Duh. Our children are beyond brilliant and will run companies. That’s what we mean when we say we are working on “executive skills”, right? Not so much. Though I do think they are brilliant. 😉 I’d like to share what I’ve learned about executive skills. I am in no way an expert (or even close to it), but I think the information is incredibly important for all parents (not just homeschoolers).
After coming across the book Smart But Scattered (which appealed to me for obvious reasons), I realized that not just for kids with attention issues, but for ALL kids, executive skills are something that are easily ignored, but perhaps at a major disservice. We all know the joke about the helicopter mom: the one who does everything for their kid and can’t just sit back and let them try things and make mistakes. It is so easy to do, and frankly, I am definitely a helicopter mom in some ways. I will always hover, to be sure my children are being polite, kind and respectful individuals. I will always scoop them up to give them hugs when the get hurt, physically or otherwise. And I will always be willing to help and to scaffold whatever it is they are doing. I won’t always be willing to make their beds, do their laundry, and make sure they work up to their potential. There are things I need and want them to know, in the core of themselves, and knowing they can take care of themselves and do their best work possible are some of them.
At this point you may be asking yourself “That’s all great, but what in the world are executive skills?”. Since I am so nice I will save you a Google search.
Executive skills cover two major areas: response inhibition and working memory. Essentially kids (and adults) need to be able to think before they act, make a plan and then hold the plan in their mind long enough to execute it. That is the most basic of basic ways I can think to explain it. Essentially if you say “Excuse me, dearest of dear children of mine, please go put that sock in the drawer” (that’s how we all talk, right?) and your adorable lovey walks up the stairs without the sock and begins playing legos… That sweet little pumpkin head is lacking executive skills. And you may get the most teensy-bit-angry and wonder “Will this child ever listen?!” and the answer is that they can learn to listen. Just as they can learn to walk and talk, they can learn to listen to directions and think them through. But when your child was 9 months old, did you just start demanding he/she started walking? No! You put them in a device to help them strengthen their legs. You bounced them on your lap and giggled as they “jumped”. You held on to their chubby little fingers while they toddled between your spread out legs. You helped and encouraged their learning! And that’s what we are trying to do with executive skills.
A list of Executive Skills:
Planning and prioritizing
Flexibility (the ability to revise plans)
Goal directed persistence
Metacognition (the ability to self evaluate)
(I pulled this list from here.)
So, if you are like me, you want to run and pin your kids down and start building these skills rightthisveryminute. But if you follow the teachings of Charlotte Mason at all, you know the best way to attack a list like this is to pick one (or a skill set) and focus on it for 6 weeks. At the end of that 6 weeks, the hope is that they have developed a habit. So look at the list and pick one, and then you are ready to begin. Good luck!
Just kidding. (See! No one likes a lack of direction and information!)
Again, I am no expert, and I can only share our journey as we try to teach our children these important skills.
Here’s one of my dirtiest secrets: I lack some of these skills myself. Before I had kids, I was a super organized person. I knew what I was eating for the day before I woke up. I have planners in my basement filled with deadlines, details, reminders, etc. I had a file folder for everything. After having kids I spend more time feeling like I’m running around like a chicken with my head cut off. Please, please tell me you feel the same. And if you have more kids than I do and manage to keep it all in check, spill it! I applaud you and want to know your tricks! Anyway, I do still keep a planner (paper, please!) and Molly noticed and asked for one of her own. This sparked the idea of supplementing our normal “calendar” time (which is really more for her little sister, anyway) with a more “grown up” version of calendar time, which would really provide some good practice for planning and prioritizing. So each Monday, Molly takes our her planner and writes all of her activities for the week. She has already filled in her friends’ birthdays, so she can be sure to be considerate and call them that day. The rest of the week, our first task of the day is to take our her planner and review what is coming up. Sometimes she may have conflicts and we’ll talk about how we should settle them. Skip an activity? Let them know she’ll be late? Whatever the case, she is in on it. In the next few weeks, I’d like to back off a bit on helping her fill it in, and let her see what she can do from memory (piano on Mondays, ballet on Wednesdays…) so the task is almost complete in her circle of responsibility. She really enjoys using her planner, and lo and behold, her 3 year old sister wants to start using one, too. I do remind her to use neat handwriting, but the fact of the matter is that this is HER planner. I wouldn’t appreciate someone telling me how to use mine! If she writes sloppily and runs out of room or can’t read it later, that is a good lesson for her, too. I’m all about natural consequences. 😉
About 6 weeks ago, we started the rule that before they come down stairs they need to get dressed and make their beds. That was modified a bit to “after breakfast, get dressed and make beds” because it drove me crazy to have food on their clothes before we even started their day. 😉 However, Molly struggles with making her bed. She has a really hard time remembering to pull up her sheet, and so it is usually hanging, sloppily out at the bottom of her bed. What to do?! I don’t want to hover and critique her every move, but I *do* want her to learn to do it properly. Peg Dawson (author of Smart but Scattered) suggests making lists and having them available for kids to see (with words or picture cues), as well as staying in the room to provide support for staying on task and providing encouragement along the way at first, and helping to solve any problems that arise. We made a picture card map for cleaning her bedroom awhile ago, and it does seem to help, so I made one for making her bed, too. I simply whipped one up in Photoshop (a word processing doc will do just fine), laminated it and stuck it to the wall rightnexttoherbed, so when she tells me “I don’t know hooooooowwwww”, I can tell her, “oh yes, you do.” 😉 Because this is in very clear, direct and numbered steps, she also has a very clear guideline of when her task has been completed. Peg Dawson is a huge advocate for forms of any kind (check lists, tables, charts, etc) to give kiddos visual cues and provide clear plan making guidelines. There are lots of reproducibles in the book, however I think you could easily make them custom for your specific circumstances. We have several lists around the house, including our school day in the order it will be done, so that she knows exactly what comes next.
That’s all I’ve got for this huge undertaking so far. I’d love to hear how other parents are attacking teaching these skills. We’ve dabbled a bit with making plans (“can you please draw a picture of what you are going to do with your free-time today?”), but I think that is our next step. We definitely need to practice our forward thinking around here!