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Executive Functioning Skills for School Success

Multi-tasking seems to be the norm of the everyday lifestyle. When you think about it, in order to multi-task, your brain needs to be able to focus on two different types of stimuli, organize two sets of information, plan for two different motor movements and remember two sets of “to-do” lists. Sounds like a lot of work! The ability for your brain to do this is possible with executive functioning skills. Executive Functioning Skills or School SuccessExecutive functioning skills are the higher-level brain skills that allow a person to complete tasks throughout the day. These skills include memory, initiation, inhibition/impulse control, shift, and organization. Executive functioning is best understood by listing specific skills, however, it is not a unitary skill. Often times, these skills build upon one another and are used in conjunction to complete complex tasks.

School places executive functioning demands on children on a daily basis; from reviewing the daily schedule to written work. Some children find the school day to be more cumbersome due to difficulty in utilizing one or more executive functioning skills. When these executive functions are not working effectively, the individual, despite strong abilities, can experience significant problems in many aspects of learning, getting work done, social functioning, and self-esteem. These children, with or without an executive functioning or attentional difficulty diagnosis, can appear confused, become frustrated or angry easily, or refuse to complete work.

As the demands of school increase with each passing year, having well-developed executive functioning skills is critical to academic success. Below is an overview of each of the before mentioned executive functioning skills, along with, activities to help promote these skills at home.

Executive Functioning Skills Overview:

Executive Functioning Skill Definition Activities to Try
Memory Ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short or long periods of time Sequential tasks of 3-5 steps with or without use of visual aides.Memory card games

Recall the events of the day in order from waking up to dinner time.

Initiation Ability to begin a task or activity and to independently generate ideas, responses, or problem-solving strategies. Utilize a “to-do” list of 3-5 items. This will encourage the completion of each task.Minimize distractions: encourage work to be completed in a specific location in the house with minimal visual and auditory distractions.

Create a weekly schedule for house-specific initiation of tasks (i.e., chores). Each day should have its own specific task to decrease the amount of demands presented.

Inhibition/Impulse Control Ability to stop one’s own behavior at the appropriate time, including stopping actions and thoughts. Teach social rules for a variety of settings: “When we walk into the store, first we will look at mommy’s list, and then we can look at bikes”.Redirect your child when they are interrupting you: “I am talking on the phone, I can talk to you as soon as I am done”.

Make sure to praise your child immediately after you direct your attention back to him.

Incorporate a fidget into daily activities, especially sedentary tasks, to provide a means to “get the wiggles out” without needing to flee from the task.

Shift Ability to move freely from one situation to another and to think flexibly in order to respond appropriately to the situation. Create a cognitive obstacle course: create 3 stations in which the child is to complete 3 different tasks (ex. gross motor, writing, puzzle) with 3 minutes dedicated to each station. Rotate between the stations until all 3 tasks are completed.Encourage multi-tasking in a structured manner. Sedentary tasks for multi-tasking can include a game-play scenario mixed with writing.

Use of a picture schedule to promote ease and regulation during transitions between activities.

Organization Ability to manage current and future-oriented task demands. OR Ability to impose order on work, play, and storage spaces. Create a “school ready” system to promote organization of school materials. This can be done in multiple ways: folders, binder system, use of a weekly planner.Use of graphic organizers for academic success: outline templates, Venn diagrams, idea webs, 3-5 step sequence graphs, main idea organizers.

Create a map of the school: utilize this map to establish a routine for navigating the hallways in an efficient and timely manner, including stops at either the bathroom or locker.

NSPT offers services in BucktownEvanstonHighland ParkLincolnwoodGlenview and Des Plaines. If you have questions or concerns about your child, we would love to help! Give us a call at (877) 486-4140 and speak to one of our Family Child Advocates today!