We all want kids and young adults to start their days off calm, confident, and ready for success. Helping learners nurture their executive functioning skills can be a strategy for getting there. EF skills are the brain abilities we use to plan, organize, and start tasks. Ultimately, our executive functions impact everything from smaller activities like putting the right binder in the backpack to head out to school, to much more complex tasks such as planning for an essay to start and finish before the end of a class.
While some learners struggle with executive functions more than others, all students can build and improve them along the way. Here are eight executive functioning activities you can try to help start students off on the right foot.
It’s helpful to have a materials checklist listed just as they enter the door. My favorite spot to post this is actually right outside the classroom. For example, if students need their textbook today, post it and let them know. This gives kids a chance to ask themselves, “Do I have everything I need?” before even walking through the door.
For many classrooms, the list will be the same every day and that’s okay! It serves as a reminder for all students to have a pencil, their notebook, homework, and any other materials they need to succeed.
Preview of the Day
Start the morning by listing your daily schedule on the board. Review it by quickly highlighting your plan for the day. For example, you might say, “This morning, we’re going to review our homework, learn about how to visualize as we read, practice the skill, and start the homework for tonight.” This only has to take a minute, but it can have a positive impact on mindset because it prepares learners for what’s coming.
Holding a daily morning meeting helps build community. While at first, it might not seem like this practice is directly related to executive functioning skills, it is. By starting the day with a specific and predictable routine, this can help learners organize their thoughts.
Additionally, morning meeting can be the perfect time to talk about skills like organization, self-control, and perseverance.
Another thing to consider is that the classroom can be a scary place for kids with executive functioning challenges. We ask these learners to take risks every day by working on skills that don’t come easy to them. With that, it’s critical that classroom space is welcoming, encouraging, supportive, and accepting of mistakes. One way to gain that sense of positive classroom community is by leading a daily morning meeting. When students feel safe and loved, they will be better ready to pay attention, initiate tasks, and persevere through challenges.
Morning Exercise Routine
Exercise activates the brain. Help give kids a jump start every morning with a quick daily exercise routine. Spend a few minutes with a daily workout video. You could also lead students through simple stretches, jog in place or practice yoga postures.
If you’re looking to make things more interesting, try a timed scavenger hunt around the room, or outside if the weather is nice. Kids can do this in partners or on their own.
Not only is exercise encouraging a healthy habit, but it will also help students improve focus and be ready to learn.
Organize and Prepare Time
Explicitly schedule time first thing in the morning for students to organize and prepare for the day. During this time, students can sharpen pencils, gather belongings, tidy desk or backpack, write in homework log, and turn homework in.
Question of the Day
Writing can be used as a predictable routine to help students start off the day focused, organized, and calm. Choose a daily prompt to write on the board or projector. As students come in, have them respond independently in their journals. You can even touch other social-emotional bases using questions that target critical SEL skills, like empathy, organization, and problem-solving.
Grab a free week of daily social emotional learning journal prompts to start the morning.
Similar to a question of the day, a free write also helps provide a predictable routine. The difference is that students are choosing what to write about entirely on their own. This can serve as a safe space for students to free their minds before starting the day. It can also help them ask any questions or share feedback with you in a private way.
Class Read Aloud
Choose a read aloud or have your students pick one for the morning. In particular, short picture books are a simple and quick way to increase attention for the day. Also, this can be an easy way to integrate other executive functioning skills like flexibility, self-control, and perseverance. As you read, stop and talk about the characters as they use each of those skills.
Brainteasers, riddles, and other puzzles are simple activities to help students activate their brains in an engaging way. Whether you use a crossword, word search, memory game, or play on words, these activities will help start the day off strong. As an added bonus, they can also help practice skills like organization, planning, working memory, attention, and perseverance.
Classroom jobs are a healthy way to start each morning, as they give every child a purpose in the room. This can be a positive strategy in just setting a predictable routine, helping your students feel valued, helpful, and organized for the day. It’s helpful to assign specific classroom jobs to best suit your learners. For example, if a student has a strength with using technology, have them turn on the laptops first thing in the morning. If another student is especially artistic, give them the role of drawing a positive welcome message to others. A classroom job can help all students start the morning with a positive frame of mind and allow them to feel mentally prepared for the rest of the day.
Practice Mindful Breathing
Think of mindful breathing as a brain break. They are a quick activity to help students reset and refresh before moving on. Not only can they be an effective morning strategy, but really can be used between any tasks. Learn more about mindful breathing, why it’s important, and a few simple mindful breathing exercises you can use with your learners.
All kids and young adults could use more positivity in their days. This is especially true for kids who struggle with executive functioning skills. These are the students who are more likely to struggle with basic tasks like following directions, starting work right away, and paying attention. Over time, these challenges can lead to reduced self-esteem. To counteract this, use positive affirmations to help build kids up and feel good about themselves before starting their day. More confident learners are more likely to task risks, stay motivated, and work to their individual potentials even in the face of difficulties. Grab a free positive affirmations list and let your students create their own individualized lists to start.
Download a free printable list of positive affirmations for kids & young adults.
If you want to help build learners’ executive functioning skills, just give one or two strategies a try! Even small steps are steps in the right direction to helping kids and young adults strengthen their executive functioning skills.
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