This week is National Hamburger Day. As I sat and looked at this holiday, I wanted to come up with a topic of child development that involved a hamburger but didn’t involve feeding…weird I know. Suddenly remembered a learning strategy that I once heard about called the Hamburger Writing Method – a writing organizer that visually outlines the key components of and the structure of a paragraph.

Well that to me sounds like a great tool that a child may use if they have difficulties with executive functioning. Remember, executive functioning skills are those mental skills that help us plan, organize materials, initiate tasks, manage time, stay focused and continue to push through to the end of a task. Now follow my train of thought…

National Hamburger Day → Hamburger Writing Method → learning tools that help with executive functioning.

Executive Function

Depending upon which source you look at there are several components and areas of executive function. To make things easier for us here I am going to share with you the 3 main areas of executive function and then give you some examples of the skills involved.

Working Memory

Paying attention, organizing new information in your brain so that you can easily remember or recall it, following instructions or sequencing events

Cognitive Flexibility

Flexible thinking…being able to think of a variety of different ways to accomplish the same problem, understanding different points of view

Inhibitory Control

Self-control, regulating emotions, self-monitoring or keeping track of what you’re doing, being able to start a task and stay focused through to completion

Executive Functioning Skills

Most of the time when professionals speak of executive function they refer to the skills that are involved. When speaking with educators and therapists, we commonly address the skills of executive function in order to assist the child with the learning process. As OTs we tend to focus on the aspects of paying attention, organizing and planning, starting and completing tasks and keeping track of what a child is doing throughout a task.

The above are all skills that can greatly impact a child not only at school, but also at home and in social situations. But the wonderful thing about working on executive functioning skills is that everyone can benefit from improving them. Children (and even adults) can always benefit from learning better strategies for planning, organizing, managing time, paying attention and problem-solving their way through life.

Strategies

Sometimes we have to teach a child how to plan, organize time, pay attention etc. It doesn’t come easy for everyone as it may come for you. The more strategies that we can provide as recommendations on how to best prepare a child for learning the more likely they are to succeed.

Color Coding

This can be a great strategy that you can implement in a variety of ways throughout your child’s life. For example, when they’re younger, chose a color specifically for them (you can let them pick their favorite color if they want). In my house, P’s favorite color is purple. So ALL of her things are purple. Ok, maybe not ALL, but most. Her utensils, cups, plates and bowls are purple so that she and T don’t fight over them. So when I tell her to go get her plate, she knows that the purple ones in the cabinet are hers.

Now she’s only 4, so this color-coding strategy works for now, but it can change and develop as she gets older to specifically address her needs. Take my 16-year-old niece for example. Over the years we have color coded her academics to help keep her organized. History is blue. Anything to do with history is blue – notebooks, book covers, filing systems, assignments in her academic planner, etc. Math is pink. English is green. She can even color code objects on her computer now according to the subject she is working on.

Visual Schedules

These can be great devices to assist in planning, following sequence and task completion. We use them in treatment all the time for children that have trouble with sequencing, following instructions or transitions. They don’t need to be anything fancy. Visual schedules can start simple with pictures, photos or words.

For kids that have difficulty planning and following-thru, a checklist along with the visual schedules can be a great strategy for helping a child remain accountable and attentive to the activity. A good example of using this can be for a bedtime routine. The checklist can contain: change into pajamas, then brush teeth, wash hands and face, go to the bathroom, get in bed. As each task is done place a check mark or sticker next to the task. Boom, checklist completed, child ready for bed.

A physical check mark or sticker placed on the completed task allows a child to note that all steps were done and the actual task has been completed. You can even laminate the schedule and use dry-erase markers to mark off tasks as they are completed. Then simply wipe it clean and use it again the following evening.

As a child grows these schedules can be transferred to their electronic devices (iPad, laptop, smart phone). Sometimes simply checking off a step in a task can not only assist in keeping a child on track, but can give them a huge sense of accomplishment once the task has been completed.

Active Learning

A couple of weeks ago I spoke about the different types of learners: auditory, visual, kinesthetic and tactile. Some children can’t simply read something on the page and process it to memory. When it comes time to recall the information they read, they are not able to retell it.

One recommendation in this type of situation is underlining, highlighting or taking notes. Sometimes the mere act highlighting the information can allow a child to process it just a bit longer than they would if they were simply reading alone. This type of learning can also be useful in forming long term memories.

Other types of active learning may involve movement such as counting on your fingers. Rather than merely counting in their head, using their fingers provides another experience that can assist with the processing of information.

Find what Works for Your Child 

Your child may not plan, manage their time or attend to a task in a way that you understand. The strategies they use may not be the strategy that works for you – that’s ok. As long as they are successful in accomplishing what is presented to them and are able to learn, retain and recall the information they are good to go.

You don’t need to be delayed in executive functioning skills in order to use any of the above strategies. Remember that working on executive function is helpful for everyone. We can all stand to be a little more organized in time management or planning.

If you feel that your child is having difficulty in any of the areas we’ve spoken about, speak to your pediatrician or contact us to find out how occupational therapy can help. No matter which strategies are used, there will inevitably be one that works for your child. 😉