Strong Executive Functioning Independent Children

Develop Your Child’s Independence

Strengthen executive function skills for better planning, organization, and self-management

Strengthen executive function skills for better planning

Kids will be kids– But we want our kids to be kids who can focus, think, plan, organize, and make good decisions. This includes having self-control, and evaluating and learning from their mistakes!

Ultimately, we want kids to be kids with the benefit of great executive function skills … or in other words, we want them to be independent!

Executive Function skills are the frontal lobe functions of the brain that develop throughout childhood and into early adulthood. Because the frontal lobe is the last to develop in our brains, major growth in executive function occurs in the teens through the mid-twenties.

We can BUILD your students’ executive function skills at school and home with consistent and intentional instruction throughout the day.

A student with strong executive function skillsA student with strong executive function skills can:

 • Focus and sustain energy and attention

• Determine what is relevant and screen out what is not

• Use mental control to start, stop, adapt, plan & organize

• Anticipate what will be needed for a given assignment

• Manage time, materials, and space

• Evaluate & Solve problems



Are you Building or BEING their Executive Function?

Helicopter Parents

Well-meaning “helicopter” parents hover over their struggling learners and guide them every single step of the way.   They provide an amazing safety net, but they may also be keeping their kids from exactly what they want most for them – to become independent.

In their desire to help students be successful, parents and teachers may inadvertently take on the role of the student’s executive function.

“Great Teacher,” Wrong Kind of Help

Teachers who give very explicit, detailed instructions of exactly what to do on a project or assignment, or who tell students exactly how, when, and what to study for a test, are often viewed as wonderful teachers. Their students thrive with the structure, and everyone feels great, until the next teacher comes along who isn’t as detailed, and the students don’t know how to think for themselves.

What Students Need

What students really need is to build their own executive function skills so that they can think, plan, organize, and manage themselves.

Instead of telling students every step they need to take (being the executive function), shift your language to engage students in a dialogue that encourages them to think for themselves . Here’s what this might look like:

BEING the students’ executive function: “ You have a book report due in two weeks. You need to pick a book that has 80 pages, and read 10 pages every day.”

BUILDING Executive Function: “You have a book report due in two weeks. Let’s create a plan for getting the book read and the report done without stressing out at the last minute.” Then engage students’ thinking through questions such as:

  • What are the things you have to do to complete this project? (pick a book, read, write)
  • How much time do you need for each part of the project?
  • How long of a book should you choose? How many pages will you need to read everyday?

These questions are the kinds of things that we, through our executive function, ask ourselves. As students get more adept with this self-questioning process, you will be able to make your questions broader so that they are engaging more of their own executive function.

  • What questions do you need to ask yourself as you plan out this project?

Executive Function as Like a Mental Dialogue

If you think about how you make decisions, plan out your week, or tackle a problem or project, you will see that it usually involves a combination of visualizing, and talking through things in your mind. Visual and verbal inner language are two key components of working memory and executive function that can be developed in students at school and home.

Taking the time to help children and teens improve their inner dialogue and visualization skills has a big payoff in retention, comprehension and greater independence.

Developing Visualization

  • Encourage students to visualize their day to improve time concepts and management
  • Guide students in visualizing and dialoguing exactly what written instructions on assignments are asking
  • Teach students to visualize test questions and all answer choices before choosing a response
  • Before packing up for the day, have students visualize and verbalize what materials will be needed for their homework
  • Guide students in visualizing each step in a project or sequence of events
    •  Have them look up (to engage visual modality) and imagine each step on a specific spot on the wall or in the air in front of them
    • Have them point to and describe the image
    • Enhance key points in the image with such things as changing the size, adding color or humor, or connecting images in some way

Where Do We Fit In?

A primary function of the schools is to teach academic skills and content areas to students – to expand their knowledge and their ability to apply it. When students struggle, it can be very challenging for all- student, parent, and teacher, in spite of efforts to modify curriculum and accommodate learning differences.

At the Therapeutic Learning Center, we identify and develop the weak underlying learning/processing skills that provide the critical foundation for learning but are not generally taught. While there is no overnight solution, most learning and attention challenges can be dramatically improved or completely corrected.

To learn more, or to schedule a free consultation with Executive Director and Education Specialist, Maria Bagby, call 858) 481-2200.

The Role of Sleep in Learning, Memory, and Health

“I’ve always envied people who sleep easily. Their brains must be cleaner, the floorboards of the skull well swept, all the little monsters closed up in a steamer trunk at the foot of the bed.” ― David Benioff, City of Thieves

Recent findings in research studies related to sleep and learning lend support to some long-held hypotheses about why we sleep, what happens in the brain during sleep, and why it’s important; especially for learning. In one area of research, the findings provide evidence for a long-held hypothesis that during sleep, the brain cleans itself (1).  Another series of reports illustrate why sleep is so much more important for a child’s learning than it is for an adult.  The findings add a compelling new dimension to our current understanding of how sleep helps the brain reprocess newly learned information thus securing memories and learning (2).

Seminal studies about sleep and learning have shown unequivocally that people trained to complete a procedural memory-based task showed improved performance when a period of sleep followed the training (3).  Even a nap in the middle of the day could benefit some learning.  But to understand what is actually happening in the brain when we sleep we’ve had to wait on the right technological applications to allow us to peer into the brain and accurately measure activities and events during sleep.

Sleep is critically important to a child's learningIn the most recent report, regarding the brain’s self-cleaning mechanism, the research group provides direct evidence of specific cells active in clearing the brain of toxic metabolic byproducts – but only during sleep. Earlier work by the same group showed that the brain anatomy included a network of microscopic, fluid-filled channels that removed toxins from the brain; much like a waste-transport system for the cerebrospinal fluid (CSF). Many questions remained about how and when these channels were regulated.  The most recent studies showed quite elegantly that during sleep, the channels increased in size and flow of CSF.  Relatively large amounts of CSF were flowing through the brain during sleep, but not when awake.   They even demonstrated that certain waste product proteins, known to be associated with Alzheimer’s disease were cleared twice as quickly during sleep.  Although these studies were performed in mice, they results certainly fit with the long-standing view that sleep is for recovery.  The results are tantalizing for their possible implications for sleep disorders as related to Alzheimer’s or other neurological or neuro-developmental diseases in humans.

The other series of reports from behavioral neurobiology labs present exciting and compelling data regarding just how important sleep is for your child.   We all know that children are happier tend to behave better when they’re well-rested.  And the relationship between neurodevelopmental disorders and sleep-related problems has long been recognized.   Specifically, children with attention deficit hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and learning disabilities (LD) or combined ADHD/LD, have a much higher rate of sleep-related difficulties and it is likely that the sleep difficulties contribute to and/or exacerbate the behavioral manifestation of these disorders (4).  But what about children not specifically diagnosed with a neuro-developmental disorder or a sleep-related problem?  How important is sleep beyond just resting the body for the next busy day of school and play?

Recent studies are showing that sleep is even more important for children than it is for adults when it comes to learning.  Dr. Ines Wilhelm at the University of Tübingen’s Institute for Medical Psychology and Behavioral Neurobiology has shown that when sleep followed training, children showed greater gains in the specific training knowledge than adults. The studies indicate that there is enhanced processing of memory during sleep in children compared to adults.  The children benefitted more from sleep when challenged with recall of specific learned tasks.

This may come as no surprise when one considers that during development of humans, as with most species, most of the basic lessons of life and survival need to occur in childhood.  Children sleep longer and deeper, and they must take on enormous amounts of information every day. And the children’s ability to excel at recall of specific learned information is linked with the large amount of deep sleep they get at night. In other types of memory, the children benefitted only as much as the adults; not more so.

If your child/student is not performing to his potential academically, you really need to look at the whole picture: healthy eating, positive social experiences, and quality, deep, undisturbed sleep at night.  If they are having trouble getting to sleep and staying asleep, this could be undermining all the other measures you’re taking to try to help them and ensure their success in school and beyond.

Therapeutic Literacy Center in Solana Beach offers assessments for learning disabilities as well programs and exercises using state of the art methods and technologies for developing underlying “mental tools” needed for success.

“Each night, when I go to sleep, I die. And the next morning, when I wake up, I am reborn.” ― Mahatma Gandhi

(1)  Science 18 October 2013: Vol. 342 no. 6156 pp. 373-377
(2) Nature Neuroscience 16 391–393 (2013)
(3) Science 294, 1048 (2001); Pierre Maquet, et al.
(4)   Journal of Developmental and Behavioral Pediatrics, Vol 19(3), Jun 1998, 178-186.