Executive Functions – Key to success in life

Executive Functions Key to success

Executive Functions are brain functions that are critical life skills required for successful and healthy life. The awareness of their importance has grown leaps and bounds in recent times, as psychologists research these areas in great depth. Montessori Approach already recognises the importance of these areas and has activities are designed from the primary classroom onwards (2.5 years and above)

Mental Flexibility

It is the ability to switch from task to task or to take in new information and reformulate your thinking based on the integration of new information. Example admit to making mistakes or to being mistaken! The idea of not letting go or getting too attached is an effect of poor mental flexibility. Mental flexibility also affects the ability to focus. 

Why is Mental Flexibility is important for children – This executive function is critical to self correction in children and not get too upset with mistakes and allows them to move on.  

How Montessori practices Mental flexibility

  • In our classrooms we have one material for each activity so naturally children have to wait for material which is being used by another child. This helps them to not get what they want at that instant, instead they focus on doing something else. 
  • We have no fixed place for any child, and every child can sit anywhere or use any mat. Hence children are not fixated or have a designated place/chair or location in school.
  • This allows the child to accept any location or area in the school thus making them comfortable and appreciate flexibility.

Self Control

The ability to start, stop and prevent a behaviour is self control. Poor self control may lead to not starting or not completing tasks and lack of emotional control. It may affect to direct the behaviour towards goals and lack of internal motivation. Children actually catch on the self control skills better than adults. As adults this ability becomes difficult to practice and make part of life.

Why Self Control is important for children -Poor Self control may lead to not starting or completing tasks. Poor self control often leads to lack of emotional control and may affect setting goals in long term.

How Montessori practices self control

  • We have lot of grace & courtesy lessons & silence activities and ask children to wait for their turn to speak in a group. This helps them to practice self control and work in a group
  • We practice refilling practical life work for next person
  • We practice waiting till snack time to eat prepared food, helps to curb impulses.
  • We practice keeping all work back to the same place and finishing the task/activity on hand even when something else is going on. This helps in practicing the 

Working Memory

The most important of all executive functions as the impact of this executive function is huge. Working memory affects academics, social development and emotional development. A weak working memory affects the here and now making the child forgetful. It may reduce the speed of processing incoming and outgoing information. It may affect sense of time and past and future events and it will definitely affect self awareness.

Why Working Memory is important for children – Executing tasks with multiple milestones or multiple action items is super important in children because in school the ability to understand and need to execute multiple instructions in immense. This has direct effect on academics and inturn affects other areas of the child’s life.

How Montessori practices working memory

  • We play hiding/distance games- eg- pink tower cubes around the room, 
  • We fetch golden beads based on number cards
  • Another activity is to count the number of children and set table for them

Executive Functions are building blocks of our personality, character and give us the internal motivation to achieve our goals in life. Executive functions.

When are Executive Functions Developed

Harvard University deep dived into Executive functions and their importance in adult life. The full link is here https://developingchild.harvard.edu/resources/inbrief-executive-function/. They highlighted in the chart below that Executive functions develop during the 3 to 5 years. These are the formative years for the child’s development and growth.

Tests measuring different forms of executive function skills indicate that they begin to develop shortly after birth, with ages 3 to 5 a window of opportunity for dramatic growth in these skills. Development continues throughout adolescence and early adulthood – Center on Developing Child, Harvard University

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