More and more parents hear about executive function skills and how important they are to learning. The term executive function (EF) refers to specific brain processes that all us to focus, encode learning, and problem solve. Executive function skills promote the ability to do the things listed in the diagram – and more. As you can well imagine, these skills are vital to learning.
Play is how children practice EF skills so they can perform them later. These are not skills that are easily taught in activities or lessons. They are skills the brain is already programmed to learn – as long as the child spends time in healthy, useful activities.
The education world has known about EF skills for some time, but the term has just begun to wind its way down to schools and classrooms in the last few years. Poor EF skills are not a learning disability. However, poor use of these skills will make other learning disabilities much worse. They are just as important for a child not diagnosed with a disability to allow them to learn at their potential.
Whenever we hear something new about learning it is common to look for a program or a complicated process to help us teach it. But, developing EF skills is pretty straightforward. . Here are four that can easily fit into any family schedule:
Reduce screen time
Screen time takes away from the time children could be spending developing EF skills with other activities such as play and conversation. Research tells us to keep screen time to a minimum. Even education games take away from EF skill development.
Send them out to play
Any kind of non-screen play, the more active, the better, offers children plenty of time to practice the EF skills that will be strong and ready when they need them for school learning. Children who have weak problem-solving skills, working memory problems, or difficulties staying focused will all be helped by healthy doses of play.
Talk with them and read to them
Strong language skills are the foundation for any learning. When you talk with your children and read to them, you are building EF skills that will help them learn. This is one reason why families that have technology-free meals together produce better learners.
Hold them accountable for tasks
When children have jobs to do, they practice EF skills. When you give them feedback on how they are doing they practice EF skills in a way they will use them in school.