Executive Function: Skills for Life!

{We are thrilled to have partnered with Kinderberry Hill for this post – their Education Coordinator, a mom herself, has some fantastic information to share with us all and some great skills and habits we can all put in place.}

Many of us have read statements such as these: “Executive Function skills are essential for success in life”, and . . . “Executive Function skills are better predictors of academic success than a child’s I.Q.” . . . Yikes! These skills sound important, but what exactly are they and how can I nurture them in my child?

In a nutshell, Executive Function (EF) is simply how the brain organizes and acts on information. These are the skills that interpret information coming in, remember it, apply it, block out distractions and help us mentally shift gears as needed. Like many other important skills, EF begins developing in infancy. And yes, we parents can help facilitate EF development with our little ones.

I am a mother of two and like many of you, I want to make sure I’m giving my children every opportunity to grow and learn. Here are just a few simple tips and ideas to facilitate EF skills at home.

Infant Moms:

Talk, talk, talk to your babies! Notice objects or activities your little one is watching. Name the object and talk about it. Be sure to repeat key words and phrases often. This simple activity helps lengthen the child’s attention and build their working memory. As your little one learns language, they are developing memory of what is said, the beginnings of connecting vocabulary to objects.

Place a blanket over a favorite toy and encourage your child to find it. When they can successfully find objects under the blanket, begin to hide objects in other areas while they watch you. This builds working memory as they remember where you moved your body to place the object. It also builds attention as they watch you hide the item and then proceed to search themselves.


Executive Function: Skills for Life! | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Toddler Moms:

I’m with you on this journey as I have a beautifully busy (and a wee bit bossy) sweet toddler of my own! One way we practice EF in our house is to play ‘Copy Me’ and ‘Freeze’ games. I ask my 2 year old to copy me as I jump, crawl, clap, etc. around the house. This encourages him to use his working memory, sustain attention and practice blocking impulses or distractions. The same is true during the ‘Freeze’ game. We select rowdy music to inspire daring dance moves. Then when the music stops, we ‘FREEZE’! This gives my son a great opportunity to practice impulse control and maintain attention, while waiting for the chance to dance again.

Sorting activities are always an excellent way to promote EF with toddlers. Some simple household sorting activities we practice at home include searching for all of the washcloths in the laundry basket, helping put the silverware away, and putting all of our toys in their correct place when we clean up.

For older toddlers, to further promote EF, try sorting items in an unexpected way. For example, put the green play food on the red plate and the red play food on the green plate. This can be a challenge for toddlers as they try to resist the impulse to put similar items together, as well as engage their attention and working memory, in staying on task and recalling specific rules.

Preschool Moms:

Executive Function: Skills for Life! | Twin Cities Moms Blog

I also have a preschooler and one of the best things we can do to help our preschoolers develop EF is to let them be creative and try out their own ideas! When my 5 year old daughter wanted to turn our kitchen table into a bear cave, she needed to make decisions as to what she would need, remember these items, plan the steps needed to implement them, all without getting off course by the many distractions of a busy household (planning, attention, problem solving & impulse control. . . great EF).

She also needed to adjust when things did not turn out as expected. For example, when her “cub” (my toddler son) wouldn’t stay in the cave while she hunted, she quickly recovered by and letting him have a couple of trains in the cave. Problem solved and great EF practice!

Another fun EF preschool activity we do is to act out familiar stories. By having your preschooler retell a story, they are required to remember the story, maintain attention to what happens next, and resist the urge to make up their own plot. They may even want to pull out props or costumes. Again, more EF practice in problem solving and attention.

So, as you can see, EF can be tied into many facets of our children’s day. By knowing what these skills are and thinking of ways to practice these skills, we can easily help our children succeed in developing these very important skills for school and life.

Executive Function: Skills for Life! | Twin Cities Moms Blog

Sara Reichstadt is the Education Coordinator for the six NAEYC-accredited Twin Cities Kinderberry Hill Child Development Centers.  Sara earned a bachelor’s degree in Child Psychology from the University of Minnesota, where she trained in the Shirley G. Moore Lab School.  Sara, who has been with Kinderberry Hill since 1999, has taught in infant, toddler and preschool classrooms as well as serving in management positions.  As Education Coordinator, Sara helps implement curriculum, offer classroom support and conduct teacher trainings.  Sara is also a MNCPD (Minnesota Center for Professional Development) registered trainer in the SEEDS of Early Literacy Program.  She is passionate about early education and helping children, teachers and families.  Sara has two young children and knows firsthand the importance of a quality early education.

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