4 Simple Ways to Improve Executive Functions

    by Scott Lutostanski – Director of Academic Consulting

 

In our lives, we often take preventative measures. We use face lotion that has sunscreen in it to prevent wrinkles and premature aging. We get flu shots heading into the winter months to stave off sickness. We take vitamins to improve our long-term health. There is no immediate result with these preventative measures, but we continue to do them because over time we expect an outcome.

I have been asked many times, “What are some steps we can take to improve executive function skills?” In this post, I’m including 4 of the lowest hanging fruit that parents can implement immediately. The key to these measures is that they must be done together as a family, and not forced solely on the student.


Weekly Calendar

This is the easiest. Each Sunday night, everyone can sit around the table and go through their calendar for a few minutes. Paper calendars work, but I prefer using Google Calendar. Make sure that everyone has an individual calendar and that there is also a family calendar. This will take 5 minutes, make a big difference, and establish good habits.


To do Lists

Another simple thing to do as a family: eat breakfast together and make lists. This doesn’t even have to be every day, maybe just on the weekends. Each individual can make a list of anything they need to get done that day. Then, at the end of the day, check back in and see how everyone did. This is intended only to take a few minutes. They can go on display in a prominent part of the house (the fridge?) and will set purpose for the day. This will be the foundation of good systems and planning.


Time Awareness Questions

How long is that going to take? If we have to be there by 5 PM, what time should we leave? When do you need to start getting ready? Mixing in a steady flow of time awareness questions will build a student’s ability to understand and manage time. Even reflection questions (Do you know how long it took you to mow the lawn?) can help a student file away information and build a database that they can refer to in the future. This can help with homework, being on time, and managing projects.


Family work time

Is a student struggling with work completion? Set aside a time where everyone works. Maybe after dinner for 1 hour everyone gets out their computer, textbook, or notes and works silently. The goal is to create a group environment and establish how the process of work should look: set a time, get the needed materials, get started, and stay focused. The less talking, the better.


These strategies are intended to be helpful and constructive. In each household, there will be different versions of what can realistically be implemented. It’s important to assess which of these can be used. They may seem annoying at first, but can foster consistent skill building.

Looking for more information from Scott? Read more of Scott’s Special Education articles on ADDitudeMag, sign up for his Galin Chats in the Madison or Milwaukee area, and follow Scott on Twitter.