Executive Function as an Indicator
of School Readiness
Understanding, Measuring, & Improving Your Child's Executive Function skills
As parents, there is no greater reward than knowing your child is confident, happy, and prepared to succeed in school and in life. At Reflection Sciences, we provide parents with the latest information to better understand and improve child Executive Function skills like cognitive flexibility, working memory, and inhibitory control. We also offer a Kindergarten readiness assessment tool called the MEFS App, that educators can use to measure the Executive Function skills of children.
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Why Executive Function?
Executive function is the set of skills that help the brain organize and act on information. These are the skills that enable us to pay attention, plan, remember things, prioritize, and stay on task. While children are not born with Executive Function skills, they do possess the ability to develop these skills, which have been shown to be the best predictors of Kindergarten readiness and long-term academic success. Oftentimes, attention problems in children are not permanent and can be improved with the development of Executive Function skills.
For an idea of how Executive Function develops from infancy into the school-age years, download our ages and stages document here:
Executive Function: Ages and Stages [English]
Executive Function: Ages and Stages [Spanish]
Play to Learn
The MEFS App used as a Kindergarten readiness assessment only takes about five minutes to complete, and is delivered as a fun interactive tablet game that children truly enjoy playing. With the vital information gathered from this Executive Function assessment, educators can better tailor the classroom experience for the child, including the incorporation of teaching activities to help practice and improve Executive Function skills. In addition, parents can use the assessment information to nurture Executive Function at home, further enabling school readiness for the child!
Executive Function Activities You Can Do At Home
» Talk to your baby!
When infants hear more words, they learn more words, which is beneficial for later Executive Function growth. Narrate what is going on in their world using a variety of different words.
» If you notice your child watching a certain object, talk to them about it!
Tell your infant the item’s name, its physical description, and even what its purpose is. Be sure to repeat important key words and phrases. This will help lengthen your child’s attention span while improving their memory skills.
» You can help develop your infant’s memory and attention by playing a hiding game.
Start by covering a toy with a blanket. Once your child can successfully find toys under the blankets, have them watch you hide other items around the room. Then your infant can explore and find the hidden toys on their own!
» Develop consistent routines for things that happen every day like eating, bath time, and bedtime.
When babies get used to routines they can form expectations about what will happen next, which makes it easier for them to stay regulated!
» Provide your baby with new experiences!
Take your baby to new places like the post office, check out new books from the library, or let your baby explore new objects. Babies’ brains grow when they get to try new things!
» Read books to your baby!
Being read to is great for babies’ attention and focus, as well as vocabulary growth. Babies especially like listening to books that rhyme. If your young baby doesn’t like to sit still, you can read books while he/she is lying on the floor kicking and wiggling!
» Notice how your baby does things to calm down.
Babies do things like suck on their hands or hug a blanket that can help them calm down on their own. As babies get older they learn more and need less help from you to regulate their emotions!
» Play games that encourage your child to use their working memory, improve their attention span, and practice blocking distractions.
Games like the “Freeze Game” are great for developing these Executive Function skills. The Freeze Game is a lot like musical chairs, but instead of sitting when the music ends, tell your toddler to “freeze!” This helps develop impulse control.
» Try playing sorting games!
From sorting toys as they clean up a room to helping find all the socks in the laundry basket, sorting activities can also help promote Executive Function skills in toddlers.
» For older toddlers, try adding some rules to sorting games for more of a challenge.
After sorting things by item (teddy bears vs. puppies), have your toddler sort items by color, like putting green play food on a red plate and red play food on a green plate. This will help engage their attention span, working memory, and ability to stay on task.
» Let your child help you with chores!
When you give your child small jobs like picking up toys or putting silverware on the table, they get to take responsibility to carry out the task, which helps them learn to plan, persist in a task, and feel successful!
» Talk to your child about thoughts and emotions.
Use a variety of words that describe emotional states (e.g. excited, worried, jealous) and what goes on inside people’s heads (e.g. thinking, wanting). Talk both about what your child is feeling and what other people around them are feeling. When your child has the words to talk about their internal world, they are better able to express and regulate themselves, and they also learn more empathy for others!
» Be consistent in the limits you set for your child.
First, make sure your expectations are realistic given your child’s age. For example, younger children simply can’t remember as many rules as older children. Then, when you make a rule, try to enforce the rule every time it comes up. Having clear limits helps children know what they can and can’t do, and therefore control their own behavior to meet those expectations.
» Encourage exploration.
Toddlers learn by experiencing, touching, and doing! Give your child hands-on experiences in a variety of different settings. Talk to them about what they see and do. When you support curiosity you are increasing your child’s motivation to learn!
» Encourage your preschooler to be creative and implement their own ideas.
For instance, say your preschooler wants to make a fort in the living room. You can help them determine what supplies they will need for the fort and show them helpful construction techniques.
» Ask your child to retell or act out a familiar story while staying as close as possible to the actual story’s plot.
This helps develop memory and helps your preschooler pay attention to story progression. If your child is acting out the story, feel free to pull out some fun props to use!
» Give children plenty of opportunities to imagine and pretend!
When children engage in pretend play, they think about objects as something they are not. This is great for mental flexibility! When imaginary worlds have different rules and ways of doing things, children are learning to stretch their thinking.
» Let your child have choices when appropriate.
When children get to choose, they take responsibility and are more motivated for the task. For example, when cleaning up, offer the child small choices about what they would like to pick up first. When you are leaving the house, ask your child what they need to do to get ready (e.g. shoes, coats, etc.) When you let your child have some control over the task, they are learning more about how to do it themselves rather than just following your instructions.
» Get moving!
When children are active, their hearts get pumping and their brains get more blood flow! Take your child on a walk, go to the park, or have a dance party in your living room. Spending time each day moving around can actually help children sit still and be focused when they need to.
» Play games that require children to follow rules and control their body.
These games, such as Red Light Green Light or the B-I-N-G-O song, require the child to pay close attention and also inhibit impulsive movement, which is great for learning self-control!
» Teach your child explicit strategies to use when they are upset.
Naming the emotion they are feeling is a good start. Calming strategies like 10 deep breaths or walking away from the situation and coming back are also useful. When children have strategies to deal with intense emotions they feel more in control and are able to work through emotions more successfully!
» Understood.org works to support the millions of parents of children with learning and attention issues. They offer personalized resources, free daily access to experts, a secure online community, practical tips and more. Visit their website here!
» The Vroom website has many ideas for specific activities parents can do with their children to help brain growth! You can even download an app that will give you new ideas every day! Visit their website here!
» The Harvard Center for the Developing Child has created an extensive list of games and activities that adults can play with kids (infants through adolescents) to promote school readiness. Download the PDF here!
» The Search Institute has put out a short Research Brief that explains the concept of Executive Function and gives parents and practitioners some ideas about what they can do to help. Download it here!
How Can I Approach my Child’s Teacher or School about the importance of Executive Function?
Try sharing the Parent Newsletters or our website with your child’s teacher or school. You can also share this Executive Function Handout with your child’s school so they can partner with Reflection Sciences to better understand, measure, and improve the Executive Function skills of their students.