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Navigating the Yearly Calendar: Executive Functioning in January

Welcome to “Navigating the Yearly Calendar!” This is a monthly series where we will explore strategies and tools that intersect with the calendar and rhythm of the school year. 

There is a reason we as humans mark time. It is a vital part of our being that helps us make sense out of the world around us, as well as our own existence. Marking time is not new; it dates back to the earliest of civilizations. However, in our fast-paced world, marking time can be complicated, given all the simultaneous demands on our lives. Marking time has been further impacted by the COVID pandemic, during which time learning as we know it was disrupted. Even today, we are still grappling with the effects of this time disruption.

This series is designed as a reset of how we mark time as it relates to executive functioning skills. By looking at executive functioning on a monthly basis, we can help our children manage time, stuff, and information.

Let’s begin…

Executive Functioning in January: 

The month of January not only marks a new calendar year, but also marks the beginning of a very specific part of the school year. January through March is typically the part of the school year where the number of school days is most consistent. It’s the time where in-school learning is the least interrupted. With this comes the expectation for learning, mastery, and performance on school-related tasks. As a wise colleague once remarked, “Everyone learns in January.”

From an executive functioning point of view, January is a month where work in school and out of school will increase. Thus, more will be expected of learners in terms of time management, multi-tasking, and completing work with high quality. 

The executive functioning goal of January is to be able to adequately manage time, stuff, and information at a time where expectations for learning and performance are at the highest they have been during the school year. 

Here’s a list of things to think about in the month of January:

  1. Re-examine the after-school schedule and make adjustments as necessary. It’s not unusual for the schedule to change in January.  With seasonal sports, season-defined school activities, and social/community commitments there is a need to adjust schedules. What is important to remember is that when schedules are adjusted, the study/homework time during the school week, as well as the weekends, also needs to be examined. Make sure there are adequate chunks of time to get school work done outside of school. Additionally, consider the scheduling of any outside support (tutoring, coaching, therapy) so that these activities fit comfortably into the schedule as well. 
  1. Reconsider the goals for learning and support needed for the second part of the school year. When we consider that the beginning of the school year includes times for review of academic material from the previous year as well as a number of days off of school, it’s wise to rethink the goals and the need for support for the winter months. As was stated earlier, January begins a time for learning that has not happened during the academic year thus far. It is wise to watch the demands of academics as well as the child’s response to these demands for the first two weeks into January to help set goals and determine what support is needed. 
  1. Take into account the mid-year slump. 

The middle part of the school year beginning in January is known as the mid-year slump where children’s motivation for school-related tasks can drop.  There are many theories why this can occur including: colder weather, shorter daylight hours, and post-holiday season blues. In order to combat the mid-year slump, take into account the following to beat the mid-year slump.

  • Name it and describe it. It’s easier to tackle a problem if it is acknowledged and defined. Be bold–use the term mid-year slump and talk about what it means. Ask your child(ren) what it means to them. It can also be helpful to share a story two about how you experienced it as well. 
  • Have a plan to address the mid-year slump. Perhaps it’s planning some special activities or outings so there are things to look forward to. Perhaps it’s enrolling in a new afterschool class or club. Little things that add excitement and joy help to neutralize the mundane. 
  • Add a twist to science and art. Instead of fighting the winter blues, engage in some fun art and/or science activities to do during the dark, cold, rainy, or snowy times. If you are not sure what to do, Google “fun winter art activities” or “fun winter science experiments.”
  • Add a new game to the collection. Games are a great way to entertain and engage everyone’s minds in new ways. Ask family and friends what they are playing. You are sure to get some great suggestions about a game to add to your collection!
  • Reinstate family read-aloud time. Most children love being read to when they are young, but as they begin to read to themselves, this process often falls by the wayside. The winter months are a great time to bring back the activity of reading to older kids and tweens. Not sure what book to pick? Google “the best read-aloud chapter books for kids”. Don’t worry about reading to children who can read to themselves, it’s all about the shared family experience. 
  1. Ensure you have the items needed for executive functioning success. Not sure what to have? Check out this list!

Wishing all a wonderful launch into the new calendar year!