When I founded Tutoring For Success in 1994, most people had not heard about executive functioning, which affects planning and organizational skills. However, Executive Functioning Disorder began to be prevalent in students’ evaluation reports. Many students who were having difficulty completing schoolwork and homework and had organizational challenges were diagnosed with Executive Dysfunction or weak executive function skills. Now, many more people are familiar with Executive Function Disorder, often associated with ADHD, and there is a whole field of executive function coaching and academic coaching for children and adults.
What is Executive Dysfunction?
According to Larry Silver, M.D. in his February 17th article for ADDitude Magazine, “Executive dysfunction is a brain-based impairment that impacts a person’s ability to analyze, organize, decide, and execute things on time. It causes assignments to be lost, deadlines to be missed, and projects to overwhelm.” Since executive functions, based in the frontal lobe of the brain, are connected to planning and organization, they also affect writing skills. To write an essay, for example, you need to plan and organize your thoughts and structure, and then write them down. For some people with executive functioning weaknesses, this process can be quite challenging. These days, many of us know people with weak executive function skills. The good news is that as with any weakness, these skills can improve with training and practice. For more information about Executive Dysfunction, see Executive Disfunction Discorder Explained
Strategies to get Organized for the School Year
If your child struggles with organization and planning, a great time to begin organizing for the school year, sometimes with a parent or an academic or executive function coach, is in mid-August, right when the school year is beginning. This way, the student can work with the parent or coach to organize materials for school and set up systems that work. They can discuss what has worked and not worked in the past to personalize a system for each individual student. For example, some students like having all subjects in one binder, other students prefer two subjects per binder, and other students hate binders and prefer color coded, labeled folders. While the world had become more and more digital, many teachers still use worksheets, and it is imperative that students learn systems to easily file these worksheets for quick retrieval. Students can also work with parents or coaches on creating a calendar to keep track of assignments. I love the Google calendar, which can be shared among various devices and color coded by category. Some students prefer old fashioned planners to physically write everything down. Other students prefer a blank notebook. We also can set up phone reminders for tasks.
Setting up Routines
Even now, in early August, we can work on improving executive functioning skills. Setting up routines and learning how to follow through with a task are things we can do immediately. We know that many children and teens enjoy staying up super late and sleeping until lunch time. When school starts, changing the bedtime and wake-up routines suddenly will not make young bodies happy. Instead, set your student up for success by working together to schedule reasonable bedtime and wake-up schedules for August. Students should set their own alarms, maybe two of them, to wake up independently. To improve motivation, some fun activity, like swimming or a day trip, can be planned for the morning. Even in August, there should be some structure and planning to each day.
Jump Start your Brain
It is also important to keep the brain active to be ready to learn new material when school starts. This can include:
- Shopping and following a recipe
- Doing household chores
- Doing simple home science experiments
- Building a rocket
- Building structures with Legos or other materials
- Organizing a garage sale
- Writing and performing a play or video with friends
- Visiting local historical sites
- Setting time aside for unstructured play time with siblings and friends
- Playing board games
- Practicing math facts
- Cleaning and organizing your bedroom
- Taking care of a pet
Make your Bed Every Day
Finally, though it seems like a simple thing, making your bed every day is important in life. As quoted in a 2014 graduation speech at The University of Texas by retired navy SEAL Admiral McRaven, “If you want to change the world, start off by making your bed. If you make your bed every morning, you will have accomplished the first task of the day. It will give you a small sense of pride, and it will encourage you to do another task, and another, and another. By the end of the day, that one task completed will have turned into many tasks completed. Making your bed will also reinforce the fact that little things in life matter. If you can’t do the little things right, you’ll never be able to do the big things right. If, by chance, you have a miserable day, you will come home to a bed that’s made. That you made. And a made bed gives you encouragement that tomorrow will be better.”
I’m sure that your children can come up with their own ideas on how to spend their last few free weeks before school begins. Of course, they should occasionally be able to sleep late and have no plan at all, but this should not be every day. Keeping the brain stimulated and beginning to set routines and schedules will pay off.
For more information on academic coaching, click here
By Cheryl Gedzelman, President, Tutoring For Success, Inc.