Executive Functioning Skills Are Crucial for Human Development
Executive functioning is a term used for a wide range of cognitive skills that help humans accomplish goals and regulate their behavior. It includes working memory, planning, impulse control, and flexible thinking. It’s often likened to a personal air traffic control system that helps the brain prioritize tasks and stay focused. At school, executive functioning helps children follow directions, resolve problems, and manage long-term projects.
Executive Functioning Develops Early and Related Skills Are Learned
The acquisition of executive functioning skills starts early when children are infants and continues through adolescence and well into the mid-20s. It appears that the preschool years from three to five are an important time for growth. The skills are learned, and teachers and parents can help model and teach these competencies to children. Apparently, factors that promote positive child development are trusting relationships with dependable adults, safe and stable home and school environments, and opportunities for exercise, social connection, and play. Meanwhile, adverse experiences like toxic stress can delay or impair the development of executive function skills.
While there are many ways children can learn and strengthen their executive function skills, they do develop those over time. It certainly does not seem plausible that a three-year-old child will sit still and learn. Also, executive function skills don’t come naturally to all children. Some may struggle to master these skills, and extra coaching and support can certainly help with that.
Schools Can Help Students Develop Their Executive Functioning
According to researchers, executive functioning skills are essential for learning. Studies have shown that there’s a link between academic achievement and executive functioning, and schools have discovered many ways to reinforce those skills in the classroom. Some have built-in coaching in executive function skills in every subject. Those include classes in which students are guided to plan their week, specify which work they’ll do with priority, and set up a detailed process for large projects. Another practice is incorporating support for executive functioning skills throughout schools and educational facilities. This can include classrooms with clearly posted schedules for every day and using different colored folders for separate subjects — helping students learn how to break down assignments into separate tasks.
Parents can also reinforce their children’s executive functioning skills at home. They can have their children clean and organize their rooms to practice these skills and should also give them specific instruction. Organizing items and assignments can also help kids learn how to avoid forgetting things.
Simple games like Simon Says or Red Light/Green Light can help children with impulse control, and card games like Hearts or Spades can build the working memory of preteens. There are other games that can also help with quick decision-making, focus, and skill development, including sports. Mastering an instrument is also a known helpful practice.