Kristin Haagensen, Learning Support Coordinator
Chances are, you or someone you know, and/or your child is struggling with or has struggled with executive functioning skills to some degree. Most of us have challenges with this occasionally, but some struggle much more than others. Fortunately, there are strategies that can help improve executive functioning skills.
Executive function (EF) is the management system of the brain. Simply said, it is the part of the brain that helps you “get stuff done”. Executive functioning takes place in the frontal lobe of the brain and it helps you manage time, pay attention, shift focus, plan and organize, remember details, multi-task, and exhibit self-control and emotion control.
People are born with varying levels of EF skills. Those who are born with weak EF skills may exhibit difficulties with:
- Initiating tasks
- Finishing tasks on time
- Organizing daily tasks, homework, projects
- Short term memory
- Learning and processing new information
- Keeping track of their belongings
- Managing feelings
Luckily, EF skills can be practiced and improved. Students who have weak EF skills need support in developing strategies to compensate for their weaknesses. Below are some practical strategies that may support your child at home if they struggle with organization and time management.
Strategies to Support Organization
- Have a system in place for organizing papers & notes. This could be an accordion planner with each tab labeled with a class. It could be a 3-ring binder with folders for each class where they may sort loose papers and notepaper for each class. It is critical to develop a system of organization for notes and papers.
- Make sure they are using some sort of planner. This could be a paper planner or digital planner where they can record their daily assignments. Here is an example of a Google Doc planner. If they prefer a paper planner, there are many on the market on Amazon or at stationery stores. They could also use their Google Calendar and set long-term due dates with weekly notifications of the due date.
- Set a weekly clean-up/organizing time when they go through their materials and recycle papers they no longer need, review & update their planner and due dates as needed, and organize their study space at home. Make sure their surroundings are organized and clutter-free.
Strategies to Support Time Management
- Establish routines and stick to them. Establish a homework/study routine for each day of the week. This is a set time that is designated daily to sit down, organize the planner, and work on homework. Set a time that works for your child and your family. This could be an hour (or more) after they return home after school so they may first have a snack and some downtime. If they don’t have a lot of homework, they should read when they finish their work. If this time is designated with no TV, video games, or social media and the expectation is they study or read, they will likely increase work completion.
- Take a movement break every 30-40 minutes to allow for better focus when studying.
- Help them learn to prioritize. Coach them to use post-it notes or a notepad for checklists. They can look at their planner and list the top 3 things they need to prioritize for homework that evening so they are sure to get the most important things done first. They can stick it right on their workspace and cross off tasks as they go.
- Less is more. Make sure you are not over-scheduling your child. They need time to relax AND they need time for their schoolwork. To be their most productive, they need a good night’s sleep so it is counter-productive for them to be up late into the night to get their schoolwork done. After-school activities are important but having a commitment every weekday, whether it is tutoring, a sport, or other activity, is a lot for a teenager. Try to help your child create a balanced, healthy schedule.
Seth Perler, Executive Function, ADHD & 2E Coach, Blog: https://sethperler.com/
Book: “Smart But Scattered Teens” by Richard Guare, Peg Dawson & Colin Guare
Kristin Haagensen- Learning Support Teacher/Coordinator- email@example.com
Zelazo, Philip D., editor. “What Is Executive Function?” Understood.org, Understood For All, 2020, www.understood.org/articles/en/ what-is-executive-function. Accessed 14 Nov. 2021.
Goodman, Brenda. “Executive Function and Executive Function Disorder.” WebMD, 8
Mar. 2021, www.webmd.com/add-adhd/executive-function. Accessed 14 Nov.