Strengthen Your Child’s Executive Function Muscle

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Perhaps you are the parent of a child who misplaces important papers, has difficulty paying attention, or fails to see through a long-term project to the end. Or, perhaps that would describe you! The ability to self-manage is known as executive function, and it is an important component of academic success.

Executive function is a set of processes that the brain conducts in order to help a person organize, plan, remember, carry out tasks, be flexible in problem-solving, and have the ability to inhibit responses. Executive function allows children and adults the ability to analyze a task and to create and follow through on steps to complete the task. 

These skills begin developing around six months of age and are fully present around age 25. 

As a person progresses through school, executive function skills continually grow and build upon themselves. For some, the skills are inherent, but for most, they need to be explicitly taught and practiced. Students are utilizing these skills to perform cognitive and social tasks, and when these skills are underdeveloped or weak, negative symptoms can emerge. For example, a student might have difficulty completing homework assignments, or they might fail to turn in a completed assignment.  

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As new research continues to show that executive function might be a better predictor of school success than IQ, it also shows us that we can strengthen executive function skills just as we do our biceps. 

At CIS, we work to help students develop and build their executive function skills at every level. In Junior Kindergarten, students begin building executive functioning skills through imaginative play. Older students are provided time for creative, dramatic play and problem solving. In 6th grade, all students take our Learn to Learn class, which teaches the executive function skills alongside research-based study strategies. In Upper School, our teachers and college counselor focus on helping students navigate the complexities of the college search process. 

There are many ways you can help partner with CIS in helping your child strengthen their executive function muscles. 

  • Help your child create and achieve an attainable goal. Identifying goals, planning, monitoring progress, and adjusting behavior are important skills to practice. 

  • Play a game! Any game involving strategy provides important practice with holding preplanned moves in mind and adjusting plans based on an opponent’s move.

  • Row, Row, Row Your Boat. Singing in rounds is a challenge for children that requires the use of working memory and inhibition. 

  • Storytelling. Have your child create and tell a story, create a family story where everyone adds on, act out a story, or tell a story in a second language. With storytelling, children practice holding and manipulating information in working memory. 

For more examples, click the articles below from Harvard’s Center on the Developing Child. 

Activities Guide: Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence

EF: The School Skill That May Matter More Than IQ

Measuring Smarts

If you have specific questions about strengthening executive functioning skills or how CIS supports students, contact CIS Learning Coach Sarah Primmer at primmers@cislions.org