Executive Functioning: The # 1 skill needed at school

child at school

The #1 Skill Children Need to Be Successful

We all want our children to succeed at school.  But that is not always an easy task.  You may wonder, what is the #1 skill needed for my child to succeed at school?  The answer is Executive Functioning.

What does this really mean though?

It’s mentioned a whole lot nowadays, but why?  Is it really important?

Yes, because executive functions comprise the essential self-regulating skills that we all rely on everyday to accomplish just about everything.  Executive functions help us to plan and organize, learn from our mistakes, make decisions, control our emotions and impulsivity, and shift between thoughts and situations.  Kids start their day by relying on executive functions to get dressed for school and rely on it for every other task until bedtime.

Children who have poor executive functioning skills, often times this goes hand in hand with ADHD, can be quite disorganized.  Their backpacks are an explosion of papers.  Their school desks have piles of garbage in and around their desk.  Homework agendas are not filled out.  They take forever getting dressed, and completing one chore can often take a really, really long time.  Long term assignments are left until last minute, as is studying for a big test.

Well there is help.  And many learning specialists have devised strategies that can help students with poor executive functioning.  Improving organization skills can be achieved through specific strategies and alternate learning styles.

Here are some skills to help students, and parents, get that homework done as well as some other tasks around the house!

Checklists

The steps necessary for completing a task are often not obvious to kids with executive dysfunction.  Defining them clearly ahead of time makes a task less daunting and more achievable. Following a checklist  also minimizes the mental and emotional strain many kids with executive dysfunction experience while trying to make decisions.

With a checklist, kids can focus their mental energy on the task at hand.

You can make a checklist for nearly anything.  For example, posting a checklist of the morning routine can be a sanity saver: make your bed, brush your teeth, get dressed, have breakfast, grab your lunch, get your backpack.  Click MORNING ROUTINE task cards to grab a free copy of a morning checklist.

Set time limits

When making a checklist, many experts recommend assigning a time limit for each step, particularly if it is a bigger, longer-term project.  Talking about the steps to create a poster timeline project for example, requires research, finding pictures, gathering materials, creating a rough draft, and the final draft.  Discussing the time needed for each part can help the student see the bigger picture.

Use that planner

It is crucial that students learn to use a planner.  Most schools require students to use a planner these days, but they often don’t teach children how to use them.  It will also not be obvious to a child who is overwhelmed by—or uninterested in—organization and planning. This is a bad combination because kids who struggle with executive functioning issues have poor working memory, which means it is hard for them to remember things like homework assignments. And working memory issues tend to snowball. Fortunately many teachers also use online platforms and their websites to post homework assignments and test dates.  This comes in handy when that planner or agenda comes home blank, again.

Spell out the rationale

While a child is learning new skills, it is essential that he understand the rationale behind them, or things like planning might feel like a waste of time or needless energy drain.  Kids with poor organizational skills often feel pressured by their time commitments and responsibilities.  Explaining the rationale behind a particular strategy makes a child much more likely to commit to doing it.

Explore different ways of learning

Because everyone learns differently, it is good practice to use a variety of strategies to help kids with executive dysfunction understand—and remember—important concepts. Using graphic organizers as a reference for visual learners is one example.

Other kids remember things better if there is a motion supporting it, like counting on their fingers, which is good for visual and tactile learners. Younger children benefit from self-talking to reduce anxiety and Social Stories, which are narratives about a child successfully performing a certain task or learning a particular skill.

Establish a routine

This is particularly important for older kids, who typically struggle more to get started with their homework.  Check my post of the ultimate after school routine for some ideas.

Use rewards

For younger kids, you can try putting a reward system in place.  Something like a star chart, where kids see the connection between practicing their skills and working towards a reward, works very well.

For older kids who aren’t as motivated by things like rewards, parents should still be encouraging.  Parents need to be checking in with older kids.  Ask how things are going or offer help. Tell them you appreciate all the hard work they’re doing. School is really hard for a lot of kids and they should be recognized for their effort.

We use our organizational skills every day in a million ways, and they are essential to our success in school and later as adults. Following these tips should help to put your child on the right track.

OVER TO YOU

Does your child struggle with executive functioning? Do they seem to be unorganized? Let me know in the comments below – I’d love to hear from you!

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5 Toys to teach Alphabet Letters and Sounds (Phonemic Awareness)

 

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

The new preschool year has just started.  Some of you may be thinking, how can I help my child learn to read at home?  What are the most important skills they will need for kindergarten?  They need to know their letters and the sounds.  This is so important and the basis for taking the next step when learning to read.  There are so many toys on the market, but how do you know if they are good?

I have rounded up some of my favorite toys to help teach letters and their sounds, also known as phonemic awareness in teacher talk.  These toys are a great way to practice and have fun while doing so.

5 Toys to Teach Letters and Sounds

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Fridge phonics magnet letter set.  This toy was around 12 years ago when my oldest was toddling around, and is still one of the best.  It has nice big letters, easy for little hands to grasp.  Press the letter and they can hear the sound and how it’s used in a word.

 

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Learn the Alphabet Dough Mats.  Kids use dough to form each letter right on the mats.  This helps to boost letter recognition & fine motor skills as they create!  The set comes with 26 mats.

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Alpha Catch Phonics Game.  This is a great game to involve some physical activity.  You take turns tossing the ball and say the letter or sound, or both!  The same idea can be used for sight words.

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Uppercase Alphabet and Number Dough Stampers.  Kids love playdough.  This activity reinforces their letters and numbers, while having them practice fine motor skills.  Ask them to find a particular letter, make the sound, make a pattern with two letters, the options are endless.

letters sounds phonemic awareness alphabet

Alphabet Marks the Spot.  The kid alphabet version of Twister! Call a letter or sound, kids run to the spot.  Watch them get all twisted up!  You would start with letter names, progress to sounds, and then a word that starts with the sound.

This should help on the road to preparing for school.  Check out my link on how to encourage reading with your little ones!

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5 Steps to the Ultimate After School Routine

5 steps to the ultimate after school routine

The new school year means a new chance to create an after school routine.  Every day little guy and I head outside to wait for the big, yellow school bus.  We are super lucky that the stop is in front of our house.  It is extra awesome that there are about 11 families that use our stop.  So it basically means a giant playdate in my yard and driveway each afternoon.

Little guy eagerly waves at the bus, and all the kids come tumbling down the steps.  This usually turns into kids running everywhere and asking who’s house they can play at that afternoon.  It also means every parent reminds their child that they have their afternoon routine to get through.

If the weather is super awesome, or in the winter if darkness comes way to soon, we may choose to delay the ultimate after school routine.  It has taken many years of adjustment trying to figure out what works best for our family.  And honestly each year the after school routine changes a bit.  But so far this years’ is the best so I am excited to share with you!

 

1.  Get the kids inside

Like I said, since our house is at the bus stop it is hard to get them inside.  But once I do, the backpacks are tossed on the ground, the baby is crawling everywhere, the dog and cat are running around, and there is lots of talking.

All of this can make my head spin, but I try not to start yelling “Pick up your backpack” or “Start your afternoon routine.” Often there is something that happened which they can’t wait to talk about, or the opposite occurs and there is radio silence.  Both are okay.

bus stop after school

2.  Feed them!

School schedules are crazy and this year my one child eats at 10:20 in the morning.

This means they come home hungry and cranky.  I know personally I become hangry when I don’t eat, I think my kids are the same way.

Although they won’t admit it, they are much more pleasant with a full tummy.  I encourage a snack with some protein and carbs, for some quick energy and to sustain their energy.

Breakfast cookies, now after school cookies, can be a great option.

breakfast cookies after school snack

3.  Chill out time

We are lucky enough to have lots of friends in the neighborhood.  I really believe in letting kids run around after a very long day at school.  Recess has been cut so short in our district, our kids just need to get up and move.  Plus all the benefits of getting kids moving really helps with concentration for school work.  So it’s playdates at rotating houses for about 45 minutes.

swings after school playground

 

4.  Unpack backpack and complete homework

So it’s time to tackle school paperwork and homework.  In our county there is minimal homework, as the belief is that after a long day of school work kids should have time for other activities.  With that being said there is always reading and usually a small number of math problems.  For older kids studying for quizzes and tests occurs as well.

We have a basket for each child where important papers are placed.  These are items to be signed and any work samples I would like to save.  We have several homework stations throughout the house that are stocked with needed supplies.  Read this article to see why multiple stations may be beneficial to your child.

homework station with paper, pen, computer

5.  Chore cards

Finally they have to complete one chore before earning free time.  We have tried many chore charts.  They never work for long.  So this summer I came up with chore cards.  On each card is written a different chore, and each child gets seven for the week.  They can choose which they want to complete each day.  At the end of the week my two oldest switch piles for the upcoming week.  This has eliminated me having to yell about helping around the house.  They know if it doesn’t happen, then electronics are not an option.  And that is really motivating.

chore card after school routine

I hope this ultimate after school routine helps to get your family on track for more peaceful afternoons.  Less yelling and more talking is always a good thing!

 

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Homework Help for the ADHD Child- Part 2

Starting homework

Getting any child to start homework can be hard, but getting a child with ADHD to start can sometimes seem impossible.  They may be wanting to play video games, watch TV, run around outside, but at some point they need to start.  Try to ask the question “What do you hope to accomplish today?”  instead of “You need to start now.”  Question 1 requires an actual answer and is constructive, where as question 2 can easily be answered with “No”, and a possible tantrum.

Ask leading questions that force your child to think about the big picture and problem solve.  Asking “Did you study for tomorrow’s test?” may very well lead to a fight.  Instead you can ask “What should we do first to get ready for tomorrow’s test?”  Or you may ask “What events this week might get in our way of studying and homework?”  This forces them to use executive functioning and plan out their time.

Time Management

Kids with ADHD have alot of trouble estimating time. They may think it will only take them 15 minutes to get ready in the morning, where in reality it can take closer to an hour.  How many mornings are spent screaming hurry up when the grown up realizes they are going to miss the bus, but they think they’ve got it all under control?

It is a good idea once they finish the task at home, regardless of how long it took, to actually discuss with them the length of time.  Then discuss what were the events that caused slow downs and strategies to help minimize those the next time.

     The long term assignment

It’s only a matter of time before the first long term assignment for school comes home.  Again this can be challenging due to the organization and time management required to be successful.  The key is to help your child break down the assignment into manageable chunks.  A tangible reward such as several Pokemon cards at each milestone can help turn abstract time management into something concrete.

 

Talk with your child

The biggest thing to remember is that you are on the same side as your child, remind them of that.  You are not the enemy and you really do want them to succeed.  Help them to put words to their feelings.  If you notice they are very frustrated doing math homework, you can say “I see you are getting frustrated while trying to figure that out.  What can I do to help you?”  You may get screamed at, but try your best to keep your cool.  Sometimes just your physical presence is enough for them to know you care.

For more ADHD resources see ADHD and the new school yearADHD 504 PlanHomework Help Part 1

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