Mama OT is excited to welcome back guest blogger Abby Brayton-Chung! Abby is a pediatric OT who wrote a post for us last summer called “Five Things Your School OT Wishes You Would Do This Summer“. Today she is here to talk about something OTs call “executive functioning” which includes, among other things, the ability to manage time, plan, and organize. She spent much of the month of March addressing these types of skills on her OT blog, and she has agreed to condense all those posts into one so you can learn some really great tips. Be sure to click on the hyperlinks in order to read her individual posts with more details on each suggestion she provides. They are REALLY helpful.
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What are executive function skills?
Executive function skills are cognitive skills that are used to execute a task. It takes several executive skills to execute a single task. For example, getting dressed for school involves planning ahead for the weather, beginning and completing the task in a timely manner, managing emotions about wanting (or not wanting) to go to school, and maintaining attention to complete the task.
Executive function skills begin to develop in infancy and continue developing all the way into adulthood! Executive function skills take a long time to fully develop, so it is important to provide children with a solid foundation along the way.
Executive function skills help children complete chores and homework, save money for a desired toy, follow rules, and keep track of belongings. Signs that your child might be having difficulty with executive function skills include: difficulty planning school projects and/or estimating how long it will take to complete a project, difficulty telling details of a story in a sequential manner, or difficulty remember information while doing something.
There are a number of executive function skills, which are described in more detail here. Today I’m going to focus on the following areas that parents commonly identify as areas of difficulty for their children: (1) time management, (2) planning, and (3) organization.
Tips for developing executive function skills in children:
(1) Time management. Time management is the ability to estimate how much time one has and how to use that time to complete a task.
To teach the passage of time, I like to use a dry erase marker to color on the face of a clock, like this (read more about this strategy by clicking here):
This method allows your child to visualize the time remaining, as well as to check in at the halfway point. Some questions to ask at the halfway point:
Am I halfway done with the work?
Am I still focused on the goal?
Is anything robbing my time (e.g. distractions)?
Do I need to move at a faster or slower pace?
(2) Planning. Planning is the ability to create and follow a plan to complete a task.
To help children plan out their homework, teach them to become a future sketcher (read more about that here). If your child has a homework assignment, first ask, “What will it look like?”
For example, what would the following assignment look like?
Using a two column note, write the definition of each vocabulary word and draw a picture to illustrate the definition of your vocabulary word.
It might look something like this when it is completed:
By teaching your child to sketch out what an assignment will look like when it is completed, it allows your child to identify where to start, what components are needed, and what the assignment will look like when it is finished. This all leads to more independent completion of homework!
For long-term planning, post-it note calendars can be useful for students to visualize when different assignments are due, as well as to help with breaking assignments down into manageable chunks (read more here). This can help you and your student avoid the last minute scramble of discovering the science project is due tomorrow!
(3) Organization. Organization is the ability to keep track of information and materials.
Students often fall into one of three organizational styles: visual, spatial, or sequential (read more here). Setting up a Get Ready-Do-Done workspace can help with both organization and planning for all three organization types (read more here).
Using colored visuals to set up and organize the study space allows children to plan for all of the supplies they need to complete their homework and to work more independently.
In addition to setting up a study space for your child, a simple homework folder can help keep your student organized and help to remember to turn in homework (read more here).
Any homework that needs to be turned in should go into the homework side of the folder. When the teacher asks for the homework, your student will know exactly where to look! Your child may initially need assistance making sure all of the homework gets into the folder at night.
Speaking of organization, does your child have trouble getting out the door in the morning with all of his or her belongings? Try taking a photo of your child ready for school and then placing the photo in a luggage tag on his or her backpack. Now your child has a visual to refer to when getting ready for school! This works well for soccer practice (or any other sports practice) as well!
Check out the following blog for more tips on teaching kids executive function skills:
1. Engaging Minds:Tools for Learning, Skills for Life
And I highly recommend these books if you are looking for additional tools to help with executive function skills in kids:
1. Executive Skills in Children and Adolescents, 2nd Edition, by Peg Dawson and Richard Guare
2. Organizing the Disorganized Child: Simple Strategies to Succeed in School, by Martin L. Kutscher and Marcella Moran
I hope you find these tips helpful for teaching your child skills to not only be successful in school, but to also be successful in life!
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Abby Brayton-Chung, MS, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist with 6 years of experience evaluating and treating children ages birth to eighteen. She has experience working in early intervention, school-based, and clinic-based settings. Abby currently works at a private school in the Boston area serving students with language based learning disabilities. Abby blogs about her experiences as an OT at www.abbypediatricot.blogspot.com.
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