Perhaps the alternate title for this post should be something like: why your preschooler doesn’t take a coat when it’s cold outside. I’ve been around enough of them to know that they often do not follow the directions or precautions you give them, no matter how many times you repeat yourself. So why is that? Are they just choosing to ignore you? Or is there something different about the functioning of their brain that makes it difficult for them to plan ahead? New research shows that it probably has a lot more to do with the latter.
Not Little Adults
Executive Function Skills in Training
“The good news is what we’re saying to our kids doesn’t go in one ear and out the other, like people might have thought,” said CU-Boulder psychology Professor Yuko Munakata. “It also doesn’t go in and then get put into action like it does with adults. But rather it goes in and gets stored away for later.”
Related reading: Top Questions to Ask on a Preschool Tour: A Parent’s Guide
Part of the mental skills involved in following instructions and retrieving information is what we call executive function. You’ve probably heard educators talk a lot about this. Executive function skills like working memory, self-control and attention are crucial to children’s success in school and later in life.
Executive function skills, however, take years to develop in children. As parents we can do things to help our children develop these skills:
** Encourage pretend play–that’s right PLAY. Think about the mental control it takes for a young child to stay “in character” when pretending to be someone else. This is great practice in working memory and impulse control. As always, play is the best way for preschoolers to learn and practice skills.
** Books–no big surprise that reading is helpful with developing executive function. As kids grow and develop their executive function skills, they can remember longer plots and more characters. Some books also teach lessons involving executive function skills like waiting, taking turns and controlling your language. Here are a few of my favorites:
Lilly has trouble waiting to share her new purse at school
Learning how to control yourself is not easy when you are only five.
Being first isn’t always best.
** Games–play games that require executive function skills like “freeze dance” or “Simon says.” Kids think they are just having fun but they are really challenging their brains.
** Ideas from Harvard University on ways to enhance executive functioning skills
Need more ideas for activities that help build executive function? Sign up for this FREE printable list of fun ideas for preschoolers: