Even very young students can benefit from lessons that incorporate and build executive function skills, learning to share, manage time and control impulses. Lessons that support the development of these abilities can help children grow into more independent learners while supporting future success throughout their academic, personal and professional careers.
One of the best practices educators can adopt for this is modeling, said Taína Coleman, an educational specialist in the Learning and Development Center at the Child Mind Institute. That activity, in which a teacher shows students how to handle a specific task, is ideal because it helps all students — from those who need more time to learn a skill to those who have mastered the ability but can use the time to refine their work.
“It’s very important to model with groups,” said Coleman. “I will stop the lesson, have them watch me do it, then physically model, and then we do it together.”
Young students may have difficulty with transitions, as they can get excited about the task in front of them — such as an art project — and not want to move to the next activity. Structure for this can be built in when developing pedagogy so students know what’s coming up ahead. That can include establishing routines or setting up a timer that alerts them to upcoming transitions.
Students then get better at changing gears as they practice and as educators stay consistent in their language.
“Consistency and communication are key if you’re developing any behavioral system or executive functioning,” Coleman said. “Successful routines that are taught are built upon as a child grows.”
Sharing is another skill educators will want to model, added Coleman. Teachers can build this into curriculum by reading a picture book about sharing and then modeling by bringing out a jigsaw puzzle. A teacher takes a turn, invites a student to take a turn, and then articulates how they're not upset when someone else has a turn. Ultimately, students are allowed to practice that skill so they can further develop on their own.