gone missing. After unsuccessfully trying to locate the vegetables in other play areas, Ty has an idea: he decides to use materials from the art/writing center to create a few things like string beans, potatoes, and carrots. Ty is satisfied and now carries on selling both fruits and vegetables. Ty used creative thinking to shift his perspective and find another way to include vegetables by creating them.

Two other factors come into play in the science of EF. First, children do not naturally develop EF skills, rather children need to be guided in mastering EF tasks. Second, children who experience stress and trauma may have difficulty learning. In other words, stress can cause detours in children’s ability to develop EF. If we observe that a child is having difficulty with a developmentally appropriate EF skill, we can explore barriers to learning. We have a very important role in understanding how children learn and the barriers to learning. With that information, we can support children in building a better life.


For the main article Promoting Executive Function Skills, CLICK HERE

For the article Executive Function: What is it and why does it matter?, 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