Another homework assignment vanishes, never to be seen again; the agenda is incomplete and no one is answering your texts about tonight’s required reading; your child’s backpack is a mixture of loose papers and crushed lunches – and we haven’t even been back to school for one month. While many of these children have been labeled as sloppy, messy or lazy, modern neuroscience may tell a different story.
Structural skills have become known as executive functions, or the ability to organize ourselves and our resources to achieve goals. For parents who want to see their children independently excel in ways they previously thought unimaginable, these self-regulating organizational skills, while often overlooked, are essential. According to the renowned author and educator Amanda Morin, “Children who have weak organization skills struggle with handling information in an effective and logical way. They often have difficulty setting priorities, making plans, sticking to a task and getting things done. These skills become increasingly important as your child moves through different grade levels.” The truth is, at any age, old habits can be broken, new habits can be established, and an efficient neurological superhighway can be unlocked in the prefrontal cortex through patient, positive reinforcement by parents and teachers partnering in their efforts to retrain these essential executive functions.
It begins by articulating an organizational thought process. This method of “thinking out loud” is invaluable when training an internal voice for executive functions. Spend some time preparing your child for predictable dilemmas with practical advice that emphasizes the “rightness” of organizational solutions. For example, if your student only has one instructor, it may be beneficial to use only one folder with one side associated with incoming assignments and the other side associated with completed assignments. However, if your child is in several different classes, rather than using one folder or even a single binder, purchase an accordion folder that can be color-coded for each subject with the colors corresponding to your protective textbook covers. You wouldn’t believe the difference the “right” folder could make! After you’ve prepared the “right” folder, it is time to move on to the “right” backpack. This isn’t an animal-shaped backpack or one featuring a video game graphic; it’s the one that Benjamin Franklin would describe as having “a place for everything, and everything in its place.” Make sure your backpack has compartments and that each compartment is clearly allocated.
Opportunities for executive function enrichment are all around us, and while all children would benefit from such guidance and assistance, some children would be at a distinct disadvantage without it. If you suspect that your child struggles with executive functions or any other academic and cognitive difficulty, the Brain Zone Reading and Tutoring Center exists to meet the needs of all students, and our goal is to send them out as confident achievers.
Michael Turner, Brain Zone Reading & Tutoring Center