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Strengthening Executive Function Skills
October 30, 2018
Too often we underestimate the power of a touch, a smile, a kind word, a listening ear, an honest compliment, or the smallest act of caring, all of which have the potential to turn a life around.
-Leo Buscaglia

In a recent Exchange magazine article (May/June 2018), Stephanie Carlson and Rachel Robertson both wrote about the importance of executive function as part of the "Bridging Research and Practice" section. Researcher Carlson explained that "in my research lab at the University of Minnesota, we investigate ways to help young children strengthen their EF [executive function] skills. Carlson defines EF as including “cognitive flexibility (thinking about something in multiple ways and shifting gears, for example, transitioning from snack time to center time), working memory (holding information in mind and working with it, such as reminding yourself of the rules of a new game), and inhibitory control (ignoring distractions and controlling urges, like not grabbing a toy from another child or having an angry outburst).'"

In her response to Carlson’s research, Rachel Robertson, Vice President of Education and Development at Bright Horizons, encourages practitioners to consider multiple ways to help children strengthen their EF skills. She adds this wise note of caution, however:

"It is important to minimize unnecessarily using EF and related skills or expect too much. These skills are budding in young children. When we ask them to wait for long periods of time (two minutes can sometimes be too long), or to remember too many instructions, or to pay attention for long periods of time, we are taxing these newly developing skills. Question your routines and expectations to be sure EF skills are supported rather than depleted."

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