This morning I had a humorous conversation about childhood traits that predict adult success. Is it yearning to be someone you are not? Is it wishing your family had the financial ability to host a birthday party in a private jet? Is it wearing the name-brand clothing and sneakers? Or is it being able to delay gratification, finding joy in small things, reading for pleasure or being a good friend?
Over the past 10 years, more research has been conducted and written about the traits that predict adult success for a well-rounded, productive life. The term executive function has become the buzz word to describe the personal growth and development of a person from birth to late-twenties in terms of judgement, planning, organizing, using working memory and flexibility in thinking. This development happens in the frontal cortex and is added by the emotional centers of the brain.
Executive functions cover a variety of skills that allow one to organize behavior in a purposeful, coordinated manner and to reflect on or analyze the success of the strategies employed (Banich, 2004). Executive functions include processes such as goal selection, planning, monitoring, sequencing, and other supervisory processes which permit the individual to impose organization and structure upon his/or her environment (Foster, Black and Bronskill, 1997).
Maria Montessori understood child development and wrote about these important skills in 1912. She understood that environment influences “spontaneous discipline, continuous and happy work, social sentiments of help and sympathy for others.: Executive function skills are encouraged in a Montessori classroom where a love of order and work, concentration and the power to act from real choice exists and leads one to self mastery. “For it is from the completed cycle of an activity from methodical concentration, that the child develops equilibrium, elasticity, adaptability, and the resulting power to perform the higher actions, such as those which are termed acts of obedience.” (Dr. Montessori’s Own Handbook, 1914).
A longitudinal study, conducted by Pennsylvania State University that included 753 Kindergarten aged students followed into adulthood suggested that children’s emotional intelligence could set the stage for professional and interpersonal success throughout life. Montessori educators agree with these findings.
For additional suggestions of ways you can increase your child’s executive function capacity. Download Harvard University’s activities guide Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence.