The role of executive function processes begin early during the preschool years and continue to increase through middle and high school when students need to use skills such as note taking, summarizing, multi-tasking and staying on task. Success does not come easy and depends on each individual’s ability to be more prepared each day, to plan ahead, organize materials and other information, to determine main ideas from minor details in stories and lessons alike, and to keep track of their own progress throughout the school year. Both parents and educators can assist children to understand how they learn, and aid them to utilize skills to improve in five major executive function areas:
1. Shifting/Thinking Flexibly
Expose your child to jokes, riddles and puns which are enjoyable and simple ways of learning to shift between different meanings. Teach your child to use flexible thinking when solving math problems. They can compare their estimates with their correct answers to word problems. Use a variety of approaches to a problem so they can come to understand the problem-solving method taught and promoted within the classroom.
2. Organizing Ideas and Materials
Allow your child access to outlines, visuals or graphic organizers to organize ideas for assignments.
Encourage your child to use a notebook to take notes when reading or studying. You can buy highlight inserts to stick at the top or side of a page to separate it into subject sections, providing a one stop spot for all notes.
Work with your child to develop a system for organizing materials in folders, notebooks, book bags and school lockers. Use stickers they can pick out to put on their class folders, which will reinforce using them to store their class work. Encourage your child to clean out his or her backpack once a week. Offer a small allowance for follow through as this is a big job for many children.
3. Teach Prioritizing
Have your child keep a notebook-style agenda. Schedule upcoming assignments and projects by scheduling larger assignments in smaller steps to avoid last-minute crunches. I’ve been doing this with single weekly homework assignments with my own son as well. We do 10 minutes a night of homework and come Friday, it’s done!
4. Access the Working Memory
Encourage your child to create their own silly sentences, acronyms or songs to remember information. Even restaurants use “The Happy Birthday Song” to remind staff of how much hand washing is sanitary enough in the food industry. Use similar formats for remembering information on tests and exams.
It is important for children to learn skills that allow them to check their schoolwork before turning it in. Help your child make personalized checklists to correct their mistakes or get your child’s teachers to give a more standardized, grade appropriate checklist for learning editing and self-correction skills. Sometimes it works best to do this in the morning in order to look at it with fresh eyes and to get your child’s brain warmed up prior to school.
— Michelle O’Neill, AHSS Lead Care Team Member and Mother of a Special Needs Child PLUS Two!