Executive Functioning

Executive Functioning skills are skills needed to take a task from beginning to the end. With a child,this could be as simple as cleaning up they room, finishing a chapter book,  responding to a question in class or remembering to take their lunchbox home. Easy, right? Sometimes yes, but often these tasks that seem automatic to adults are difficult for children. This does not mean the child is lazy or careless. This could mean that the area of their brain that works on the particular area of executive functioning is not fully developed yet.

Let’s take a quick moment to think about a child’s brain. Most executive functioning tasks happen in the frontal lobe. There are a few times in a child’s life when there is rapid growth and brain development. There is a time right around the age of eleven or twelve that the brain goes through a stage that there is great growth in grey matter, made of up neurons, never sells and synapse, in the brain. Right after the growth of grey matter, there is a time of pruning. This time in a child’s education and life are crucial for brain development and executive functioning skills. The “use it or lose it” phrase can be applied here. Since the frontal lobe is still developing during the pre-teen years, it is important for children to use this area of the brain to practice their executive functioning skills. The practice not only allows the student to learn important skills such as time management and organization, but it also allows their brain to make deeper connections. Did you know that your pre-frontal cortex isn’t fully developed until you are in your early twenties? No wonder so many children and teenagers struggle with decision making, planning and impulse control! It is our job as educators and parents to fill in as their frontal lobes while their own frontal lobes are still developing.
Want to learn more about Executive Functioning? I highly recommend Peg Dawson’s book, Smart But Scattered and Smart But Scattered For Teens. In the mean time, check out this great article from National Center for Learning Disabilities about the 9 Terms to Know About Executive Functioning.
Also, check out the resource I developed for teachers on the 11 Executive Functioning traits and how to teach them in the classroom.

Winter Reading for Elementary Students

With winter right around the corner, I thought I’d share with you some of my favorite winter books for elementary students.  These stories all share some elements that are important to me, personally, when choosing books to share with children.  For one, they all have beautiful, vivid, and colorful illustrations that creatively depict what the clever stories are telling.  Also, all of these books are written with either an amount of predictability, which is very important for young listeners, or have a rhyming element to them which is equally as beneficial.


The Mitten was an obvious choice for me as Jan Brett is one of my favorite children’s authors.  In this book, Brett has adapted a Ukrainian folktale that tells the story of a young boy who drops his mitten in the snow and it soon becomes the home to many animals looking for a warm and cozy place to hide.  As more and more animals attempt to squeeze into this mitten, the mitten becomes a little cramped before something finally sends all of the animals flying out!


The Mitten Illustration 1


I am having a hard time finding the words to describe how beautiful the illustrations are in this book.  From the detailed main pictures, to the Brett’s signature “key hole” sneak peak into what is occurring on the next page that she includes in many of her other stories, it’s no wonder that The Mitten is still popular after it was first published in 1989.


The Mitten Illustration 2


Written by Uri Shulevitz, Snow received a Caldecott Honor in 1999.  This book is best suited for younger children as there are minimal words on each page and the story as a whole is relatively brief.  It also has some famous nursery rhyme characters who show up in the pictures toward the end of the story to join in on the fun.




The illustrations, which depict the story of a boy who notices the first few snowflakes that begin to fall on a day in which snow was not originally in the forecast, are whimsical and fantastical.  By the end of the story, when the town is covered in beautiful white snow, it’s pretty apparent that the weatherman was wrong and the boy’s hunch, that it is in fact a snow day, was correct all along.




Snowmen At Night, written by Caralyn Buehner and a New York Times Bestseller, is another winter favorite of mine.  I love books that rhyme, have large, full-page illustrations, happy and exciting storylines…and this book has it all!

Snowmen At Night



The story answers the question, “What do snowmen do at night?” by taking them on a journey that suggests to young readers what snowmen might do to entertain themselves during the dark hours.  Snowmen playing baseball, making snow angels, ice skating, and drinking hot cocoa are just a few of the illustrations by Mark Buehner in this fun storybook!


Snowmen At Night Illustration 2


Enjoy and happy winter reading!



Essential Oils

I take Cod Liver Oil, eat flax seeds in my morning smoothie and snack on nuts on a daily basis to help boost my brain-power and general functioning. At first, I felt that the whole fish oil and flax seed push sounded like a health fad, but then I read an article about the link between essential fatty acids and brain functioning and I was mesmerized by the close link. As a self-proclaimed nutrition geek and an educator, I was intrigued by the science of increasing my intake this essential nutrient.

In the 1980s, researchers began to look at the link between children that exhibited hyperactivity and their essential fatty acid levels. The results of the studies showed that children exhibiting hyperactivity were actually deficient in essential fatty acids. Numerous studies since these original discoveries have eluded that the fact that children with low level of fatty acids have a higher frequency of behavior problems.

To get even more nerdy about the science of the brain, nutrition and how it effects learning, we need to dive further into the structure of our brain. The brain, “is compose of 70 percent fat. Docosahexaenoic acid DHA is the most abundant fat in the brain. DHA is an omega-3 essential fatty acid, which means that the body can’t produce it and, therefore, must be consumed through our diet.” ( Strickland, 2009) The truth is, fatty acids are the building blocks of the brain. If someone is low on fatty acids, it will start altering their ability to learn, memorize and pay attention.

It will probably not surprise you to know that deficiencies in fatty acids are also linked to Autism, ADHD, Dyslexia, Dyspraxia and Depression.


Since I am not a big fish eater, I had to find other ways in consume the correct amount of essential fatty acids in my diet. I decided that taking Cod Liver oil was the best solution for my family but I highly encourage you to do your own research on essential fatty-acids. I researched and was able to find an organic option that fit my needs. When searching for a way to integrate more essential fatty-acids into your child’s diet, I highly recommend consulting with your pediatrician, a registered dietitian or a natural health practitioner to ensure that you are gaining a healthy balance of your child’s nutrients and avoiding other health concerns that may derive from altering your child’s diet.

I have loved hearing numerous parents that I work with have success stories when they have increased their child’s intake of this nutrient. I look forward to hearing your stories.

Get Your Game On!

With the holidays approaching, we thought we’d give you some resources for some fun holiday (and educational) games to play with your children or students.  They’re fun, they’re festive, and (shh!!!) they teach your children, too!


Of course, we have to give recognition to our fellow educators who share their resources (for just a few bucks each…it’s a steal…some are even free!) on Teachers Pay Teachers.  This amazing website has more resources for educational materials than you could use in an entire lifetime of teaching.


Here are some of our top picks:


This holiday fluency game for elementary grades looks like so much fun I’d like to play it alongside them!  What’s even better?  It’s absolutely free with a simple download of the PDF!  This game correlates with five of the Common Core State Standards in Literacy.   Students work in pairs to read the phrases on the cards, make up sentences using the phrases, and then write their sentences down.  Once they have completed those steps, students can use the “fun phrase reading card”  to step the silliness up a notch by reading the phrases in an elf voice, like you’re very cold, like you’re a sleepy child, and many more!



Here’s another freebie for you!  This math game for middle schoolers, Build-a-Snowman and Build-a-Tree, has them converting improper fractions to mixed numbers.  Working  in pairs, students roll dice and must correctly convert the improper fraction into a mixed number in order to earn a piece to the snowman or tree they are trying to build.  The first person to completely build their picture wins!




High schoolers can practice writing a letter with this White Elephant activity (also free!).  Prepare students ahead of time by having them bring in any item from home that could be a part of the White Elephant Gift Exchange.  Items do not have to be expensive!  The funnier the better.  Ideas include a package of Ramen noodles, a box of tissues, or a tube of toothpaste.  Once students participate in the gift exchange, they are then instructed to write a thank you letter to the gift-giver.  Great holiday fun!




Other honorable mentions….


Holiday Treats Alphabet:  Letter and Sound Recognition Game  ($1.00)

Holiday Math Number Cube Game ($1.50 for 4th-8th grades)

Holiday Owl Poke Math Facts Bundle ($5.00 for the bundle that includes addition, subtraction, multiplication and division.  Can be purchased separately for $2.00 each).


Blog written by Lauren Bronson from Tampa Learning Co.

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