Honing Executive Function skills in the ELC

In the ELC, children are explicitly taught executive functions as part of our play based SOWATT program. Experiences vary for each year level, with each educator intentionally embedding skill acquisition into everyday routines, practices and experiences.

Bike riding is currently an ideal way to exercise and practise social distancing. This skill is being encouraged with the children in the ELC.

Self-regulation – Depending on the age and experience of the rider, self-regulation will be evident when things don’t go well! It might be a lack of balance leading to a fall or persevering on longer outings when energy is low and not giving in to the urge to have a tantrum. Self-control helps us to succeed in the long run.

Organisation – This too is very age dependent, but even young children can remember their helmet and runners. Older children who might be cycling longer distances should be encouraged to have safety items with them, like a pump, telephone, water and snacks.

Working Memory – When learning to ride a bike your working memory is working overtime! Trying to balance, steer, pedal and sometime brake simultaneously takes practice. Training wheels or tricycles, are the perfect answer to relieving the load on working memory; taking away the fear of falling off means novices have one less thing to think about.

Attention – Paying attention is crucial for safety. Riders who do not pay attention to the path in front of them or become distracted run the risk of being taken off guard when something crosses their path. It is also important for riders to keep their eyes on their path at all times so that they can be prepared for sudden changes in terrain.

Thinking flexibly – At a subconscious level, we are constantly responding to the feel of our bike. Leaning too far to the left and we need to shift weight to the right, cycling uphill requires more pressure on the pedals, meeting an unexpected obstacle requires a split second decision: swerve or brake. There’s also the shifting mindset that is needed from time to time; “I can do it – just need a bit more practice!”

Thinking about thinking – At a young age, this doesn’t come naturally. More experienced riders can provide feedback to help the young cyclist develop the necessary skills. Framed in a positive, encouraging way, feedback helps us to understand what we are doing right or wrong, so that we can improve.

A number of studies have found evidence to support the notion that children with well-developed hand-eye coordination do go on to become better learners. In 2012 a Danish study involving nearly 20,000 Danish children between the ages of 5 and 19 found that children who cycled or walked to school, rather than travelling by car or public transportation, performed measurably better on tasks demanding concentration, such as solving puzzles, and that the effects lasted for up to four hours after they got to school. But don’t take the scientists’ word for it. Do your own experiment. Grab a bike, slap on a helmet and go for a spin around your local park or down a country trail.

Rosalyn Muir