| by Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed., TPT Teaching and Coaching, 4/20/2021|
As Robert Frost said, the only way around is through. Many students have experienced minor to significant educational disruptions and setbacks due to our public health crisis. The transition to virtual instruction has been an unforgettable journey emotionally, physically, and educationally. But we've made it! While the glimpse of hope is near and so is the silver lining, students once again face another transition to return to in-person instruction. Change is always difficult, but proactively adapting to change will facilitate a smooth transition that is more conducive to academic performance. The 11 executive function-inspired tips below will assist your student to get ready for a potential return to face-to-face instruction in the fall or earlier.
1. Get back to the morning routine: Time Management (EF)
We all know that it is easier to form unhealthy habits than to habituate into good ones. Therefore, it is useful to gradually re-train your student into the morning routine starting now and throughout the summer to get them ready for a potentially fall school reopening. Set an alarm clock for a wake-up time daily (even in the summer) and get them into the habit of having a to-do list every day (include fun stuff too), help your child have that consistency and prepare them to self-regulate. By the time fall rolls around, they can exercise independence in the morning.
2. Backpack weed out: Organization (EF)
Teach your student about early planning by getting their backpack ready over the summer. Your student can write a list of school supplies and do early school shopping. Students learn the most when you have them implement the simplest but core skills to be successful in life and learning. It is not so much about the activity; it is more about what is behind the activity. That is a nuanced life skill.
3. Set alarm clock: Self-Regulation (EF)
Nothing sends a clearer message to a young person than waking up at the designated time with an alarm clock. This is about self-discipline and emotional control. Set the alarm clock in a strategic place where the student has to get up to stop the annoying sound (Yep, make sure it is a cacophony, that is key). Over time, the student will thrive with the alarm clock, but do let the student practice the skill consistently.
4. Count travel time: Time Management and Organization (EF)
Even over the summer, teach your student to set aside cushion time when traveling to fun and academic events. This is about training their mindset for "just in case thinking," which is vitally important for school performance and career success. This is taking a deep dive into the wise use of time.
5. Set outfits: Planning and Execution (EF)
Help your child get in the habit of planning things out the night before. Never mistake this as a small lesson to introduce to young people because this tiny skill goes a long way because it translates practically into everything else that a student can do. The idea of early planning is a powerful concept that plants the seed of success into literally any future endeavor that involves student success (turning in work, college application, financial planning, independent skills and so on).
6. Visualize after school routine: Time Management (EF)
The key to instilling time management skills to young people is teaching them the idea that every minute that passes and you have not done anything substantial for your future is deemed as wasted time. Students must understand time is a limited currency. Summer is a crucial time to get your student to create some structured time for educational enrichment (with or without summer camps). The whole idea is students should dedicate some time for personal development at any time in the school year.
7. Pack lunch: Organization (EF)
Even during summer or homeschooling, let your student practice set out their meals, if this is age appropriate. You may have the food ready, but do let them get their own food and clean up after themselves. When applicable, such as picnics and outings, let your student pack their own food and putting it into lunch bags. When in-person schooling resumes, they will be self-sufficient because you have provided them ample practice in prepping meals.
8. Front-loading as much as possible: Time Management and Organization (EF)
This is one of best ways to impart organizational and planning skills to your child. Front-loading is the idea of getting as much as you can done before an actual event takes place to ensure smooth execution. This makes great sense to adults because competing priorities are our default, but young people need much practice with this since they are still adulting. Some great front-loading activities before the school year takes place are: setting up a monthly wall calendar, buying school supplies, arranging a neat study corner, implementing organizational cubbies for school work, school clothes shopping, etc. This will teach your student to plan ahead and how to work smart.
9. Daily room cleaning: Organization (EF)
Starting now, have your child clean one thing in their room 15 minutes daily. A great way to frame the conversation is that if the student puts things away just a few minutes a day, they won't have to clean during the weekends. This provides an incentive for the student to clean daily. It is also a way to chunk things out a bit.
10. Social etiquette: Response Inhibition and Emotional Control (EF)
As students begin to head back to in-person instruction, students may feel a bit strange returning to pre-pandemic social pragmatics about interacting with others and reading social cues. It is important to help your student feel comfortable with self-advocating and engaging in conversations with others. Also, students may need help practicing common courtesies such as please, thank you's, being on time, and showing respect. One can never assume what a student remembers about social etiquette before the pandemic.
11. Help your student help you: Self-Advocating and Flexible Thinking (EF)
Executive function skills are largely about creating systems to organize one's life efficiently and independently. A great way to teach your child to create and use systems is taking the time to talk compassionately and model consistently about what your child can do to help you daily so it will be less work for you, but it will also help them learn the necessary life skills that they need for academic performance and future independent living.
Writing this article brings back memories of when my family came to the States and I assimilated to language and culture first before my parents did, so I remember writing a note in English for my dad so he could return something at a store. However, I couldn't go to the store with him during school hour, so I wrote him a note in English. He would hand this note to the store's employee; it was like I was there doing the translation for him (except I was not). That way, I wouldn't miss school and my dad got what he needed at the store. I devised this workaround because my parents wanted me to help them. I also thought it was cool to write a note that made things happen without me being there (two in one, no?). I learned a lot as a fifth grader while helping my parents during our early days in the States. I bring up this story because helping your student to help you can accelerate their maturity and escalate their ability to harness executive function skills. In a real life situation, a student's executive function skills are put to the test. Those moments are soaked with powerful lessons for personal development. With your parental guidance, you can boost your child's confidence in returning to in-person instruction.
About the author:
Thuy Truong, M.A. Ed.
I am a licensed professional educator, executive function expert, former tenured high school teacher and college instructor with 15 years experience. I am also a student success designer. I enjoy recognizing the missing puzzle in the student's learning and personalizing that solution in a language that is unique to that student. I love the creative challenge of inventing a new language for every child.