Executive Functioning

Executive Function Every Day

The idea of executive function may seem abstract, but it’s a very practical concept. The words sound as dry as chalk, like what a bunch of academics debate over stale doughnuts. Yet it represents how each of us figures out how to manage life. The brain evolved a perspective that supervises and keeps track of the big picture, and EF is it.

Put yourself in a child’s shoes and consider these real-life situations:

  • A teacher assigns a several-page project. How do you pace your work so it’s not done last minute, and also avoid throwing a fit each time a part takes longer than anticipated?
  • You have chores and homework, and you want to go play. How do you figure out where to start, stay on task, and avoid distractions while all the other kids play outside?
  • A child takes the toy you’ve been playing with for the last half hour. You need it to continue your game, and she refuses to give it back. How do you resist knocking her down and grabbing it?

The bottom line is that EF represents a variety of skills needed to overcome obstacles and make good choices. It includes the ability to focus attention when needed, and for as long as needed. It involves learning from mistakes, coordinating activities, and planning for the future. It includes managing emotions and behavior. Kids need time to figure out the nitty-gritty while wading through all the increasingly complex situations life throws their way. That’s why kids need parents (and teachers and mentors) acting as their brain manager, so they can take their time growing up.


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When you look at things this way, it’s understandable that without grown-ups, most kids wouldn’t eat as well as they should. They probably do not realize that staying up late means being cranky and tired the next day. They may not consider the consequences of carving their initials into the dining room table. They’re kids, after all, and getting in trouble for wrecking furniture is one way they learn. Without us, and without limits and discipline, it would take a long time to see the implications of much of anything.

Understanding Developmentally Appropriate Expectations

Expecting kids to act more maturely than possible at any particular age can be quite counterproductive. The phrase “You can’t walk before you run” may be a cliché, but you also can’t read before you achieve several steps that precede fluent reading — which, in part, relate to EF. The same goes for writing, math, homework, and morning routines.

Tracking the developmental trajectory of EF helps us better comprehend our children’s lives. You would not expect a four-year-old to organize getting out the door for school. A preschooler could probably list the steps: Get dressed, have breakfast, brush teeth. But a preschooler cannot coordinate time, remember the details, or stay on task, whereas most teenagers manage mornings on their own. Much of what changes relates to EF.

Let’s reflect for a moment on the consequences of rushing children’s development. In preschool, children advance around both social and life management skills that eventually serve them in a classroom, though most aren’t ready for actual academics. A generation ago reading and writing were six-year-old skills, with a big push in first grade, not kindergarten. Society’s expectations shifted, but nothing much has changed about our kids. Development still happens at its own unhurried pace.

Overly high expectations that can’t be met create false fears that a child is behind developmentally. Not every kindergartener can sit in a structured academic setting, then listen and learn; they’re geared for play. Many perfectly brilliant five-year-old students aren’t ready to read or write. One common consequence of pushing children academically too early and expecting young children to behave like older children is the misdiagnosis of ADHD, or attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder. ADHD itself is a disorder of executive function. For all the children who actually have it, false expectations around development make it seem that others have fallen behind when they have not, potentially leading to misdiagnosis.

These expectations ramp up stress for both parents and kids. If someone suggests that reading is supposed to happen by age five, that creates a false benchmark, and you may end up wondering why your child struggles. If you’ve been led to believe that middle schools should assign two hours of homework, you may compare your own child’s behavior to those misleading expectations. Unreasonable demands challenge students. Well-meaning kids who want to please adults also become stressed as they reach to handle more than whatever made sense in the first place.

The same applies when setting overly high expectations for older students. If a high schooler strives toward competitive colleges or other lofty goals, guide them toward a viable resume but also around personal health and a balanced lifestyle. Support a broader perspective, because the expectation of the high school and extended community — even for something as basic as sleep — may be utterly off base. Teens need lots of rest, but they encounter both crazy early school start times and huge homework loads. Place value on downtime and family time and whatever else contributes to overall well-being, because with a teen’s EF, she may find it hard to do that herself. Support her goals, but neither you nor your child is going to gain from an unrealistic expectation that she has the life skills of an experienced CEO while wading through the pressures of high school.

A developmental view even explains why technology has potential benefits but a distinct downside when under-monitored by adults. Screen time looks like intense concentration from the outside but provides constantly shifting content that encourages little sustained attention. Too much screen time has been linked to disrupted attention, compromised EF, and other childhood concerns. Well-used and well-moderated tech time is fine, but the implied assumption that anyone lacking a mature brain manager (all children) would handle screen time on their own sets up a developmental risk for kids.

Until recently, kindergarten screening included a child’s ability to write their name, recite the alphabet, rhyme, and count. That’s still appropriate, though some schools have added reading and writing into even pre-kindergarten settings. So how do you determine what your child needs? Take care of the bare facts, accept you’d rather your kids not be pushed at all, and then stick to your own personal view of what’s best.

Helpful Tips for Setting Age-Appropriate Expectations

Here are some guidelines for sustaining age-appropriate expectations while acting as the loving brain manager your child requires to thrive:

  1. Focus on building EF. In younger children, encourage skills through traditional play, along with lots of exposure to spoken language and books. Language is another major predictor of school success. Thankfully, another direct way to build organizational skills at any age is through the routines parents create. In other words, when life gets busy, the short-term solution of adults adjusting family routines (everything runs easier) is the same as the longterm solution (more independent kids with better EF).
  2. Monitor the big picture. Allow for discussion and options, but keep a bottom-line focus on what makes sense. Don’t expect kids to make rational choices about scheduling and daily health routines until they show those skills themselves. Talk to your kids often about, and demonstrate to them, whatever your family values most in life.
  3. Be selective in scheduling. Plan activities, but stick to only a few. Specialization in sports, in particular, is not recommended for most children until late middle school. Too much baseball by age eight means they may burn out, get hurt . . . or fail to realize that tennis is their thing.
  4. Seek support when children fall behind. Consider specific developmental intervention, academic classes, or tutoring if your child seems behind; early catch-up is better than later. Some children benefit from academic interventions or services like behavioral therapy, speech language therapy, or occupational therapy.
  5. Trust your own judgment. Whatever external pressures exist around you, come back to your own sense of what feels natural. Put your child’s temperament first. If you are in a demographic that pushes kids faster than you would like, stick to your own ideals whenever possible. Find a middle path when you can between the reality of your community and your own perspective. Most concretely, act as the brain manager whenever needed because your child’s ability to thrive greatly depends on that.

Watching development unfold requires patience and more patience. We’d love our child to have more mature EF, because we know how important it is. The same goes for reading, writing, soccer, dance, or any other skill. We teach what we can when we see an opportunity. At the same time, we can’t force development to progress any more quickly than it wants. Resiliency builds from early success, and success itself relies on appropriate childhood expectations along the way.

Consider This

Don’t worry that you must get everything right because that is, of course, entirely impossible. Kids are remarkably resilient and will do well across a wide range of life experiences. There’s no perfect — just an opportunity to explore, make mistakes, and adapt along the way. Notice when you find yourself comparing your child to other children or someone else’s arbitrary expectation. Pause and make choices founded in what you feel is accurate and true.


Content in this blog includes adapted excerpts from Dr. Bertin’s book How Children Thrive: The Practical Science of Raising Independent, Resilient, and Happy Kids (Sounds True 2018).

Mark Bertin, MD, is a pediatrician, author, professor, and mindfulness teacher specializing in neurodevelopmental behavioral pediatrics. He’s a regular contributor to Mindful.org, HuffPost, and Psychology Today. He is the author of Mindful Parenting for ADHD and How Children Thrive: The Practical Science of Raising Independent, Resilient, an Happy Kids. Dr. Bertin resides in Pleasantville, New York. For more, visit developmentaldoctor.com.

To Resist, Use DARE. Written by: Nelson C’19

By: Nelson C ’19

Dare has influenced me greatly this year and has made me a more confident person when it comes to being in a tricky situation. We, the sixth graders, have learned so much in DARE class and know what to do in situations involving drugs, resistance, stress, and bullying. DARE has changed my perspective on stressful and negative events. From my DARE classes with Officer Ammaturo, I now know what I will do when I am faced with extreme choices and pressure. Without the knowledge and experience that comes with the DARE sessions, it would be hard to handle the unsuspecting turns and thrills we call life.

Situations such as drugs, stress, resistance and bullying can affect our personalities and lives greatly. Alcohol kills seventy-five thousand people a year in the United States alone. Alcoholic beverages can cause loss of coordination, memory loss, slow reflexes, and loss of self-control. It weakens the heart and can damage every organ in your body. Smoking kills more than four hundred-fifty thousand people a year in America. Whether you are using cigarettes, cigars, the pipe, vape pens, or Juul, tobacco contains nicotine which causes heart disease, colds, respiratory problems, lung cancer, tooth damage, and ruined skin. Alcohol and nicotine are both considered a drug and are very addictive. Remember what they can cause, so you can avoid them in the future. This knowledge can save your life.

Stress is another negative problem that you will most likely run into. You may get frustrated, warm, and start to sweat. Having a fast heartbeat and blushing are other symptoms of stress. You may have a temper tantrum when you are stressed. Therefore, it is important to be mindful of your words and not get mad at people who are trying to help you. Possible ways to relieve stressful feelings are breathing deeply and calming yourself with relaxing thoughts. Bullying is probably the most feared negative situation. There are four kinds of bullying: social, verbal, physical, and cyber. Social bullying is delivered by a group of people. Cyberbullying takes place on social media while verbal bullying is with words. Physical bullying is probably the most serious kind and it involves fights and injuries. All forms of bullying can be solved by telling a trusted adult or standing up to the bully. Use your DARE experience to stick up for yourself and others, for resistance is a mountain, and you can use your strength to charge up the first part, but your knowledge will get you to the top.

When I was younger, I would get scared when thinking of bullying, drugs, and stress but thanks to DARE I now know what I will do when faced with challenging choices. If I am ever in a situation involving drugs, I know that I can remind myself about the negative health effects of drugs, use resistance strategies to avoid them, and use the DARE decision-making model. We all know now when in times of uncertainty, to D) define the problem, A) assess the situation, R) respond to the problem, and E) evaluate your decision. As confident people, we should be able to fight against stress and know yourself and your mistakes as well as you know your good points. Life does not focus on mistakes; eventually, you will realize that happiness is the key to a good life. Along with stress, bullying is not an unsolvable matter. It is not something to dread. It can be solved and there are ways to avoid it. Just appreciate the joyful moments, and when a difficult moment comes, harness your rope, hold it tight, and take a big step forward.  The way you approach a situation is the way you overcome it.

Growing up can be stressful and challenging, but I know I can overcome and take care of these situations, so I should not be scared of them.  I can deal with bullying when I am older, and I will strive to be nice to people and not become a bully myself.  Resisting bullying and drugs should be easy if I think of what I know about them and confidently stand up for myself or say no to drugs.  As I get older, I know we will run into these challenges and face them confidently.  To choose the right path is a mediocre problem, to stay on that path is the greatest challenge of life.  Remember DARE and use it wisely, for we are the future and the future is great.

DARE has greatly changed my perspective on many topics including drugs, stress, and bullying.  Along with being confident about what to do in these problems, I have learned what these situations can cause and create.  Resistance is not hard when you learn and experience what can happen in the difficult settings of life.

Meadowbrook Students Recognized In National French Competition

Meadowbrook French Club
Winners of Le Grand Concours

Le Grand Concours is a national competition sponsored by the American Association of Teachers of French. Students were evaluated for their written, oral and listening comprehension skills in French. More than 72,000 students in all 50 states competed in the 2019 event. Second-grade student, Juniper Oser, earned a platinum medal, plaque and certificate for earning the highest score in her level/division. This is the first time a Meadowbrook student earned this placing! Sixth-grade student, Zara Clark-Schecter, ranked in the 95th percentile earning a gold medal. Fifth-grade students, Delaney Stout, and Gabriella Cordon ranked in the 90th percentile nationally earning silver medals. Sixth-grade student Nelson Cordon ranked in the 85th percentile nationally also earning a silver medal. Elizabeth Grohsman (4th grade), Peyton Abbott (3rd grade), and Lia Khoury (2nd grade) ranked in the 80th percentile nationally earning bronze medals according to Lisa Narug, National Director of Le Grand Concours.

AATF President Anne Jensen indicated: As the president of AATF, I would like to extend my special congratulations to those students who ranked nationally in Le Grand Concours.
They have shown a superior level of French language skills, cultural competence, and commitment to French. It is my hope that these students will continue their interest in French and pursue study and travel opportunities as future ambassadors of the French language and the many cultures it represents. I would also like to congratulate the teachers who prepared nationally ranked students because without their dedication and hard work these students would not have attained their ranking. Finally, I would like to express my appreciation to the parents who have supported and advocated for the French programs in their children’s schools. Our Association is grateful to the dedication and hard work of everyone who shares our passion for the promotion of French.

The Meadowbrook School’s French Club, hosted by World Language teacher, Suzanne McDowell Cordon ’95 and Khyber Oser, prepares students for Le Grand Concours by conversing in French, preparing and eating French food, and having fun! Just another way the Meadowbrook School is bringing life to learning.

In the classroom or on the field, Meadowbrook students are good sports

This Friday, May 24th 2019, The Meadowbrook School will host their annual Field Day from 9am to 12 pm. A tradition started in 1926, Red and Gray teams have been battling it out in good fun on the Friday before Memorial Day for 91 years. The tradition and non-traditional races are guaranteed to delight the youngest students and fiercest competitors.

In this day and age of children tuning out, Meadowbrook students tune in to learn the Grande Parade of Flags and practice the proper procession for weeks. Farah Horgan ’19, the captain of the Red Team carries the 2018 flag in recognition of her team’s victory last year. Kennedy Hayward ’19, carries the 2016 as that was the last year that the Gray Team won Field Day. This tradition was started in 1988 by Red Team captain, Dave Sirota.

The excitement builds in anticipation for this wonderful day during PE classes with students vying for a role in “colors”, the baton color relay that puts the two fastest Red and Gray team runners from each class in a race around the field. Alumni are invited “home” to Meadowbrook to join in the 100 yard dash and tug ‘o war competition. In a dramatic fashion, the Walker Cup, named in honor of Rev. Walker, Meadowbrook’s first Headmaster, is presented by Michael Reardon, Meadowbrook’s current Head of School, to the team that has amassed the most points. This long standing tradition is a testament to the students’ character and ability to rise above their respective teams and celebrate collectively after a hard fought battle. Both the students and the spirit of competition is applauded on this special occasion.

Meadowbrook students are given the foundation to be life-long learners. When they leave Meadowbrook’s warm, loving campus, students take with them a solid knowledge of how to be a scholar, a self-starter, and a team player. These learned abilities make Meadowbrook graduates successful in all their future endeavors.

Second Grade Post Office

During our morning assembly, The Meadowbrook School had the honor of presenting Linda Barila a check for $150.00. For two weeks in February, the 2nd grade class at The Meadowbrook School worked tirelessly to sell stamps to our students, faculty and staff. Our community then had the opportunity to mail letters to one another within our school. Kelly Mosteller, 2nd grade teacher, took a class vote on where they would like to donate the money and ultimately decided on Stray Network Animal Rescue. Mrs. Barila spoke to the student body about the impact their contribution would make along with thanking them for their generosity and efforts to do something important for the community.

Teacher Spotlight: Mrs. Suzanne Cordon

Mrs. Suzanne Cordon-World Language Teacher

1. What is one item on your bucket list? Why?

Machu Picchu.  I just have to make it there someday, and I believe in my heart that I will.  I am so fascinated by all of the mysteries behind the ruins and knowledge of this ancient civilization.

2. What book are you currently reading?

Inés del alma mia by Isabel Allende. Reading novelas in Spanish is one of my favorite pastimes. This one is a beautiful memoir of a woman looking back on her life.

3. Who is your mentor?

I have been lucky to have had many wonderful mentors at different times of my life. I had an incredible French professor in college who pushed me and encouraged me during my first years and became a trusted advocate and friend by the time I graduated. I’ll never forget the experience I had traveling with her through France and learning first-hand a lot of what she taught us in the classroom. My biggest mentor throughout my entire life though, was definitely my grandfather who passed away a few years ago. His words of wisdom are still very present in my mind and often come in handy. There are still times I wish I could ask him for advice.

4. What would your superpower be?

I would want to be omnilingual. I believe that when you understand another language and culture, you adopt a new way of thinking and I’d love to be able to understand everyone in the world’s way of thinking.  I also love the deep and meaningful connections you make when you speak a foreign language with a native speaker. It’s a wonderful thing. 

5. Where is the best place you have traveled to and why?

That is a very hard question. I have been fortunate and have traveled to many places. I’m torn between two; France and Guatemala. I have family in Guatemala so traveling there is like going to a home away from home, just a little more rural and tropical.  However, Mont Saint Michel, Normandy in the gulf of Saint-Malo, France is definitely the most breathtaking and beautiful place I have ever been. I love meandering through the medieval village as you make the steep climb up to the very top of the abbey on this secluded island where you stop and take in the magnificent view of the French countryside and the bay.  I remember being overcome with an overwhelming sense of peace both times I visited there. I’d love to go back!

6. If you could do any job for just one day what would it be?

When I was younger my dream was to be a multilingual interpreter for tours and travel groups. I imagined myself traveling to exotic places and serving as a multilingual guide for tourists. So that would be my dream job for a day. 

7. Tell us something that might surprise us about you.

I am learning Russian. I have been for several months now. It is thanks to some of the wonderful families here at Meadowbrook that have inspired me and provided me with awesome books and videos to be able to study this beautiful and incredibly complicated language. I think it’s a good thing to be in the same position as my students and remember what it is like to be a learner in the field I am teaching and not only the teacher.

8. What is your favorite thing about Meadowbrook?

Wow, I love so many things about Meadowbrook it is hard to choose just one.  I think what I love most having been a student, a teacher and now also a parent at this wonderful school is that there is always something to look forward to.  It’s the passion of the amazing faculty and staff that keep such incredible traditions alive; while also introducing new endeavors that make learning so exciting for the entire community.  

Christian Dougherty ’18 National Geographic Semifinalist

Abington Junior High School seventh-grader Christian Dougherty has been notified by the National Geographic Society that he is one of the semifinalists eligible to compete in the 2019 National Geographic GeoBee Pennsylvania State Competition. The contest will be held at the State Museum of Pennsylvania in Harrisburg on Friday, March 29.

This is the second level of the National Geographic GeoBee competition, which is now in its 31st year. School GeoBees were held in schools with fourth- through eighth-grade students throughout the state to determine each school champion. Abington Junior High School’s school-level competition was held in the library on Jan. 23, with Dougherty placing first above peers Ethan Eienberg (second place) and Sam Erwine (third place).

Dougherty and other school champions throughout Pennsylvania then took an online qualifying test, which they submitted to the National Geographic Society. The National Geographic Society has invited up to 100 of the top-scoring students in each of the 50 states, the District of Columbia, Department of Defense Dependents Schools and U.S. territories to compete in the State GeoBees.

This year, National Geographic increased the prize money for all State GeoBees. State champions will receive a medal, $1,000 in cash, and other prizes, as well as a trip to Washington, D.C., to represent their state in the National Championship to be held at National Geographic Society headquarters, May 19-22, 2019. Students that come in second and third place will receive cash awards of $300 and $100, respectively.

Each State Champion will advance to the National Championship and compete for cash awards and college scholarships. In 2019, the national champion will receive a $25,000 college scholarship, $1,000 in cash, a lifetime membership in the National Geographic Society, and an all-expenses-paid Lindblad expedition to the Galápagos Islands aboard the National Geographic Endeavour ll; second place will receive at $10,000 college scholarship and $1,000 in cash; third place will receive a $5,000 college scholarship and $1,000 in cash; and seven runners-up will receive $1,000 in cash each. Visit www.natgeobee.org for more information on the National Geographic GeoBee.

Jaimie Abt Shmelzer ’90 & Drew Shmelzer ’19 Civil Rights Journey

From February 14th to 17th,  Drew and I traveled with our synagogue, Reform Congregation Keneseth Israel, on a Civil Rights journey to Atlanta and Birmingham.   We went with 17 6th and 7th graders, the director of our religious school, Rabbi Stacy Rigler, and some other parents.   It was a powerful and emotional trip for all who attended. We went with a company called Etgar 36, and most of us learned while we were there that Etgar means “challenge” in Hebrew.   The trip itself was challenging; we were forced to look at our country’s shameful past regarding slavery, and the racism that still exists as a result of it.   We were also left with a challenge to try to make changes and be the generation that ends racism and achieves equal justice for all.

After arriving in Atlanta in the late afternoon, we met up with our incredible guide, Josh.   He took us to dinner and then told us a story about the lynching of a Jewish man.   Most of the kids, and some of the adults didn’t know what lynching is. While it wasn’t the best bedtime story, it really set the stage for the days to come.   Our first full day was spent in Montgomery, Alabama.   We started in the Rosa Parks Museum.   While everyone had heard of Rosa Parks and the bus boycotts, there was a lot we didn’t know, and we all found the museum to be interesting and worthwhile.   Then after a delicious lunch of southern fried chicken, we went to the Equal Rights Initiative.   They recently opened The Legacy Museum, which looks at racial inequality from enslavement through mass incarceration; and the National Memorial for Peace and Justice, which is a memorial to victims of lynching.   These places were eye-opening. Some of the students came out of the museum really upset that they didn’t learn about this in school.   To hear that one in three African-American boys born today will serve time in jail really shook people. To see the thousands of names listed in the memorial on stones the size of coffins of those lynched for things like, “writing a note to a white woman,” was shocking to us.   There were dates and locations of the lynchings too, and they didn’t all take place in the South.  Some were in Pennsylvania. The latest date I saw was 1949.

That evening we attended a local Shabbat service, which was a really nice ending to the day.   Then we enjoyed a pizza dinner, and the kids got to let out their energy with a swim party.

The next morning, we left for Selma.   We stopped outside the Edmund Pettus Bridge where Rabbi Rigler led a brief, interactive service.   She was amazing at having everyone share short reflections throughout the trip.   The students were impressive each time, saying really thoughtful things.   In Selma we met Joanne Bland.   She was 11 years old when she marched from Selma to Montgomery and was beaten on the second attempt.  Ms.  Bland gave us a tour of Selma and shared her story, which included being arrested multiple times before she was 13 years old.   Ms. Bland was unbelievable.   She never gave up.   She has spent her whole life fighting for civil rights. She told us how much better things are now, but knows there is still a long way to go.   She told each of us that we are the most important person, and, “You are standing where history was made, I know you must be a history maker too.”   The impact she left on us will be  everlasting.

 

That afternoon we went to Birmingham, Alabama. Our first stop was the Birmingham Civil Rights Institute. This was a very impressive museum where we learned more about the history  of the civil rights movement. After that we met up with Bishop Calvin Woods. He has been a civil rights worker since the 1950’s and was a friend of Martin Luther King, Jr. He took us on a walking tour of Freedom Park and showed us the 16th St. Baptist Church, which was bombed and four young girls were killed. Bishop Woods told us incredible stories and sang with us. There is a plaque in the park dedicated to him, which is very unusual for someone still living.   Hearing stories from Bishop Woods and Ms. Bland left huge impacts on us.   It makes history come alive when you hear from people who lived it.

We drove back to Atlanta that night, and people were really tired.   It was a long few days. Rabbi Rigler said we were going to have a Havdalah service.   I thought the kids were going to complain and have nothing left.   They surprised me.   Rabbi Rigler asked each person to share one thing from the day that made the most impression on them. Each person said something that either the Bishop or Joanne said that was powerful and meaningful to them. It was beautiful.

Sunday morning, we went to the Names Project/ AIDS Quilt and learned how AIDS is a modern civil rights issue.   We then went to a church service at the Ebenezer Baptist Church, which is where Dr. King was raised.   Finally we saw his burial site.

 

This trip was so impactful.   Everywhere we went, people were telling the kids that they are the generation that is going to change things  and end racism and bigotry.   They felt empowered.   We now know that it is our job to tell these stories to make sure history doesn’t repeat itself.   Some of the kids are going to do more than that; they are going to become activists for equality and prison reform.   Some of the students left saying they want to go again, others left saying it was too short.   The adults left feeling exhausted!   Travelling with students this age can be challenging – these kids made it easy.   They exceeded our expectations in every way.

How to help your child get and stay organized

Most kids generate a little chaos and disorganization. Yours might flit from one thing to the next — forgetting books at school, leaving towels on the floor, and failing to finish projects once started.

You’d like them to be more organized and to stay focused on tasks, such as homework. Is it possible?

Yes! A few kids seem naturally organized, but for the rest, organization is a skill learned over time. With help and some practice, kids can develop an effective approach to getting stuff done.

And you’re the perfect person to teach your child, even if you don’t feel all that organized yourself!

Easy as 1-2-3

For kids, all tasks can be broken down into a 1-2-3 process.

1. Getting organized means a kid gets where he or she needs to be and gathers the supplies needed to complete the task.

2. Staying focused means sticking with the task and learning to say “no” to distractions.

3. Getting it done means finishing up, checking your work, and putting on the finishing touches, like remembering to put a homework paper in the right folder and putting the folder inside the backpack so it’s ready for the next day.

Once kids know these steps — and how to apply them — they can start tackling tasks more independently. That means homework, chores, and other tasks will get done with increasing consistency and efficiency. Of course, kids will still need parental help and guidance, but you probably won’t have to nag as much.

Not only is it practical to teach these skills, but knowing how to get stuff done will help your child feel more competent and effective. Kids feel self-confident and proud when they’re able to accomplish their tasks and responsibilities. They’re also sure to be pleased when they find they have some extra free time to do what they’d like to do.

From Teeth Brushing to Book Reports

To get started, introduce the 1-2-3 method and help your child practice it in daily life. Even something as simple as brushing teeth requires this approach, so you might use this example when introducing the concept:

1. Getting organized: Go to the bathroom and get out your toothbrush and toothpaste. Turn on the water.
2. Staying focused: Dentists say to brush for 3 minutes, so that means keep brushing, even if you hear a really good song on the radio or you remember that you wanted to call your friend. Concentrate and remember what the dentist told you about brushing away from your gums.
3. Getting it done: If you do steps 1 and 2, step 3 almost takes care of itself. Hurray, your 3 minutes are up and your teeth are clean! Getting it done means finishing up and putting on the finishing touches. With teeth brushing, that would be stuff like turning off the water, putting away the toothbrush and paste, and making sure there’s no toothpaste foam on your face!

With a more complex task, like completing a book report, the steps would become more involved, but the basic elements remain the same.

Here’s how you might walk your child through the steps:

1. Getting Organized

Explain that this step is all about getting ready. It’s about figuring out what kids need to do and gathering any necessary items. For instance: “So you have a book report to write. What do you need to do to get started?” Help your child make a list of things like: Choose a book. Make sure the book is OK with the teacher. Write down the book and the author’s name. Check the book out of the library. Mark the due date on a calendar.

Then help your child think of the supplies needed: The book, some note cards, a pen for taking notes, the teacher’s list of questions to answer, and a report cover. Have your child gather the supplies where the work will take place.

As the project progresses, show your child how to use the list to check off what’s already done and get ready for what’s next. Demonstrate how to add to the list, too. Coach your child to think, “OK, I did these things. Now, what’s next? Oh yeah, start reading the book” and to add things to the list like finish the book, read over my teacher’s directions, start writing the report.

2. Staying Focused

Explain that this part is about doing it and sticking with the job. Tell kids this means doing what you’re supposed to do, following what’s on the list, and sticking with it.

It also means focusing when there’s something else your child would rather be doing — the hardest part of all! Help kids learn how to handle and resist these inevitable temptations. While working on the report, a competing idea might pop into your child’s head: “I feel like shooting some hoops now.” Teach kids to challenge that impulse by asking themselves “Is that what I’m supposed to be doing?”

Explain that a tiny break to stretch a little and then get right back to the task at hand is OK. Then kids can make a plan to shoot hoops after the work is done. Let them know that staying focused is tough sometimes, but it gets easier with practice.

3. Getting it Done

Explain that this is the part when kids will be finishing up the job. Talk about things like copying work neatly and asking a parent to read it over to help find any mistakes.

Coach your child to take those important final steps: putting his or her name on the report, placing it in a report cover, putting the report in the correct school folder, and putting the folder in the backpack so it’s ready to be turned in.

How to Start

Here are some tips on how to begin teaching the 1-2-3 process:

Introduce the Idea

Start the conversation by using the examples above.  Will it be easy or hard? Is he or she already doing some of it? Is there something he or she would like to get better at?

Get Buy-In

Brainstorm about what might be easier or better if your child was more organized and focused. Maybe homework would get done faster, there would be more play time, and there would be less nagging about chores. Then there’s the added bonus of your child feeling proud and you being proud, too.

Set Expectations

Be clear, in a kind way, that you expect your kids to work on these skills and that you’ll be there to help along the way.

Make a Plan

Decide on one thing to focus on first. You can come up with three things and let your child choose one. Or if homework or a particular chore has been a problem, that’s the natural place to begin.

Get Comfortable in Your Role

For the best results, you’ll want to be a low-key coach. You can ask questions that will help kids get on track and stay there. But use these questions to prompt their thought process about what needs to be done. Praise progress, but don’t go overboard. The self-satisfaction kids will feel will be a more powerful motivator. Also, be sure to ask your child’s opinion of how things are going so far.

Start Thinking in Questions

Though you might not realize it, every time you take on a task, you ask yourself questions and then answer them with thoughts and actions. If you want to unload groceries from the car, you ask yourself:
•Q: Did I get them all out of the trunk?
A: No. I’ll go get the rest.
•Q: Did I close the trunk?
A: Yes.
•Q: Where’s the milk and ice cream? I need to put them away first.
A: Done. Now, what’s next?

Encourage kids to start seeing tasks as a series of questions and answers. Suggest that they ask these questions out loud and then answer them. These questions are the ones you hope will eventually live inside a child’s head. And with practice, they’ll learn to ask them without being prompted.

Work together to come up with questions that need to be asked so the chosen task can be completed. You might even jot them down on index cards. Start by asking the questions and having your child answer. Later, transfer responsibility for the questions from you to your child.

Things to Remember

It will take time to teach kids how to break down tasks into steps. It also will take time for them to learn how to apply these skills to what needs to be done. Sometimes, it will seem simpler just to do it for them. It certainly would take less time.

But the trouble is that kids don’t learn how to be independent and successful if their parents swoop in every time a situation is challenging or complex.

Here’s why it’s worth your time and effort:
•Kids learn new skills that they’ll need — how to pour a bowl of cereal, tie shoes, match clothes, complete a homework assignment.
•They’ll develop a sense of independence. Kids who dress themselves at age 4 feel like big kids. It’s a good feeling that will deepen over time as they learn to do even more without help. From these good feelings, kids begin to form a belief about themselves — “I can do it.”
•Your firm but kind expectations that your kids should start tackling certain jobs on their own send a strong message. You reinforce their independence and encourage them to accept a certain level of responsibility. Kids learn that others will set expectations and that they can meet them.
•This kind of teaching can be a very loving gesture. You’re taking the time to show your kids how to do something — with interest, patience, love, kindness, and their best interests at heart. This will make kids feel cared for and loved. Think of it as filling up a child’s toolbox with crucial life tools.

Reviewed by: D’Arcy Lyness, PhD

Science Garden

The first week of school is always very exciting as the students visit the science garden. Last spring the 3rd grade students planted red pepper seeds. Over the summer they grew into large producing plants which every class visited last week. After picking peppers the students had a chance to sample in the science room red peppers as we discussed their health benefits. We also tried orange peppers to do a comparison taste test. What’s your favorite?!!!

Third Grade enjoying peppers from the garden.