Did you ever walk past a construction zone and consider the process of building a new structure? It’s an amazing feat. All of these components being created simultaneously. Everything in delicate balance, unsteady until it is complete.
That’s where scaffolding can help. Scaffolding is the temporary framework that you see around a new building, and it’s what supports the crew and materials during the construction process. It’s there to keep things contained and structured as the building grows, yet it’s separate from the building itself — and when you finally remove it, the building is just as strong on its own.
Often, our children need their own type of scaffolding as they grow.
They need us, as parents and educators, to create structures to support them while they learn. These structures don’t impede their growth — rather, they help them succeed as they develop.
Peg Dawson, Ed.D., coauthor of the book Smart but Scattered, knows all about the importance of supporting children as they build new skills. She spoke about this concept and more while discussing executive functioning during The Quaker School at Horsham’s 1st Annual Children with Complex Challenges Conference.
Executive functioning is a set of skills that can be called upon as needed to perform academic tasks, and they can greatly influence a person’s ability to achieve their fullest potential. Fortunately, Dr. Dawson provided attendees with insightful tips that even the most experienced parents, teachers, occupational therapists, speech therapists and psychologists in attendance could take action on.
Here are some of the takeaways from her conversation — and why they’re important to all children:
#1: There are 12 executive functions, and they all work together.
They include response inhibition, working memory, emotional control, sustained attention, task initiation, planning and prioritization, organization, time management, goal-directed persistence, flexibility, metacognition and stress tolerance.
#2: ALL children, even those with ADHD, have executive functioning areas of strength and areas of weakness.
The executive functions are intertwined and interdependent, but they do not necessarily develop together. Parents and teachers should focus on the areas in which children are successful, while helping and teaching those areas that are not as strong.
Dr. Dawson has a quiz she uses to test for strengths and weakness. I found out I’m excellent at flexibility, goal-directed persistence, stress tolerance and metacognition. My working memory, however? It needs some work. We need to account for our own strengths and weaknesses, and realize how these will impact our children.
#3: Executive functions develop as brains mature.
In neurotypical children, the executive functions are naturally developing. However, too often a school’s expectations for independence and organization are not appropriately linked to what is known about a child’s brain development.
This is further complicated by the fact that children with ADHD are often three years or more behind expected norms in their executive functioning development. School expectations for these children can be extremely misaligned.
#4: We cannot change children. All we can do is create the conditions under which they succeed or fail.
For children who are not yet ready in their executive functioning, we adults must serve as the frontal lobes of their brains. This means it’s ok to fill out your children’s planners, organize their binders and help them plan long projects.
In the beginning, you may need to sit next to your child and walk through the process: opening their bag, taking out their binder, reading their assignment, beginning their assignment, working through each question, putting the assignment away. Because what are you doing in this instance? You’re building the scaffolding. You’re supporting those executive functions until they grow and stand on their own.
Here at The Quaker School, we are so thrilled to have had the opportunity to learn from Dr. Peg Dawson, and we encourage any parents or educator interested in learning more about executive functions to read her books. Because together, we can set all of our kids up for success.
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