Back to School Series: Executive Functioning


Executive Functioning is a set of mental processes that helps us to connect experience with present action. It is executive functioning that allows us to perform activities requiring planning, organizing, strategizing, paying attention, remembering details, and managing time and space. Whether schooling this fall is fully remote, in person, or through a hybrid model, it is important to recognize that children that experience executive dysfunction will require increased environmental supports and adaptations to set them up for success!


Before addressing the specific area of executive dysfunction that you are recognizing in your child, the most important role you play as a parent is to aid your child in learning how to prioritize, organize, and plan. Check out these tips below!



Prioritizing tasks

  • Help your child prioritize homework tasks based on the due date, difficulty level, or the level of stress they have about the tasks

  • Encourage them to list the steps needed to complete long-term projects

  • Help them sequence tasks logically. For example, before looking up vocabulary words in the dictionary, they could first alphabetize the list

Prioritizing materials

  • Help your child review homework and gather materials needed before starting work so that everything is collected before they start working

  • Store the most commonly used items within easy reach (calculator, notebook, dictionary…)

KEEP IT SIMPLE, RELEVANT and REAL.

Here are some approaches to keep in mind as you help your child navigate remote learning, hybrid learning, or in-person learning!

  • Call upon your intimate knowledge of your child. Ultimately, you know your child best. Consider how your child thinks and works.

  • Focus first on short-term strategies related to certain assignments

  • Start small. Help your child recognize that small improvements will help make life easier.

  • Keep it simple. Help your child be flexible, since children’s preferences change as do teacher’s requirements. Look for quick and easy ways to begin organizing: a planner for you and your child to check daily, a routine for filling and emptying a backpack (even with remote learning!), a schedule for daily homework, study, and review.

  • Partner with your child and the teacher. Collaborate to develop an organizational system that works for your child. Encourage them to express their preferences and opinions. No organization method will work unless your child is willing and motivated to use it!

  • Lead by (honest) example. Show your child the importance of organization in your own life. Point out how a shopping list gives you direction on a trip to the supermarket. If you rely on lists, a datebook, or apps on your phone to stay organized, talk with your child about how your personal organizational system works, or falls short! Be honest about your own organizational frustrations (we all have them!). This will allow your child to understand that organization is a skill that needs to be practiced and that many people –even adults—struggle to master.

  • Create comfortable, but flexible routines. All of us develop routines and habits to get us through the day. Your child will benefit from knowing what to expect during a typical school day and week. However, many aspects of this current school year are going to be unexpected. It is important to create a routine, but not rely on it. Verbal reminders that the plan may change and it’s okay can also benefit your child while navigating this transition.


How can you further encourage executive functioning skills while your child is trying to navigate this new school year?


Organizing Time

  • Use a family calendar that records important family commitments, sometimes meeting as a family can help you coordinate everyone’s schedules so that you model good planning and organizational strategies.

  • Help your child select calendars (paper or electronic) that can be updated with school assignments

Organizing Materials

  • Having an organized workspace will help your child find what they need for school assignments more easily and independently. Storing materials in different sections is helpful as well. For example, writing materials should be together.

  • Keep reference materials, including calculators, dictionaries, and atlases close to your child’s workspace, limiting time separating them from their remote learning space.

  • Pick a bright-colored folder for important papers (if applicable) to remind them that what is inside is important and to prevent those items from being lost.

Organizing Tasks

  • Teach your child to think of a more long-term project as a “mental movie” by breaking complex tasks into manageable chunks (like movie scenes). Use a whiteboard or sheet of paper to map tasks out into flowcharts.

  • Encourage your child to write down important tasks that need to be taken care of that day. Let them experience the satisfaction of checking off tasks as they’re completed!


Tech Savvy Organization Tips:

Tech savvy middle and high schoolers can try:

  • File sharing software like Dropbox to keep notes handy anywhere that there is an internet connection

  • Smartphone apps that serve as digital sticky notes or bulletin boards

  • Digital flashcards, also available on smartphone apps

  • Password manager software to keep track of passwords


Looking for more tips and tricks to help your child with executive functioning this upcoming school year? Give our office a call at 781-239-0100 to connect with one of our occupational therapists!


- Written by Megan Shaffer, MOT, OTR/L


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