Learning How to Learn: Tips for Developing Executive Function Skills at Home
Executive function skills are strong predictors of success later in life. Read these fun ways children can develop execute function skills at home.
According to the Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University, executive function skills are: “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” Researchers have found that executive function skills are stronger predictors than IQ of success in school, the workforce, and later in life.
We want children to gain knowledge in a variety of topics, such as literacy, math, and science. This content is the what of learning. Executive function refers to the skills that allow children to implement and integrate content. It is the how of learning. Researchers have likened executive function to the work of an orchestra conductor or air traffic controller—taking control of multiple inputs, filtering distractions, switching gears, considering next steps, synthesizing information, and setting and achieving goals.
Three main components make up executive function:
- Working memory: The ability to retain information over short periods of time and make use of it.
- Self-control: The capacity to control impulses, resist temptation, and manage distractions in order to think before acting.
- Cognitive flexibility: The ability to respond to changing demands, perspectives, or rules.
Learning Games for Kids: Fun Ways to Learn How to Learn
Infants: Tried and true Peek-A-Boo or the predictable verses of Pat-A-Cake allow your baby to build working memory as he or she becomes familiar with the rhythm of the game and then exercises self-control while containing his or her reaction until the surprise is revealed at the end.
Toddlers: Play Red Light, Green Light. The need for the quick change from moving to still builds your child’s self-control. Periodically swap the rules. First, play the game the traditional way, and then have your child run on red and stop on green. This change in routine offers a chance for your child to practice some flexibility in his or her thinking.
Preschool: Provide opportunities for pretend play. At this age, your child recreates scenarios he or she experiences. Your child is learning to play cooperatively with others and to negotiate and develop rules and story lines. This requires him or her to exercise flexibility, solve problems within a social context, and exercise self-regulation.
School Age: Board games that require strategy, such as Mancala or Mastermind, offer your child independence to practice inhibitory control, while combining skills such as working memory and flexibility to plan and re-plan throughout the course of the game.
Executive function may seem like an intimidating skill set that we have to force or plan. You may feel that if you don’t get it right, your children won’t be successful. But in reality, many of the things we do in the daily course of life build executive function skills. These experiences are easy to integrate into social interactions and the natural rhythm of the day in ways that are enjoyable and relaxed, such as discussions about feelings or re-telling stories. Integrating opportunities to build executive function skills into everyday life can help build your child’s propensity to learn.
Webinar: Mind in the Making: Executive Function and the Seven Essential Life Skills Every Child Needs
How can families and teachers give kids the life skills they need to cope in our multi-tasking, multimedia, modern world? Bright Horizons, in conjunction with Families and Work Institute and Ellen Galinsky, present a parent webinar about the skills adults and children need in order to succeed in the 21st century.
More on Learning & Development:
- While academic achievement can be a strong indicator of growth, social-emotional development is arguably just as important. Learn ways you can foster social-emotional development for your preschooler at home.
- Children use accompanied and unaccompanied play to explore the world around them and to learn how things work. Here are some of the valuable ways that your child is developing through play.
- The use of imagination and pretend play can help children develop their cognitive and social abilities. Get tips for nurturing the creative and imaginative side of your child at home.
- Your children are challenged several times a day with new experiences and opportunities to make critical decisions. Here are some tips to help your child develop their problem solving skills.