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