Importance Of Executive Functions and Ways You Can Nurture Them

executive function in children

Have you wondered why those owners of big businesses can work their magic? It could be due to their highly developed executive functions. These essential skills allow individuals to plan, maintain focus, inhibit responses and monitor actions. Without these skills, partaking in various activities for long periods is difficult. However, if you nurture your child’s executive powers and promote a healthy lifestyle from the beginning of their life, they will reap the benefits!

As we learn more about human development through years of study on brain function and understanding how our brain changes with age, understanding what makes up Executive Functions (EF) is becoming more vital.

What Are Executive Functions?

Executive function is a term used to describe mental skills that help people manage their behavior to reach their goals. Executive functioning includes planning, thinking about the future, prioritizing tasks, inhibiting inappropriate behaviors, and focusing on relevant information. It also involves working with memory, following rules, finding solutions to problems, and monitoring our actions. Our lives are full of examples of how our executive functioning skills affect our ability to interact with the world, so these skills are important for life success.

Although kids are not born with executive function skills, the good news is that they have the potential to acquire them if given the appropriate support.

The 3 Pillars Of Executive Function In Children

pillars of executive function

Executive functions are the abilities that give an individual the ability to plan, sustain attention, organize, remember details and maintain control over their emotions. These three main executive functions are:

1. Working memory: Working memory involves both a process of storing information while we are using it and retrieving that information when it is needed.

2. Mental Flexibility: It involves shifting between tasks, ignoring distractions, and controlling impulses.

3. Self-Control: It involves resisting temptation, suppressing inappropriate thoughts and actions, and tuning into appropriate social cues.

Together, these functions help us:

1. Plan: Set goals and objectives, make plans, and monitor progress toward those goals.

2. Initiate: Start and continue an activity.

3. Organize: Keep track of details, organize thoughts and ideas, and organize materials and resources for an activity.

4. Be Self-Aware and Self-Monitoring: Be aware of one’s attention, emotions, and surroundings.

5. Control Emotions: Utilize rational thoughts to handle our emotions.

Why Are Executive Functions Important For Your Child?

importance of executive function

Executive functions help us interact with the world, learn and work. As children grow older, they will require executive functioning skills to learn and work in school. School activities are also more complex, so it is only natural that children will need more of their executive function skills to be successful in school. This fact alone highlights why executive functioning is important for your child’s success.

On top of all this, executive function development occurs continuously throughout childhood and adolescence, so parents must begin promoting executive functions as soon as possible.

Executive Function Activities

There are specific executive function activities to promote during childhood to help your child develop executive functioning skills. The following activities are interactive and fun for children so that everyone will have a great time!

Executive Function Activities (6-18-month-olds)

Play peekaboo with infant

These activities teach your infants to focus attention, use working memory, and practice basic self-control skills. During this stage, infants are very interested in the world around them and will learn best through hands-on activities. It is also at this stage that infants learn to inhibit responses. 

1. Play hide-and-seek or peekaboo with your infant: This game promotes attention and focus. It is vital to engage with your infant and follow their lead. It challenges your infant because they have to keep an eye on you while playing and, at the same time, engage in another activity. This can be a great game to try with your infant, and you both will be having fun!

2. Say your child’s name: Your infant will learn to focus on you by listening to your voice and following your gaze. Your infant will most likely turn when they hear their name. When they do, give them a big smile and try again. This is an excellent game to play with parents and other family members! This is an excellent introduction to other interaction exercises and even language!

3. Introduce adorable toys to your infant: This will help your infant develop working memory skills. It also will reinforce their discovery that objects can be interactive and fun. You can play with your infant with various cute stuffed animals or gorgeous toys. You can make the game more enjoyable with other toys, including rattles, rings, and feeding bottles.

4. Sing your infant songs: Sing to your infant while they lay in their crib. You will be teaching them to focus on you, and you will demonstrate that objects can be amusing as well! Most likely, your infant will smile when you sing to them!

Executive Function Activities (18-36-month-olds) 

shape recognition

These activities are hands-on, fun exercises that will challenge your child and promote the development of executive function skills. You can also use these activities to assess your child’s motor and language skills because they require actions, attention, and following directions.

1. Matching games: These exercises help your child learn to organize objects, use memory, and use their planning skills. According to your infant’s preferences, you can play with your child differently. Playing with matching blocks, cards, or even photos of their family members can be fun. You can also match apples and oranges!

2. Shape recognition: Classifying shapes such as squares and circles and then sorting them is an excellent activity to promote organization, memory, and attention. Most kids will be able to complete these tasks successfully but will require help differentiating between circles and triangles.

3. Eye-hand coordination: This is a great way to teach your child the order of their face, hand, and eyes. This is also a fun way to practice their fine motor skills and reinforce attention and memory development.

Executive Function Activities ( 3-5-year-olds)

play with building blocks

Children’s executive function skills are developed at this age. You can continue doing the previous activities but will now focus more on developing appropriate behavior and social skills. During this stage, the child will have more executive control over motor skills, understanding that they are in charge of their actions. They will also be developing more effective social skills and better control over emotions.

1. Follow directions: This is best done in a playset so that your child will be more comfortable. You can follow directions with storytelling, puppets, and action figures.

2. Work with puzzles: Puzzles are fun and help develop planning, motor skills, and attention span. Your child must first see the big picture to solve the puzzle, which will help them develop their visual skills. They must then organize pieces according to color and shape before assembling them into a puzzle.

3. Play with building blocks: Building blocks help children develop motor skills and the ability to solve problems. They will also be able to express their creativity, be more independent and organize themselves.

Executive Function Activities (5-7-year-olds)

child sings

This is a crucial period of child development as they begin to understand new concepts, processes, and how to control their emotions. Important executive function skills will continue to be developed during this stage:

1. Increasing challenges: The tasks you assigned your child in previous stages should now be more challenging, and they should have more freedom. Encourage them to create their games by providing them with the toy of their choice, a pencil, and paper.

2. Coordination games: Children need to work on physical coordination, motor planning, inhibitory control, and cognitive flexibility (the ability to change strategies when required). Have a contest running relay races or sports like soccer or baseball. Teach your child to play instruments by using the songbooks provided.

3. Games and music: Orchestrate a game of baseball or soccer with your child, demonstrate how to play instruments, or observe the singing skills of your child and show them how to use their vocal cords for singing. These exercises will help your little one develop their attention and inhibitory control, increasing their focus.

4. Group play: This will help your child develop their social skills and ability to work in a group or pairs. It is also a good way to increase the coordination skills that they have already developed.

5. Letter sorting: Children will be able to sort the letters in words and decipher what words they should use to spell the names of their family members. This will be very instructive for your child because it increases their attention and memory skills. Let your child organize their toys in different ways according to shape, size, or color.


As your child grows, you need to keep in mind the development of an executive function. The activities listed above can help encourage the development of these skills in your child. Start early, be creative and fun! These are just a few ideas of ways to develop executive function skills, but there are many more that you can use to bring out your child’s potential.

We at Montessori Academy believe in teaching your child to be self-disciplined and develop the skills necessary to become an independent individual. We have found that children who can self-regulate and organize themselves have great futures. Executive function skills are a fundamental part of the development process because they shape a child’s future values and character. This is why we believe that it is not enough to develop your child’s cognitive abilities; they need to learn how to be their person, to be a well-balanced individual.

For more information, visit our website about our structured curriculum and activities that promote social, emotional, and physical development.


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