In the age of multitasking almost every activity we engage in requires us to focus, hold on to one piece of information in our minds while we work with another piece of the information and not lose the first piece.
We make a call and while we're waiting for the person to answer we engage in another activity. What happens? Most of us forget whom we are calling and hope to recognize the person's voice.
I just described one of the components of executive functioning explained here that includes, "a group of skills that helps us to focus on multiple streams of information at the same time, and revise plans as necessary."
Executive function is the term used in psychology and education to describe the ability to multitask, manage and control our behavior and to be mentally flexible.
Imagine a typical day and examples of executive function skills emerge. These skills either help us manage our lives and be productive or interfere with our ability to be successful.
Here's a typical scenario:
Before you leave for work, you may be expected to prepare breakfast for the family, make sure everyone is up and dressed, homework and lunch are in the kids' backpack, teeth are brushed and whatever notes came home the night before are responded to.
I can't even imagine the multitude of executive function skills you need for your job.
Jump ahead to the end of the workday. Before you leave work, if you have good executive function skills, you make your "To Do " list for the next day and preview the drive home; pick up the dry cleaning, pop into the supermarket, call back the doctor before 6 p.m. You drive home and as you are backing in to a parking space- someone pulls into the spot.
Your self- control helped you to deal with the situation in a reasonable way. You recoup and being flexible- search for another parking space.
When you finally get home you prepare dinner while helping your daughter with her homework and check on your teenager to be sure he fed the neighbor's cat.
You may have been able to accomplish all the tasks because you have developed a strong network of neurons over time and with practice.
Adults who are able to plan ahead and multi-task (even when interrupted or disinterested), stay calm under stress, problem solve and able to switch if the solutions is not working- probably learned these skills at home or in school starting when they were young children.
People who don't learn these skills struggle their entire lives.
Why not help children develop executive function skills while engaged in zany and humorous experiences that are also good for their health.
Making "Funny Food" is an intentional activity where children make a plan, get all the ingredients ready and set a goal before making a Funny Food creation.
Think of all the executive skills- being introduced or reinforced in the simple activity of making a wacky, healthy snack or meal!
With your guidance, children stay focused, monitoring their progress and making adjustments. If the ingredients won't take shape as they expected, don't go as expected, help them problem solve and think flexibly- building their vital executive skills. They are also learning how to control their impulses when they delay eating the ingredients until the goal is met and they have made whatever they planned.
These skills are critical to be able to meet the many challenges that they will face as they grow. They are as important as mastering reading, writing and math skills.
Making a healthy meal or snack with your child can be a joyful way to develop and practice executive function skills.