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Nurturing Little Superheroes: A Parent’s Guide to Boosting Preschoolers’ Executive Function

Have you ever wondered what you can teach your child today that will help them develop lifelong success? Read on to learn how you can help your child develop strong executive function skills!

This article interprets information for parents from the research reportPreschoolers’ Executive Function: Importance, Contributions, Research Needs and Assessment Options,” Ackerman, D. J., Friedman-Krauss, A. H. (2017), Educational Testing Service, 17(1), 1-24. https://doi.org/10.1002/ets2.12148 

 

Imagine your preschooler as a little superhero, equipped with a powerful tool called executive function (EF). This tool helps them conquer everyday challenges. As a parent, helping them develop this superhero skill set can influence your child’s development and future academic success. Let’s take a look at how you can support EF growth in your young superhero.

Key EF Facts for Parents of Preschoolers

It’s important to know both what EF skills are and how you can help your child develop them. Read on to understand more about EF.

  • The Superhero Skill Set: EF is like a set of superpowers in your child’s brain, helping them make decisions, solve problems, and stay focused. 
  • Brain Development: The Origin Story: Just like superheroes need training to hone their powers, EF skills develop as your child’s brain matures. During the preschool years (ages 3 to 6) the prefrontal cortex (the front part of the brain) grows really fast. This rapid growth prepares their brain for EF skills, like inhibition, working memory, and cognitive flexibility.
  • Environmental Influences: The Supportive Sidekicks. Although brain development is important, it is only part of the story. A child’s environment (home, school, etc), including their caregivers, is also important to developing EF skills. Supportive and engaging environments help children learn EF skills.

Activities Matter

Training Grounds for Superpowers: Just like superheroes train to perfect their abilities, preschoolers can strengthen their EF through everyday activities, such as:

  • Being read to
  • Putting on their own shoes or coat
  • Playing games and doing puzzles
  • Spending time playing pretend

The Power of Play. That’s right! Pretend play is important for developing EF. When your child pretends they use EF skills like paying attention, creating rules, and thinking ahead.

...children's working memory, inhibition, and ability to “switch gears” are positively related to such learning-related behaviors as level of engagement in sequential task-related activities, interacting with peers and the teacher, and refraining from being disruptive, which, in turn, can lead to better academic outcomes.

Parental Support: Guiding the Hero's Journey

As a parent, you can help guide your little superhero on their journey: 

  • Be Patient. Patiently encouraging your superhero as they grow into their powers helps them develop EF skills successfully.
  • Celebrate Victories. Celebrate their victories, no matter how small, and provide a safe space for them to explore and learn.
  • Create routines, such as waking up, eating breakfast, brushing teeth, and then getting dressed.  
  • Enroll in Preschool. Preschool programs are a great way to increase your child’s EF skills. They allow children to practice language, literacy, and math skills to practice their EF skills and connect with peers.

Actionable Steps for Parents

There are lots of easy ways that parents can help their child develop their EF superpowers. They don’t have to be complicated and they don’t have to require a lot of materials or preparation! One way to help your child develop EF skills is to give them age appropriate chores, such as picking up toys, or taking their plate from the table to the sink.
 
Encourage pretend play, where your child can use their imagination muscles and practice problem-solving.

Read: The Power of Play for more information on the importance of play and how you can play with your child and increase their EF skills.
 
Physical activity can to help your child improve their self-control and ability to pay attention. Play: Stop, Go, or Go Slow?, a fun game that uses listening rules to encourage attention and practice the skill of controlling their actions.
 
Help your child expand their working memory (a key part of EF!) and encourage flexibility in the moment. Play: Mindful Scavenger Hunt, a fun way to practice working memory and adjusting their thinking as they play.

Conclusion

As a parent, you are important to building your preschooler’s EF. By understanding EF basics and providing a supportive environment, you empower your little superhero to soar to new heights. 

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