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 Tips to Encourage Reading

 

5 tips to encourage readers

 

I am a reading specialist and special educator by profession.  I have spent many years working with small groups of children, trying to encourage them as readers.  Most of these children are 2 or more years behind with their reading.  As a reading specialist and special educator I have received a TON of training on how to teach reading, how readers learn, and the science of reading.  The fact remains that the best way to learn to read, is to develop a love of reading.  Today I am going to offer 5 tips to help encourage a love of reading at any age.

5 tips to encourage readers

  1.  Introduce new and engaging books.  Libraries have plenty of choices.  But have you thought to look at garage sales, consignment sales, or trading with friends?  Try and make a weekly trip to your local library to constantly have a rotating collection of stories.
  2. Create special experiences that involve reading.  My children look forward to Daddy reading time each evening, where they cuddle up in bed and listen to him read a chapter book.  My toddler loves when we lay out a quilt and pull up a bin of books to read and look through.
  3. Children should be encouraged to self select books.  Yes, even your toddlers.  Keep the books at their eye level, where they can pull books out and decide what they want to look through.  Reading should be done both independently and supported.  Toddlers learn about concepts such as turning pages, direction of print, by looking through books.  It is important to allow toddlers to explore books and develop an interest in reading.
  4. Children should hear and see a variety of people reading.  This includes different members of your immediate household.  It also includes other family and friends you may be visiting or trips to the local story time at the library.  Children should understand that reading is important to everyone around them.
  5. Create a special reading nook.  It doesn’t have to be fancy, but don’t you love a place to cozy up to a story?  Maybe you have a few special blankets to cuddle when reading, or a special little chair next to a basket of favorite books.  Make it inviting and comfortable.  Check out some of my pins for creative reading areas 

5 tips to encourage readers

How have you encouraged reading in your home?

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National Book Festival- Children’s Guide

The 17th Library of Congress National Book Festival kicks off September 2, 2017 at the Washington Convention Center.  This annual festival is an awesome event.  If you have never made it downtown with your kids, you should definitely consider going.  Meeting your favorite author is pretty special, and you may just get to hug some of your favorite characters.

There is so much to do, and I have created a plan that can help you tackle most of the event.

Follow these 5 tips for a truly spectacular experience:

 

Download the 2017 Children’s Guide

Once you print out the guide sit down with your child and make a list of your must do activities.  You can then add activities that would be nice, but if missed would not cause any extra tears.

Scavenger Hunt

Completing a scavenger hunt in any new situation is a fun way to really get the lay of the land.  Some things to collect on this scavenger hunt include finding an author from your home state at the Pavilion of States.  Another is to find all three Waldo cutouts and then complete a Waldo postcard to enter a contest.  Try and find Dog Man, Ned the Newshound, or Clifford the Big Red Dog and snap a picture.

Author Talks

When listening to a favorite author, remember that some do book signings before their talk.  Check the schedule.  If you are hoping to ask the author a question after the talk, sit near the center aisle.  As soon as the talk is finished, get in line for the microphone because they get big quickly.

Play Eye Spy with the official poster

This year’s poster was created by Roz Chast, who is a cartoonist.  There are lots of details and it’s fun to try and find some of the sillier ones.

  1.  Find all the books with boots on.
  2. How many animals can you find?
  3. How many books do not have any hair?
  4. How many colors of books are there?

Visit the Pavilion of States

Grab a passport and try to get stamps from each of the states.  Along the way learn about some great books from different areas of our country.  Collect a prize at the Junior League booth.

Now go print out the guide and make your list.

Check back for Part 2 of this series, with more tips and tricks for the festival.

 

 

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