Feb 12, 2010 by Bill Jenkins, Ph.D.

Brain Fitness

In the world of education, especially in the early grades, we have great debates about the skills that we wish to impart to students. What do kids need to learn to do early on so they can be successful as they move forward? When it comes down to it, one of the biggies is self-control.

"Executive function"—the ability to order and control our thoughts—refers to those mental processes that allow us to process information coherently, hold and refer to items in our short term memories, avoid distractions and stay on task. Executive function takes self control. It depends upon the individual’s ability to control and filter emotions and cognitive impulses in order to get a job done.

As it turns out, research indicates that higher executive functions demonstrated early on are indicators of short as well as long-term success, both in academics and in life. According to Paul Tough in his September 27, 2009 New York Times article, "In some studies, self-regulation skills have been shown to predict academic achievement more reliably than I.Q. tests."

One program called Tools of the Mind is working to improve self-regulation abilities in young children. Now being used to teach 18,000 preK and kindergarten children in twelve states, the Tools of the Mind curriculum, created by child development scholars Deborah Leon and Elena Bodrova, is purported to teach self-regulation skills to essentially any child, regardless of socioeconomic status. At the core of their methodology is the idea that the key to developing self regulation is dramatic play, with complex, long-lasting make-believe scenarios.

While the research continues into the effectiveness of these techniques, there is no question that self-regulation is a central skill that kids need to develop early on. More information about Tools of the Mind is available at:  www.mscd.edu/extendedcampus/toolsofthemind/