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Understanding How a Child’s Executive Function Skills Connect With Their Reading Skills

Did you know that your child’s executive function (EF) skills can make them better readers? Read on to learn how you can help your child use their EF skills to understand what they read!

This article is part of our weekly series, Executive Function Tips for Families.

Before We Begin:

This article explains the paper “Indirect and direct contributions of executive functions to reading comprehension” Hwang, H., Choi, S., Guha, M., McMaster, K., Harsch, R., & Kendeou, P. (2024). Journal of Experimental Child Psychology, 243, 105925. Researchers have identified word recognition and language comprehension as necessary reading comprehension skills. They also believe that these two skills can be made stronger with EF.

Key Takeaways

Research has shown that your child’s executive function (EF) skills are important to their future academic success. One way EF skills can help your child is by making them a stronger reader!

What skills does my child need to be a strong reader?

When talking about reading skills, you may have become familiar with the concept of reading comprehension. Reading comprehension is one’s ability to understand what they read. Before your child can comprehend what they read, they first have to build the skills below. 

  • Word recognition is understanding how letters and sounds combine to form words. This skill requires your child to decode words, which means they recognize patterns and connect sounds with the correct letter. Decoding words helps them read simple words and build towards bigger ones. 
  • Language Comprehension goes beyond just recognizing words. It involves understanding the spoken language and being able to match that with written words. When your child listens to a sentence, their brain processes how the words are arranged and finds the meaning in them. 
  • Prior knowledge is what your child currently knows. Your child gains prior knowledge through each experience they have. They add to it when they visit new places, such as a museum, or experience new things, such as playing a new game. This knowledge helps them make sense of new words and concepts.

By combining word recognition, language comprehension, and prior knowledge, your child can comprehend what they read. They will continue to build on these skills as they grow and learn.


Why was there a study about EF and reading comprehension? What did the study find?

Researchers wanted to know if EF helps students in grades 1 and 2 better understand what they read. They also wanted to know how EF impacts word recognition and language comprehension if students speak one or more than one language.

They found that. . . 

  • EF does play a role in word recognition, language comprehension, and reading comprehension skills, in young readers. 
  • EF helps children pay attention and remember key information while decoding words, which leads to successful word recognition.
  • Young readers with strong EF skills have better language comprehension because they can make sense of, connect, and organize new information.
  • EF skills help readers store information, remember what is happening in the text, and put aside unimportant details. 
  • No matter what language or languages a student speaks, strong EF skills allow readers to decode words and understand how language works. 

Actionable Steps for Parents

There are a lot of easy ways that you can help your child with EF and reading comprehension skills! 

  • Finding ways things are alike and different can help your child organize their thoughts and practice moving from one idea to another.
    • Talk and Draw: You can discuss with your child how two cartoon characters are similar or different or draw the different places where a story takes place. You can even talk about how fruits or vegetables are alike and different.
  • By memorizing songs and moving at the same time, you can strengthen your child’s working memory and cognitive flexibility.
    • Play: Hand-clapping games, are a fun way to work on coordination, rhythm, and memorization skills while playing sing-along hand games.
  • Reading and writing are key skills that we use every day. Your child’s EF skills can help them to better learn to recognize letters, read, and write. Likewise, regularly practicing reading and writing can help improve your child’s EF!

Read: Literacy: What does Executive Function have to do with it?, for more information on how your child’s EF skills impact their ability to read.

Read: The Reading Brain: Executive Function Hard at Work, to learn more about how EF skills play a role in the way children interact with a text.



As a parent, it is important to understand what you can do to make it easier for your child to read and comprehend what they’re reading. No matter what language(s) your child speaks, EF skills can improve your child’s word recognition, language comprehension, and reading comprehension. Strengthening your child’s EF skills is a great way to improve their reading!