What are Executive Functions? Breaking Down the Jargon
Dr. Nermeen Dashoush, PhD
STEM Specialist and Chief Curriculum Officer
for MarcoPolo World School

Is educational jargon standing in your way of understanding your child’s needs inside and outside of school? Parenting is hard enough without constantly having to look up terms to communicate with your child’s teacher. This week, let’s talk about executive functions. What are they really? And why do they matter?

At a glance..

Executive functions is an umbrella term that describes a set of mental actions that allows one to control behavior, think flexibly, focus and problem solve. Undeniably, these are critical skills children need in adulthood to succeed in everyday life.

Breaking them down

Many educators and psychologists organize executive functions into three major categories.

empty What it means Examples in action
Cognitive Flexibility Ability to consider things from multiple perspectives, think of alternatives and think creatively. - Solving a math problem in different ways
- Considering opinions of others that you might disagree with
- Coming up with an alternative plan
Working Memory Short term memory; ability to hold information in one’s head. - Remembering a story and being able to answer questions.
- Remembering instructions or routines, such as getting ready for bed.
Impulse Control Response inhibition; ability to resist impulses and stay on task. - Raising one’s hand
- Waiting your turn
- Stopping to think and not jumping to conclusions
Why is this important for my child?

Executive functions are necessary to function effectively in school and at home. They can be improved with practice, although some children may need additional support due to different disabilities. Here are some tips for developing these skills at home:

1) Observe and reflect upon your child’s behaviors

2) Set a goal and plan time for practicing executive functions skills

3) Use tools, such as following a process chart, visualization and mnemonic devices

Knowing about executive functions and their relation to your child’s cognitive development can aid you in working with the teacher to develop the best action plan.

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At MarcoPolo World School, we believe in nurturing the whole child - mind, body and heart. The six friends at the heart of our program, the Polos, role model different executive function skills for children throughout our 400+ lesson curriculum.
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