06 Jul Helping Middle Schoolers Build Executive Functioning Skills
HELPING MIDDLE SCHOOLERS BUILD EXECUTIVE FUNCTIONING SKILLS
You know that feeling when juggling a million things at once and struggling to keep all the balls in the air? For middle schoolers, that feeling is a daily reality. During tremendous growth and change, kids are learning to manage complex schedules, heavy workloads, and increased responsibilities while coping with a whirlwind of physical and emotional changes. This age group needs help building their executive functioning skills, the mental processes that help us make plans, focus our attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. The good news is there are simple and effective strategies you can use to help the middle schoolers in your life strengthen these crucial skills and build their ability to navigate this challenging developmental stage with confidence.
What are Executive Functioning Skills and Why Do They Matter?
Executive functioning skills are the mental processes that help us plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks. They’re crucial for success in middle school and beyond.
- Planning and prioritizing. Students need to figure out what needs to get done and in what order. Help them break big assignments into steps and estimate how long each will take.
- Focusing attention. Distractions are everywhere, so students must learn to avoid diversions and stay on task. Encourage them to turn off device notifications and take short breaks when focus wanes.
- Remembering instructions. Listening to and retaining key details and directions is essential. Have students restate instructions in their own words to reinforce them. Provide checklists and visual reminders too.
- Task initiation. Getting started is often the hardest part, so teach strategies to overcome procrastination, like diving in for 15 minutes to build momentum. Offer support and accountability to keep motivation high.
- Organization. Keeping track of schedules, assignments, notes, and materials requires organization and planning. Help students develop consistent systems for managing timelines, to-do lists, files, etc. Review and reinforce them regularly.
- Time management. Learning to budget time, meet deadlines, and avoid rushing through work are lifelong skills. Have students estimate how long tasks will take, build in buffer time, and break work into chunks. Check-in to make sure they’re progressing as expected.
With practice and support, middle schoolers can strengthen these executive functioning skills to thrive in and outside the classroom. Help set them up for success by teaching strategies and providing opportunities to apply them.
Here are some examples of executive functioning skills for grades 6-8:
- Initiate tasks and perform assignments independently and on time.
- Maintain focus on tasks in the face of distractions and interruptions, particularly technological distractions.
- Use metacognitive skills to monitor, appraise, and alter learning and problem-solving processes.
- Complete and submit assignments on time every time, displaying strong organization and time management abilities.
- Demonstrate enhanced self-advocacy, effectively conveying personal learning necessities and advocating for appropriate resources and supports.
- Demonstrate the capacity to resist the use of distracting technology while remaining focused on academic tasks.
To help middle schoolers build strong executive functioning skills, try these simple strategies:
- Teach them organizational techniques like creating to-do lists, schedules, and routines. Have them break down big tasks into smaller steps. Start with a basic schedule for getting ready in the morning or after school and build from there.
- Help them improve working memory by giving them verbal instructions with multiple steps to follow. Have them repeat the steps back to you. Play games like Simon Says that require them to remember sequences.
- Assist them in developing better emotional regulation and impulse control. Explain how to identify emotions and triggers. Give them strategies to stay calm, like taking deep breaths, counting to 10, or walking away from the situation. Praise them when they can control emotional outbursts or think before acting.
- Enhance their planning and prioritizing skills by discussing how to break down projects into steps and estimate the time required for each task. Help them create schedules, timelines, and checklists to keep them on track. Review how to determine what’s important to focus first based on deadlines and needs.
- Model the behaviors and thinking processes you want to see. Talk through how you organize, schedule and plan your days. Discuss strategies you use to juggle multiple responsibilities and priorities. Let them see you following schedules and checklists.
Simple Strategies for Helping Middle Schoolers Build Executive Functioning Skills
FAQs: Executive Functioning Skills and Your Middle Schooler
What exactly are executive functioning skills?
Executive functioning skills refer to the mental processes that enable us to successfully plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks. These skills are controlled by a part of our brain called the prefrontal cortex and include things like planning, organizing, making strategies, focusing our attention and remembering details, and managing time and space.
Why are these skills important for middle schoolers?
Developing good executive functioning skills in middle school is crucial for your child’s success. These skills affect their ability to manage assignments, prepare for tests, organize materials, and learn good studying habits. Strong executive functioning also helps with impulse control and social skills – both important for navigating middle school.
How can I help build these skills at home?
There are several ways you can help build your middle schooler’s executive functioning skills at home:
- Help them develop routines and stick to schedules for things like homework, chores, and bedtime. Routines and consistency are key.
- Teach planning and organization strategies like keeping an agenda, making to-do lists, using a calendar, and breaking big tasks into smaller steps.
- Play games that require focus, memory, and problem-solving, like card games, puzzles, sudoku, and strategy board games.
- Give your child opportunities to make choices and decisions on their own. Help guide them through the decision-making process.
- Set clear rules and limits while also allowing for flexibility. Help your child understand why certain rules are in place and how their choices affect outcomes.
You can help your middle school student strengthen these important life skills with patience and practice. While it may be frustrating, developing good executive functioning during these formative years will benefit them for life.
So there you have it. Helping middle schoolers build executive functioning skills will serve them well for years. While it may seem like more work on the front end for you as the teacher, the payoff will be huge. Your students will become more independent, organized, and motivated learners. They’ll develop stronger time management skills and the ability to plan and prioritize effectively. With your guidance and support in building these skills, you’ll set them up for success in high school, college, and beyond. Though middle school is often an awkward and challenging time, focusing on executive functioning skills will help make the experience smoother and more rewarding for your students. Keep at it – the difference you can make is life-changing.
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