Ever since Every Child Ready to Read focused children’s librarianship on scientific research and empowered librarians to see themselves as experts who can speak to parents, our field has increasingly looked to brain development to support our practices and inform what we do.
Early literacy, however, is not the only growth going on in the brains of our early childhood customers. Executive Functioning skills start to develop at around 7-8 months and peak between ages 3-5. Can librarians help with this development as well?
According to Harvard University’s Center on the Developing Child, executive function refers to a set of skills that allow a person to successfully plan ahead, meet goals, exhibit self-control, follow multi-step directions, experience emotional balance, stay focused, and more. They compare executive function to an air traffic control system—it helps our brains prioritize tasks and “land” our goals safely. The main executive functions are Cognitive Control, Behavioral Control, and Emotional Control, according to the Cleveland Clinic.
Children are not born with these skills; however, they can be developed throughout early childhood with simple interventions. For example, a responsive caregiver playing peekaboo with an infant helps that child learn impulse control as they anticipate their surprised reaction. The child’s working memory—the ability to hold on to a memory for a brief period of time while doing something else—is also being developed. These skills will help children develop patience, be able to follow directions, remember how to perform multi-step skills like long division, and more.
One fun way to practice impulse control is to use manipulatives such as shaky eggs, bean bags, or a parachute. Shake, shake, shake them…and then STOP! The ability for a little one to stop an activity until you tell them to restart helps then develop impulse control. Tell caregivers why you are playing that game, and that they can do the same. Playing “traffic” with a stop sign, or good old Simon Says can also stretch emerging executive function skills.
Giving kids a sense of time can also help with planning ahead/not being late. Ask a preschooler how long they think a craft will take to complete and time them. Tell them the actual time so they can adjust their expectations.
Read books about emotions and talk about the vocabulary inside. Learning how to use words to express how they are feeling helps young children regulate their emotions.
How else can librarians address executive function growth?
This post addresses the core competencies of I. Commitment to Client Group, III. Programming Skills, and VII. Professionalism and Professional Development.