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How to start developing EF skills in elementary school

Updated: Sep 7, 2023

Are you an educator looking to foster critical life skills in your students?

Have you ever wondered about the building blocks that enable children to plan, organize, and manage emotions effectively?

How can these skills be cultivated in the classroom, integrated into existing curricula, and supported at home?

Welcome to a comprehensive guide that delves into the realm of Executive Function skills in elementary education.

This article provides insights, methods, and resources to empower you in nurturing these vital abilities, setting the stage for lifelong success and adaptability.

What Are Executive Function Skills and Why Are They Vital in Elementary Education?

Executive Function skills are like the control center in our brains that help us plan, organize, and carry out tasks.

For elementary teachers, these skills are vital because they help children learn how to follow instructions, stay on task, and manage their emotions.

When you teach EF skills in your classroom, you're giving your students the building blocks they need to succeed not just in school but in life.

It's like planting seeds for future growth, helping them to become more responsible, focused, and adaptable as they grow and face new challenges. Developing these skills early sets the stage for a lifetime of learning and achievement.

A study by famed EF researcher, Dr. Adele Diamond, showed that EF skills are more critical than early math or reading interventions in preparing students for long-term educational success:

How Can We Identify Age-Appropriate Methods to Enhance EF Skills in Young Children?

Finding the right ways to teach EF skills to young children can be like picking the right tools from a teaching toolbox.

It's about understanding each child's stage of development and choosing activities that fit just right.

For younger kids, this might mean engaging games that teach them how to wait their turn or follow simple instructions.

As they grow, you can introduce more complex activities that challenge their ability to plan and organize.

Collaborating with other teachers, attending workshops, or using resources designed for elementary education can guide you in selecting the best methods.

As a first step, look at the Core Standards for Executive Function skills and identify which ones you would like to foster in your classroom. Then, work with your colleagues to brainstorm activities that would develop those core skills with your students.

Learn more:

How Can EF Development Be Integrated into Existing Curricula Without Overwhelming Students or Educators?

Setting aside time to think not just about the "what" but also the "how" of student activities is a powerful step toward nurturing EF skills. Encourage your students to become partners in their own learning journey.

For example, you may want to help them build their own templates for communicating needs that may arise and anticipating challenges. You can see an example of what these templates could look like by downloading our free templates here.

Imagine a class where students are not just following instructions but actively planning their approach, preparing for obstacles, and knowing what to do if they feel overwhelmed.

This empowers them to create their own executive plans for managing challenges. You might guide them in role-playing scenarios or creating personalized "action plans." It's like giving them a roadmap they've helped draw.

By investing time in this process, you're not merely teaching them a subject; you're coaching them in essential life skills. This approach makes learning more engaging, meaningful and equips students with tools they can use both in the classroom and beyond.

What Tools Can Be Used to Evaluate and Measure the Development of EF Skills Over Time?

Incorporating self-monitoring and self-data collection in evaluating EF skills is not only empowering but also connects to one of the most powerful impactors on student achievement: self-reported grades.

When students are actively involved in assessing their progress, setting their goals, and reflecting on their performance, they develop a greater sense of responsibility and understanding of their learning process.

This self-awareness often aligns closely with their actual academic performance and encourages a growth mindset. By fostering these self-assessment practices, teachers are essentially guiding students to become more attuned to their abilities and needs.

This, in turn, boosts confidence, motivation, and achievement, laying the groundwork for success both in school and in life.

See below for the impact that self-reporting has on student achievement, from John Hattie's book, Visible Learning.

Learn more:

How Can We Ensure Consistent Reinforcement of EF Skills at Home and in School?

Ensuring consistent reinforcement of EF skills at home and in school can be achieved through a collaborative approach that includes the Family Team Meeting process.

This involves regular communication between teachers, parents, and students, where they come together to discuss goals, share strategies, and assess progress.

By treating the child's development as a team project, both school and family align their efforts to nurture vital skills like planning, organization, and emotional regulation.

Teachers can provide guidance on activities and practices that can be incorporated into daily routines at home, while parents can share insights and feedback from the child's behavior outside the classroom.

The FTM process creates a unified, supportive environment where EF skills are consistently reinforced, promoting a cohesive learning experience that spans both school and home life, thus setting the stage for the child's overall success.

This also relates to a powerful impactor on student achievement, which is the idea of "collective efficacy.

Learn more:

Where Can Educators and Parents Find the Necessary Resources to Implement EF Training Effectively?

Many educational institutions offer training workshops, toolkits, and materials specifically designed for EF skill development.

Online platforms host a plethora of websites, videos, and forums dedicated to providing guidance, activities, and support for teaching these skills.

Collaboration with special educators or professional executive function coaches can also provide tailored strategies and insights.

Local libraries, community centers, and parent-teacher organizations may offer additional resources and opportunities for learning and collaboration.

Browse the resources available in the following articles to see if something stands out for you:


In the journey of nurturing EF skills in elementary education, we've explored the importance of these skills, strategies to implement them, tools for evaluation, and ways to ensure consistent reinforcement both at home and school.

Teaching EF skills is akin to planting seeds for lifelong success, fostering qualities such as planning, organization, and emotional regulation.

The collective effort of educators, parents, and students, along with tailored approaches to diverse learning needs, creates a robust framework for growth.

By embracing tools like Family Team Meeting processes and utilizing available resources, we can create an environment that not only educates but empowers children to navigate the complexities of life.

This endeavor not only enriches the classroom experience but sets the stage for the students to become responsible, focused, and adaptable individuals, fully equipped to face future challenges.

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About the author

Sean G. McCormick is the founder of Executive Function Specialists, an online coaching business that guides middle, high school, and college students in overcoming procrastination, disorganization and anxiety by teaching time management, prioritization and communication skills so they feel motivated, prepared, and empowered.

He also founded the Executive Function Coaching Academy which trains special education teachers, school psychologists and other professionals to support students with AD/HD and executive function challenges.

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EFS started with one teacher deciding that kids with ADHD needed better access to quality executive function coaching services. Since then, we have grown to a team of specialists working both private students and public schools to enhance executive function skills for all students. 

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