Executive functions are crucial for success among children in school. The ability to work independently and organized is required to manage tasks at school, homework, as well as when working together with peers.

For many pupils, performing and following tasks in school comes naturally. But especially for kids in primary school, it is common to struggle with everyday chores and assignments.

Children experiencing challenges in executive functions are easily left behind in class. To avoid this, it is important to recognize and help the pupils who need added support in their education.

We listed five ways to support children with challenges in executive functions. The tips are practical and based on expert opinions.

1. Tools and gadgets to help with school tasks

Challenges in executive functions go hand in hand with troubles in keeping focus. Performing various school tasks can become overwhelming if the child’s attention drifts to irrelevant things in the classroom.

We can help the pupils focus with various items or tools. For instance, a ruler can be helpful for children who have difficulties reading and staying focused on the right row in the text. You can also allow the children to use stickers to mark the important parts in a textbook.

For overly active children, it might be useful to give them some type of gadget to play with while focusing in the classroom. This could be a rubber band or a piece of blue tack to play with. It is also important to allow the pupils to fidget with their feet and hands, as this can help them focus as well.

2. Reducing distractions from the environment

For many children, the environment can be a big cause of distraction. For example, too many colours might shift their focus and negatively affect executive functions. Also, too many objects can suddenly be more interesting than the task at hand. Hence, it might be a good idea to keep unnecessary items and other distractions out of sight during class to create a more calm environment.

Pupils with an unorganized working place can be helped with a dedicated box or tray to keep their stuff in. You can also encourage the children to tidy up by making it a routine before or after classes.

3. Giving clear instructions and task requirements

Executive functioning is easier with a clear framework on what should be done. Giving steps and goals to tasks will help children plan and perform better. Helping the pupils also understand why the task and the steps are important will help them focus and stay motivated.

To make things clearer, you can write the task requirements and steps on a whiteboard while explaining them. The pupils might also benefit from having their own notebooks to write down what should be done. During the tasks, reminding the children of the steps and transition phases between them will help them stay focused and calm during the exercises.

4. Positive feedback

Executive functions go hand in hand with the child’s motivation to perform the tasks. Encouraging the pupils with positive feedback will also reflect on their ability to focus. With sufficient self-confidence, the children are able to put in extra effort in the classroom.

On the contrary, negative feedback should be limited. Challenges in executive functions will raise the stress level of kids and unneeded criticism will add to the pressure. Staying positive and giving structured and supportive feedback will help the pupils focus and stay motivated.

5. Discussing with parents and colleagues

If executive functions are causing problems in the classroom, it might be worthwhile to discuss this with the parents and other teachers. In this way, you can evaluate the need for remedial actions and the effectiveness of support given to the children. You can also discuss with the pupils to find out what helps to increase focus and motivation in school.

Staying informed on how the kids perform both in and outside of the classroom will help provide the necessary help for succeeding in school. 

Evaluating the need for remedial actions

Challenges with executive functions can be tricky to spot. They can coincide with other characteristics, such as hyperactivity. But for many pupils, problems in learning are not as visible.

Peili Vision is a Finnish startup company developing digital tools for diagnostic and rehabilitation purposes. The ARVO tool evaluates the level of executive functions among primary school children.