Try to quantify for a moment the number of tasks you complete daily. They may be small or large, successful or not, yet they take so much recall, planning, and organization for completion. Now picture having to do the same tasks, but not having the thinking skills needed to do so. This much-needed skill set is called ‘Executive Function’. This set of skills keeps you from walking around in a blur as you wade through a busy itinerary.
In the past, research indicated that we had to be well into our teens to see healthy development in this area as it required several areas of the brain to develop simultaneously. However, now, it is widely agreed that much can be done a lot earlier to hone these skills. To do so, however, we must take into consideration the steps young children take in their daily tasks rather than focus on just the quality of the result.
Research on the ‘Executive Function’ and its implications on the brain is ongoing. However, we must take note of some of its necessary cognitive abilities:
- The Working Memory: This is where we hold temporary information to apply it to a task at hand. Give your children one, two and three step instructions as their ability to retain grows.
- Inhibits Impulses: Our ability to restrain ourselves from taking action on the first thought that pops into our head is our ability to control our impulses. Young children can play games like “Freeze” or “Simon says” where restraint is needed to follow direct instruction. This is closely associated with focus and attention.
- Focus and attention: This skill can grow from the very beginning of life in small increments. The easiest way to increase the attention span of a young child is to allow them to choose appropriate activities that interest them and lure them back just one more time after they lose interest.
- Switching attention or direction: This is certainly not a natural skill for many, but a difficult one for little ones. This is one of the main reasons for the meltdowns and tantrums we sometimes witness. One could give the little one a countdown toward a switch or a short intro to what is ahead rather than dropping them in all of a sudden.
- Planning, prediction, and organisation: This is a skill that needs much practice as we rarely take notice of how much micro planning our brain does as we move through the day. This could be anything from dodging a ball to set up an event that requires the ability to strategise and troubleshoot. Avail children of opportunities and tools, as well as examples of the end target, but restrain from serving the steps needed straight away when practising this skill. Encourage our children to take note of the setup or tools that they would need to execute the task and amass all of them before they even begin.
We cannot pretend to know all there is about the “Executive Function “and its abilities. The human brain is a wondrous and highly complex organ, but what is known so far is that the more children practice these skills, the more efficient their command over them may become.