Easy Ways to Increase Your Child’s Executive Functioning This Summer!

Elizabeth Sautter, one of the co-authors of the Whole Body Listening Larry books, recently wrote a blog post about strategies she employs at home to increase her child’s executive functioning skills and decrease nagging. What are executive function skills? Executive function are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.

  • Working memory governs our ability to retain and manipulate distinct pieces of information over short periods of time.
  • Mental flexibility helps us to sustain or shift attention in response to different demands or to apply different rules in different settings.
  • Self-control enables us to set priorities and resist impulsive actions or responses.

(http://developingchild.harvard.edu/)

Read the blog post here, it is chock full of excellent ideas! http://makesociallearningstick.com/1/post/2015/05/i-resigned-from-my-job-as-the-household-nagger.html

I love strategies 1 & 2 and we regularly employ strategies #3-7 at school. See if you can carry some of these into your home and decrease the amount of reminders your child needs this summer.

If you discover other strategies that work well with you child, please share!

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New SCORES Blog & Social Thinking Group Updates

frustrated

After battling with the interface for the former SCORES blog and having it eat several of my posts this semester, I’ve made the switch over to WordPress. This is the primary way that I keep parents up-to-date with helpful tools, information, and updates about the topics and skills we are learning in the Social Thinking groups.

If you’d bookmarked the old site, please update to this one. Also, please make sure to click “follow by email” on the sidebar, so that you will automatically be notified when new posts are added. I am in the process of  moving all the tools and resources from the old site to this one and then will shut that site down. I will hopefully have all the resources and tools moved over by the end of the holiday break. I will send out an update when everything is complete.

3d_red_question_mark_button_image_165506Wondering about what exactly is Executive Functioning? Wondering how to help your child  develop homework skills, organizational skills, and better time management? You’re not alone. These questions come up often in my conversations with parents. If it would be helpful to you, I am considering setting up a parent meeting one night early next semester to provide information, strategies, and answer questions regarding strategies you can employ at home to help your child develop his or her executive functioning skills. If this is something that would be helpful to you, please email me and let me know. If we have enough interest, I will make arrangements to open the building one evening and we can discuss ways to make homework less painful and more pleasant at your house. If we don’t have enough interest to set up an evening meeting, I will still be happy to share information one-on-one.

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Now..onto the fun stuff! Your kids have worked tremendously hard learning new social thinking skills and applying them to their classrooms. Hopefully, you’ve seen some application at home as well. If you’re unsure which group your child belongs to, email me and I’ll let you know!

Here’s what we’ve been up to:

1st grade Language/Social Thinking group:  We are increasing our ability to effectively use a visual schedule, think about the “group plan”, be able to determine basic emotions through picture clues, practice Whole Body Listening, answer who/what/where/when questions on topic, use visual supports to identify applicable clues that help us answer basic “why” questions (see the WHY tool below), being able to demonstrate accurate non-verbal representation of actions, and engage in pretend play with objects used in ways that are non-traditional to increase cognitive flexibility.

WHY_Visual

Do “why” questions trip up your child? Do you find yourself thinking “huh?!” with the answers that result? This visual is a helpful tool that you can print and use at home to help support this skill. It helps children attend to the important information in a situation instead of becoming distracted by irrelevant details. When considering “why” something is happening or “why” someone feels the way they do, we need to pay attention to WHO is present, what they are DOING, what OBJECTS are involved, and WHERE  they are. It is important to teach your child to consider context. Actions that are acceptable at home are not necessarily acceptable in other places. A perfect example is a child who has mastered the art of raising his hand to speak at school and then tries to apply that “rule” in all social situations resulting in “weird thoughts” if he raises his hand at a restaurant or playdate. Using this visual does take more time, but by doing so you are helping your child learn to make those cognitive connections that will help him in all academic and social areas. Feel free to click on the image above and download the pdf to use at home.

1st grade Social Thinking group: We had new members join our group this semester, so we’ve spent time building community, learning & reviewing our use of the group plan, thinking with our eyes, body in the group, whole body listening, and engaging in basic social problem solving. The boys have done a marvelous job applying their skills in their classrooms.

This visual is especially helpful when working on developing social problem solving skills. Feel free to click on the image below and download for your use at home. It is helpful to show that there are multiple solutions to a problem and that the cost or benefit of each outcome must be considered when choosing which option is best.problemmap_KH2nd/3rd grade Social Detectives: We have added a new group member and have spent time teambuilding as well as identifying expected and unexpected behaviors that keep our fellow group members feeling calm vs upset.

We have spent time working on increasing our conversational flexibility, taking conversational turns, participating in conversation even when the topic is not of our choice or our particular interest.

We have spent time identifying calming strategies to use when upset and chose the particular strategies that work best for us to keep in our brain “toolbox”. Some of the strategies the kids have identified include:

deep breathing

Balloon breathing visual

 

infinity breathing (2)

 

using a stress ball or glitter bottle

glitter stressball

going to a “calm, dark, still” place

tent

using calming self-talk

self talk

asking for help

help

 

and our favorite, thinking of our happy place.

Swiss_Jungfrau_mountains

We also spent time identifying situations that commonly make us feel stressed and how stress feels in our bodies (tight  muscles, headache, upset stomach, hot, cold, etc.). We then role played situations and used our newly discovered coping skills to practice calming.

We moved onto basic problem solving using the chart above. We discussed the cost/benefit of various choices and practiced in both role play, video-based instruction, and through games.

We’ve progressed into working on basic perspective taking and social inferencing. This is challenging and will definitely be a big focus for the spring semester!

4th grade Social Thinking Experts: The boys have welcomed a new member to the group and have worked on teambuilding and identifying expected & unexpected behaviors that keep the group moving forward or interrupt the group.

We’ve continued to develop our conversation skills including how to tell when others are interested or not interested, how to moderate talk time to keep others interested, and how to take turns in a conversation. The anchor that we use with conversational turn taking is that in a conversation we “toss a ball” between conversation partners. The “ball” does not go in a specific pattern, but it is important to (a) make sure to share the ball with others (no one likes a ball hog!) and (b) to catch the ball, not grab it. We modeled what it feels like at recess when someone grabs a ball away from you in a game (angry/frustrated) and made the connection to that same feeling when you “grab” the conversation away by interrupting or talking on top of others. 

grabdoc

We’ve also worked on developing an understanding of idioms through fiction and everyday conversation.

We’ve targeted coping skills for stress and have worked to self-identify our stress levels and use strategies to calm our systems.

Over the past few weeks, we’ve begun working through a basic understanding of executive functioning, the brain structures that govern executive functioning, common distractors, and time management.

The boys started by learning that three parts of our brain structure guide the decision making process. The amygdala, the hippocampus, and the prefrontal cortex.

brain-poster

Officer Amygdala is the first line of defense.

officeramygdala

He decides immediately whether a situation is a threat that needs to be responded to through fight, flight, or freeze. If so, he responds accordingly. If not, he sends the information along to the pre-frontal cortex.

Yoda_Empire_Strikes_Back

The prefrontal cortex is our wise decision maker. Like Yoda, it takes information from the amygdala and the memories of past experiences from the hippocampus and uses this information to make a decision about how to handle the situation.

Memories2

The hippocampus is our memory keeper. By accessing the memory of past experience or making connections between related events, the prefrontal cortex is able to make wise decisions and keep our responses calm and rational.

The boys then took this information and role played various scenarios determining whether the amygdala should react with fight/flight/freeze or should send it on to Yoda the PFC to problem solve.

timemanagement_august2013-7b5c7462

We then started discussing the idea of time management. The boys self-identified various parts of their day at home and school and determined how effectively they use their time. We identified the positive results from effective time management and the costs of ineffective time management. Then they began working on evaluating how effectively they are able to estimate how long a task will take. We did interactive centers that involved time estimation. Each of the boys brought home a time estimation challenge to complete at home this week. If you haven’t heard about it yet, ask them about it. It is due at group on Thursday this week!

brain_eater

Finally, we revisited Superflex and the powers of the Unthinkable, Braineater (which we renamed Brainstealer since the boys decided that Braineater is entirely too zombie-ish!). The boys identified common distractors during their day, their current strategies to stay focused, and how effective (or ineffective) those strategies currently are.

As you can see, we’ve been busy! All the groups will continue to build on their knowledge in 2015 and will become even more amazing Social Thinkers!

Thank you for sharing your amazing, brilliant, oh-so-funny children with me. I wish you all a peaceful holiday and a fantastic 2015!

happy-holidays-cntry1-e1355939173189

 

 

Social Thinking Group Updates ~ 3rd Nine Weeks

We’ve had a great time in Social Thinking groups over the past 9 weeks. Here are updates about the topics that we’ve tackled…

  • Kindergarten/1st grade group: We’ve been learning the basics of Whole Body Listening and have read the book Whole Body Listening Larry at School. We’ve practiced “looking like Larry” as we attend with our whole body to the group. We’ve continued to work on being able to accurately identify feelings in static examples and beginning to attach the “why” of thoughts to the feelings. We’ve worked on basic play skills including sharing, taking turns, participating in a game even when it is not our preferred activity, and handling winning and losing. Finally, we’ve begun to work on basic social problem solving in book format by reading a story with a problem and then rewinding back to the beginning to find another way to approach the issue that will result in a more positive solution. These boys are working hard!
  • 1st grade group: We began this 9 weeks by studying the Social Detective. The Social Detective is a super smart dude who uses three tools to help him make good social guesses. The tools in the social detective’s toolbag are his EYES, EARS, and BRAIN. He takes the information he sees and hears and runs it through his brain computer to be able to make a smart social guess about what is expected and what might happen next.

    We practiced first with static images and then moved onto short dynamic video clips where the boys had to identify what in the video was expected/unexpected and make a prediction about what might happen next. This is TOUGH, but they became successful Social Detectives!

    Next, we moved on to beginning to learn about Superflex. Superflex is a super hero who uses his flexible brain power to help him defeat a team of Unthinkables. Unthinkables are not “bad guys”, but instead are troublemakers who bother all of us at different times. So far, we’ve learned about defeating Rockbrain (his power is making you get stuck on your own ideas and not flexing to work with the group) and Crankenstein (who makes you fuss and say or do mean things when you don’t get your way). When the boys demonstrated that they knew basic facts about Superflex and were ready to take on the challenge of growing their Superflexible powers, they were awarded with a Superflex cape. They have since earned their first “power badge” for demonstrating the power to defeat Rockbrain. They are currently working on earning their second “power badge” for defeating Crankenstein.

    One of the ways that we’ve practiced defeating Rockbrain was by running obstacle courses on the playground. But there was a catch! At any time in the routine, we would call “freeze” and change the plan. The kids had to be able to switch their activity to match the new direction. 

    2nd grade: We have learned about applying our Superflex knowledge to solve social problems using the 5 Step Power Plan.
    We have also engaged in a long unit on building conversation skills. The students have learned the parts of a conversation and that to maintain a conversation we have to keep the ball bouncing back and forth between participants. We can keep the ball bouncing by asking a follow-up question or comment. At home, you can practice this by encouraging your child to keep the ball bouncing back and forth between conversation partners during family time at dinner or even in the car as you run errands.
    Feel free to download either of the above visuals to help reinforce these concepts at home by clicking on the link below each image.
    3rd grade: During this 3rd nine weeks, we had a great time applying the social thinking concepts that the boys have been working to develop over the past couple of years in a cooperative movie project. The boys were divided into teams and assigned at least two Unthinkables to target. They had to work together to develop a story with a beginning, middle, and end that stayed on-topic. They created storyboards to tell the story, wrote scripts, designed sets from Legos, and then took about a bazillion photographs with digital cameras. I then helped them construct a stop-action movie on the computer where we applied sound effects and the boys recorded their dialogue. 
    The boys had to use many skills that targeted executive functioning including setting a goal, planning, negotiation and compromise, time management, writing skills, and their individual targeted language/articulation goals.
    Our movie premiere was quite the event and a visiting celebrity (Dr. Pena!) attended. The boys were super proud of themselves! And I was so impressed by the high level the boys applied all the social learning that they’ve done. This is a super group of young people!
    Check out their fantastic movie creations here…
    We also finally harvested our garden. All groups were able to harvest a little bit, but unfortunately I only had my camera with me during one of the groups. 😦 So, here are a few shots of the great carrot/broccoli/cauliflower harvest. 
    The kids (and I!) definitely have great appreciation for anyone who lives off the land. 🙂

Shoe Tying Visuals

I’ve been working with the 5th grade students to develop their shoe tying skills. Many students wear shoes with velcro straps, which works fine in elementary school. Unfortunately, as kids grow out of child sizes and into adult sizes it can be much more difficult to find shoes with velcro fasteners. We tried two different methods – the traditional method and the double loop method (what we call rabbit ears). So far, the double loop method has proven to be easier for the students.

I’m going to post visuals here that I adapted from the website Ian’s Shoelace Site.
Feel free to use these at home to provide frequent practice opportunities at home. As you can imagine, we have limited time to spend on this at school so the more often they practice at home the more proficient they will become.


Rabbit Ears method (click here to download)

Traditional Method (click here to download)

Social Thinking Group Updates

We’ve been super busy working in our Social Thinking groups. I’m proud of all the hard work that the kids have been putting into learning new skills. Here are some of the things we’ve been working on and resources you can use at home…

Kinder group #1: We’ve been working on developing language skills for positional words including “on, under, and above”. We’ve also worked on expanding our recognition of basic feelings facial expressions.

Kinder/1st grade: We’ve continued working on expanding the accurate recognition of facial expressions. We’ve also worked on learning how to use a 5 point scale to identify our anxiety level, triggers that typically put us in the “danger zone” (4 or 5), and strategies to use to bring our anxiety back down to a manageable level (1 or 2). The 5 point scale is adopted from Kari Dunn Burton’s work The Incredible 5 Point Scale.

The calming sequence is adopted from her book When My Worries Get Too Big.  The instructions for the calming sequence are to: close your eyes, breathe in and out slowly, and rub your thighs. We also add the instruction to “think of your happy place”. The kids all came up with a location or image they could think of that made them feel calm and good. Ask your child where his “happy place” is. It is a great idea to practice using the calming sequence during calm periods so that it is easier to access during stressful moments.

2nd grade: We’ve spent a great deal of time delving into Superflex (created by Michelle Garcia Winner) and the strategies to defeat the Unthinkables. Superflex is a superhero who uses flexible thinking to solve social problems.

The two main Unthinkables that we have covered are Rockbrain (the boss of the Unthinkables) who makes us get stuck on our own ideas and not be flexible with alternative ways of doing things and Glassman who makes us have big reactions to small problems. The boys have identified common situations that cause them to have difficulty with Rockbrain and Glassman and strategies to defeat them. Please feel free to use any of these resources at home to help your child (or have your child help you!) defeat the Unthinkables.

The main calming tool that we are using to defeat Glassman and start to problem solve is progressive relaxation. Here is a visual that you can use to guide at home. The “shortcut” way is just to tighten fists and release with a deep breath.

We also use the following guidelines to help us determine what size the problem really is. Sometimes problems can feel really big, but when we check it out we find that they are more manageable than we originally thought.


5th grade: We have been working on continuing our discussion about conversation skills and have explored how to identify sarcasm. As you can imagine as we prepare for middle school, recognizing sarcasm is an important skill to know! We discussed the common characteristics of sarcasm which include variations in tone, saying the opposite of what is meant, and appropriate audiences for sarcasm – usually not your teachers or parents! 😉  We watched video examples of sarcasm and identified what the real meaning is in the verbal exchange.

We are eager to expand all these skills in the new year!

I want to wish all of you a relaxing, peaceful and joyous holiday. I hope you all get a chance to relax and enjoy quiet time with your precious kiddos! See you in 2013!

Visuals To Prompt Play Skills

We’ve spent a number of weeks targeting group play skills including sharing and taking turns in the Kinder & 1st grade social thinking groups. The following visual has proven useful to cue students to use language to initiate and maintain play interactions. Feel free to print and use at home.

This powerpoint social story can also be helpful to review the “playdate rules” before playing with a friend.   Click here to download the “Playing with a Friend” social story.

Preparing for Camp Champions

Woo hoo! It is almost time for the 5th graders to go to Camp Champions. The kids and I have been preparing by reading the Powerpoint below, generating lists of questions or concerns, and finding answers. They are feeling confident and ready! If you would like to go through the Powerpoint at home, click below.Camp Championhttp://www.scribd.com/embeds/110569594/content?start_page=1&view_mode=scroll&access_key=key-7bi5huxzm1ydpvu2fe8