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Improving Executive Function Skills in Kids

By Dr. Stephanie M. Carlson

As parents and educators, we delight in seeing our children’s mental abilities expand along with their physical skills in the early years. Their increase in knowledge is impressive, to be sure, but a key development at this age is what researchers call executive function (EF) skills – or a child’s ability to manage and control their own thoughts, actions, and feelings.

Studies show that early-in-life EF skills are predictive of near-term achievements (for example, being ready for kindergarten) as well as long-term success. One study found that children’s attention span measured at 4 years not only predicted math and reading achievement at age 21, but also predicted the odds of completing college by age 25. Another ongoing study of a group from New Zealand found that “self-control” in early childhood predicted several outcomes in adulthood, including physical health, wealth, and a lower probability of divorce, drug abuse, and criminal conviction. These relations hold up when controlling for childhood IQ and family background.

What are EF skills?

Help strengthen your child’s EF skills with these top 5 learning games and videos in Noggin:

1. Mighty Minds Math

Mission: Feed the Froodles (Cognitive Flexibility)

2. Mighty Minds Literacy

Mission: Building in Nogginville (Working Memory)

3. Big Hearts

Big Heart World Stories: I’ve Got This (Cognitive Flexibility)

4. Brave Explorers

Noggin Knows (Working Memory)

5. Healthy Heroes

Ready, Set, Race (Inhibitory Control)

For off-screen activities to build EF skills, read Dr. Stephanie’s article 5 Rainy Day Activities to Build Your Child’s Brain.

About the Author

Stephanie M. Carlson is a developmental psychologist and professor at the Institute of Child Development, University of Minnesota. She is a Co-founder of Reflection Sciences, a company that provides executive function measurement and solutions for students. She serves on the Advisory Council at Noggin and has two grown daughters.

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Since its first historic performance in 1958, Ailey has been innovating and evolving the perception of American modern dance throughout the world. Noggin is honored to partner with them in helping kids all over get up moving, learning, and expressing their feelings through dance. Because movement has meaning when we dance how we’re feeling!