How to Teach Basic Organization and Memory Skills With Executive Functioning

Last week I had the pleasure of speaking with a wonderful group of teachers about executive functioning.

I find that term gets thrown around a lot, so let’s clarify what this is and why it's important.

Executive functioning refers to organizational and memory concepts. These are the set of skills that help us get through our day, keep our work in order, and differentiate between conversations with friends, coworkers, or bosses. For many of us, we learn them slowly over time through habits.

We tend to talk about executive functioning only when it is delayed in a small being (or big being). We'll notice a problem in executive functions when the small being struggles with specific tasks. The other time this term is used is in business settings, but in that context it has to do with delegation and corporate structure.

An example of executive functioning is getting dressed. How do you get dressed? Think about it for a moment. Do you put on your pants or shirt first? Which leg do you put in first to your pants? Do you first pick everything out and place it on your bed or do you put on clothing as you would take it off?

Everyone has their own pattern. But everyone HAS a pattern. You do it the same way every day, every time you get dressed!

Problems emerge when someone doesn't have a pattern. We'll observe frustration, confusion, and behavior challenges.

Rather than get in a behavior tug-of-war over why your small being is not yet dressed, create a pattern they can follow. Teach your small being a routine that will work for them. Take time to decide what the routine will be, then write it out so it will be clear.

Each morning go through the routine with your small being. Not just one morning, but on many, many mornings. Think about the time necessary to master this skill in weeks and months, not days. Yes, it takes dedication on your part, but consider that once this behavior is set it will last a lifetime.

You can apply this process to other beneficial executive functions that have far-reaching impact in a small being's life. For instance, the ability for a small being to do homework on their own has many benefits further down the road. (Click to Tweet)  I have a routine to write my blogs, check emails, and prepare before phone sessions with families, because as a small being my mother helped me create a way of learning that worked for me. She gave me the steps to go about doing my homework and she never did it for me, not matter how much I complained.

Executive functioning as a concept can feel big and overwhelming. That is how your small being feels when attempting to tackle a task without appropriate skills. Break each task down into small steps. You'll surprise yourself by how much your small being will apply your lessons to other areas of life.

Small steps not only lead to big behavioral changes, they also lead to great executive functioning skills!

Insight Into Action!

Parents: What is an executive function that your small being struggles to accomplish?

Teachers: What is the most common executive function that is difficult for your class? What grade to you teach?


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With a little help we can all grow. If a special person in your life can use this information, then please forward this blog.

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