Thursday, April 14, 2016

Task Initiation & Working Memory

I pondered over the ten spokes of executive functioning from the last post and decided to start with the chapters focusing on task initiation and working memory. Children learn at different speeds and have different strengthens and weaknesses. Princess is my procrastinator, sometimes getting her to move to another task is like herding cats. Pumpkin is stronger in this area. Working memory is the reason that I started looking into executive functioning. Pumpkin struggles with some aspects of his academic work in regards to his short-term memory. It has to be frustrating for him, so I really want to find a way to help him with his memory retention. He is a bright young man; we just need to figure out the key to unlocking the information that goes in his brain but gets trapped trying to get out. Princess is stronger in this area.


As stated in the last post task initiation is the ability to stop what you are doing and switch gears to another activity. When we procrastinate we resist starting a new activity. The more immature we are the more we want to procrastinate. For children playing is more rewarding that taking a bath or doing school work. The author of The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder breaks this chapter into three age groups: the young child, the elementary child, and the adolescent child. For the young child, we can start teaching how to move to a new task by using “first, then” and “before, after” statements. First we put on our pants, then we put on our shirt. It is helpful to give a countdown before moving to another activity, like we are going to take a bath in 5 minutes. With my monkeys, I find it useful to say “When the numbers on the clock say 7:45, it is time to take a bath.” Pumpkin has a harder time understanding the length of 5 minutes, but a clock is a concrete tool that he can check to see how much time might be left. Take time to praise them for their successes both large and small.

The author introduces the Premack Principle for the elementary child. It builds on the “first, then” concept using the undesirable task first, followed by a desirable task. First we finish our homework, then we play on the iPad. Children may be resistant at first, but if you make a consistent routine of expectations it becomes easier over time. If you have multiple tasks to complete, offer the child the option of what order to do their work in to allow them some control over the situation. Start teaching the child simple goal setting techniques. If a book has to be read over the weekend for an assignment instead of waiting until Sunday night, read a few chunks at a time. Read a chunk on Friday night, read another chuck or two on Saturday, then finish the book on Sunday. To help with task initiation have a set homework routine. Designate a specific location free of technology and schedule a specific time. We actually did this at the beginning of the school year. I created a homework tub with all the supplies needed and it sits in the middle of the homework table. We have a snack when we walk in the door, then we start working on our homework. We are more lenient on Friday night, and break the homework load up over the weekend.  I’m going to skip commenting about the adolescent child since we are not quite there yet. One highlight in that section is ensuring that your child gets enough sleep. Sleep is critical to managing a lot of the spokes of executive functioning.


Working memory is the ability to hold information in your mind long enough to do something with it, also known as short-term memory. This is a biggie when it comes to academic success. Working memory is needed in following directions, taking class notes, reading comprehension, and multiple step math problems. Working memory can be broken into two groups auditory (verbal- assists in comprehension of complex directions) and visual-spatial (sight- assists in comprehension of what things should look like). Repetition is very helpful in learning to harness working memory. Ask your child repeat back the directions that they were given to ensure that they heard all of the steps. The author recommends the exercise of assigning the child three items to remember on the grocery list and have them assist you at the grocery store finding the items. Another tip is to encourage your child to write down appointments and assignments. The physical act of write information down helps with memory retention.

Seven tips are suggested for strengthening working memory. 1) Priming- Give a heads up before starting a task. “We have three chores to do before we can play outside. One we need to pick up our Legos. Two we need to pick up the pillows. Three we need to vacuum the floor. When we are done we can go outside.” 2) Rehearsal- repeat what you were told. That is kind of what I am doing with the blog postings for this book. I do a better job remembering when I write down what I learned. I usually take written notes, then type up the notes to help reinforce the information. 3) Clustering- chunk information into groups to assist in memory retention. The author suggestions memory games like- Simon, Memory, Concentration, Bop It! We did get Simon for the kids and they both seem to enjoy it. We will have to see if it makes any difference over time. 4) Mnemonics and Associations- create an acronym, poem, or song to remember what you learned. I remember learning ROY G. BIV growing up to remember the colors of the rainbow (red, orange, yellow, green, blue, indigo, and violet). For the planets we said “My Very Educated Mother Just Served Us Nine Pizzas” (Mercury, Venus, Earth, Mars, Jupiter, Saturn, Neptune, and Pluto). 5) Visualizing- using multiple avenues to process information (hearing, seeing, writing, demonstrating, etc…).  The author recommends the website PBS Learning Media.  I checked it out. We may need to add it to our study arsenal. 6) Build Recall, Not Recognition- fine tuning the studying process. Flash cards are a great way to promote recall. I think that I was the index card queen in college. I had index cards everywhere, and I color coded my class notes with different colored markers. Flash cards were the key to remembering all of botanical information in the 30+ botany classes that I took. I also used a dry erase board to practice my information. We use dry erase boards with the kiddos for spelling and working out math problems. The online program Quizlet is great. We use it for Pumpkin’s memory verses, but I see a lot of promise for the future. 7) Elaborations- linking new information to information that is already known. An example:  When you see a dead tree on the ground in a forest how would you explain the purpose of leaving it where it is? The dead tree can be a hotel for bugs to live inside, but it can also be a restaurant for birds to come and feast on the bugs. The bugs, moss, and mushrooms live on and inside the dead tree. Eventually the wood will become spongy and the dead tree will turn into dirt for other another tree to grow. also has some tips for working memory strategies.

This book is fascinating. I believe that there is something for everyone in this book. We are all human and none of us is perfect. I am thankful to learn a few tips that might help my kiddos. I am also thankful for the reminders of the learning styles that I have used forever and taken for granted. I have a feeling that it is going to take me a while to whittle through this book so I bought a used copy online. Hooray! My library book is due in a few days, so I will take a reading hiatus until my “new” book arrives.

Saturday, April 9, 2016

Executive What?


As parents, we tend to have the best interest of our children at heart. We want our children to soar and experience the ups and downs of life. All children have strengths and weaknesses, joys and failures. Like all children Pumpkin has challenges to overcome, but sometimes discovering the key to that success can be like finding a needle in a haystack. I’ve read that children with ADHD and children on the spectrum can experience hiccups with executive functioning. I went to Pinterest and to check it out. Maybe learning more about executive functioning would be beneficial to my family as we struggle with academic and social hurtles. I interlibrary loaned the book The Everything Parent’s Guide to Children with Executive Functioning Disorder by Rebecca Branstetter, PhD. (Please note: No one in our family has been diagnosed with executive functioning disorder, but I find that it is beneficial to expanding my knowledge as a parent. Building my tool arsenal helps me to help my children the best way possible.)

So, what is executive functioning? Executive functioning allows us to process our thoughts, feelings, and needs clearly. When there is an issue with executive functioning we may experience working memory problems, lack organization, lose focus, may resist change, be impulsive, manage time unwisely, lack flexibility, lose emotional self-control, or move from task to task without completion. All in all, executive functioning is important to our everyday lives. Everyone struggles with some aspect of executive functioning; for some it may be a minute hurtle, to others a gasping chasm. The good news is that we can teach ourselves to successful overcome our own individual hurtles. Executive functioning is a work in progress, the older you are the easier it is the harness your abilities. As parents we need to analysis our own executive functioning strengths and weaknesses, so we can better help our children.

Using our imagination is a good way to explain these type of complex ideas to children. Our brain is what controls our thoughts and processes. Imagine a tiny little person inside our brain, like the characters in the movie Inside Out. That tiny little person helps us to control our actions, as the author calls it “boss in your brain.” We can talk about the boss to help children understand new concepts without making them feel like they are inadequate or lacking in anyway. Another way is to link the information to something that the child knows and is familiar with. Example: “Oh no. The train is stuck on the tracks. What can we do to fix this math problem and help the train reach the station?”

The author suggests teaching executive functioning skills through modeling, repetition, and consistency. A) Monkey see, monkey do! Be a good example to your children, they will watch you and model both the right and wrong. Model the behavior you would like to see in them. If your children are losing things, help them find a “home” for each item and place it there every time. Praise them as they are learning the new routine. B) Try, try again! Don’t give up. Keep trying the activity, and eventually we will be successful. If a child is having problems with a task, help to break it into visual steps. Example: “Time to brush our teeth. Remember we talked about using toothpaste and brushing in circles around our whole mouth. Don’t forget to brush near our gums to chase all of the cavity germs away so our teeth stay healthy.” C) The wheels on the bus go round and round! Consistency is the key. Keep to your routine, if it isn’t working sit down with your child and create a routine that will work. Keep the directions short and sweet, but with a predictable sequence. Example: Bed time routine- take a bath, put on pajamas, brush your teeth, read a book with mom or dad, and go to sleep.

The term executive functioning is like a bicycle wheel that is made up of ten main spokes. Spoke 1: Task Initiation- the ability to stop what you are doing and switch gears to another activity. Spoke 2: Response Inhibition- the ability to keep oneself from acting impulsively, basically delayed gratification. Spoke 3: Focus- the ability to keep your attention on the task at hand. Spoke 4: Time Management- the ability to complete tasks within a set amount of time. Spoke 5: Working Memory- the ability to hold information in your mind long enough to do something with it. Spoke 6: Flexibility- the ability to change your plans based upon the ever changing environment around you. Spoke 7: Self Regulation- the ability to reflect on your goals and make necessary changes to achieve them. Spoke 8: Emotional Self Control- the ability to manage your emotions and reflect on your feelings without acting impulsively. Spoke 9: Task Completion- the ability to harness your energy and attention to see a task to its end. Spoke 10: Organization- the ability to keep track of items and maintaining order in your personal space.

Oh my, it looks like we need to work on a large majority of these. I think that my biggest hiccup right now is organization- but since I have two pint-sized tornadoes in the house it is no surprise. I will have to dive into all ten spokes in regards to the kids, but as they mature each spoke will get easier. It might be better to group these into smaller posts as I work my way through the book, so look for more post to come. I am impressed with this book so far and the author has made the book very user friendly. I think that it would be an asset to have in our home library as a reference and guide.

Saturday, April 2, 2016

April Goals

Whew! What a day! Here's a break down:

1) It's World Autism Awareness Day! I'm wearing the blue!

2) I went to eye doctor for a glasses recheck. The verdict: they kept my new glasses and I am getting new lenses. I was smart and took my old glasses with me, thank goodness. My old prescription was -3.75 both eyes with 0.25 prisms. The new ones that I had for the last week were -3.25 both eyes with no prisms. As of today, the new ones will be -3.75 right eye, -3.50 left eye with 0.50 prisms. We will see how this goes. I'm like a bad penny that keeps coming back. Ha ha ha ha! 

3) We have had a lot of wind today. Besides knocking over and relocating the garbage and recycle bins multiple times, we have a 40+ foot tree top (aka: widow maker) hanging horizontally over our yard from a neighboring property. We are going to give it a few days to see what happens before contacting them. Right now it is lodged on four scrawny trees. Oh joy!
4) We went with the kiddos to a friend's How to Train Your Dragon birthday party this afternoon. It was crazy, but fun.

5) I got to go shopping solo at a club store. I went for toilet paper and eyeglass wipes. I also came home with avocados, plums, tiny potatoes (oh, so cute!), frozen lasagna, canned fruit, kaiser buns, cranberry juice, and Pringles for the kids lunches. I had a plum and homemade chicken salad on a kaiser bun for lunch. Yum! I think we are going to have the tiny potatoes for dinner. I just need to figure out what to fix with them.

We are going to kick back and relax the rest of the day. Before I go, here are my April Goals:

Health Goals
- Eat more fruits and veggies
- Since I am limited in the exercise department, attempt to strengthen and tone my arms

House Goal
- Finish cleaning and organizing Pumpkin's room

- Organize and de-clutter at least two cabinets in the kitchen

Family Goal
- Go on a family adventure

- Have the kids each plan and help make a family meal

Self Goals
- Find a productive way to keep my sanity. ;-)
- Have a least one girls day adventure 

I leave you with a picture that I took of our pond earlier in the week. It was sunrise and the mist was rising from the water's surface. It was breathtaking!

Out Like A Lion

March was rough, but I have hope that April will be better.


I did not accomplish as much on my goals as I had hoped. My allergies kicked in and knocked me down for about a week, darn pine pollen. I am still rocking the boot of doom. Sixteen weeks (four months) so far. I see the doctor on Monday.

We had some serious technology problems in March. I spent over fourteen hours with tech support of three different companies. I think that the root of our problem is our internet provider and the extremely slow snail paced speed, so I am working on researching viable options. The new modem and new router that I purchased brand new is doing much better than the refurbished piece of junk that our internet provider sold us in August. My kindle is finally working again, after I had to deregister, reregister, restore factory setting (system wipe), and reregister with a tech support person because it was not able to download readable books. Finally, I thought that the laptop had been fixed, but discovered last night that Microsoft Updates is frozen at 0% again. Oh joy, more time with tech support in my future!

A positive for March . . . . . I got new glasses. My prescription has been reduced, although I am heading to the eye doc in a bit to have them retweaked. The new prescription isn’t quite right and I am having issues with my long distance vision. But I like my new frames. My previous frames I got in 2011. I try to use them through at least two doctor visits before updating them.

Goals Update

Health Goals 1) Get more sleep- I did better with the sleep before the time change. After the time change and during the days spent with tech support, I did not do so well. I was online with HP tech support until 1:30 am one morning. Ugh! When I contacted them at 9:30 pm, I thought this will only take an hour. Famous last words! Ha ha ha ha! The past few days have finally evened out in the sleep department. 2) Strengthen my ankle- Since I am still rocking the boot of doom, strengthening my ankle was not in the cards.

House Goal 1) Clean and organize the kids’ rooms. Well. . . . this one is an epic fail. We did manage a path to Princess’s dresser. Pumpkin and I got 1/3 of his room cleaned and it has remained cleaned. We still have 2/3 to tackle. The only time we have to clean the rooms is on the weekends (none homework nights), so we have been a bit limited with the Easter holiday and when I could barely walk. We will need to continue during the month of April.

Family Goal 1) Encourage everyone to clean-up after themselves in the sunroom- We have good days and bad days with this. The “Bunny” got the kids Legos, so we have a Lego explosion right now. I have given them both gallon sized baggies to pick up their Legos before bedtime each night. Then remind them if I step on a Lego with the boot, it might break. So there is another one good plus to the boot of doom, it definitely encourages the kids to clean up more. Ha ha ha ha ha!

Self Goals 1) Take the time to capture some nature photography- I have gotten a few good shots during March. I have been a bit more limited, since it is difficult to leave paved areas. 2) Have a least one girls day adventure- Aw, man! Another month goes by without getting a chance to do something with a friend or two. Parenthood is not all it is cracked up to be at times. I will have to work harder on this one. But if texting friends to keep up counts, I have definitely rocked that one with a couple friends.

Well off to have a few adventures before write my April Goals post.

Tuesday, March 1, 2016

March Goals

I'm game to try new goals for a third month in a row. The nice thing about monthly goals are that each month allows me to reset and reconfigure what I would like to accomplish. Sometimes it is successful and sometimes it is more of a challenge. So, here are my March Goals:

Health Goals
- Get more sleep (7.5 to 8 hours per night)
- Strengthen my ankle

House Goal
- Clean and organize the kids’ rooms

Family Goal
- Encourage everyone (mainly the kiddos) to clean-up after themselves in the sunroom

Self Goals
- Take the time to capture some nature photography
- Have a least one girls day adventure 

The sky's the limit when it comes to setting goals. You can make them as easy or as difficult as you would like. Do you have any goals or plans for the month of March?