Yearly EF Feb Thumbnail

Navigating the Yearly Calendar: Executive Functioning in February

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 February: 

The month of February marks the second month of the “mid-year slump.”  It is possible that the lack of motivation presents even stronger than in January. Why? Because the joy of the holidays is further away, spring is not yet on the horizon, there are often more long-term projects/assessments, and for many, the weather still very much impacts daily life.  

From an executive functioning point of view, February is a month to really assess progress in specific skills to see what the strengths and areas of weaknesses really are. By February, there will have been an ample number of school days and instruction so areas of growth can truly be celebrated, and areas of difficulty need to become the focus for the remainder of the school year. 

The executive functioning goal of February is to get useful feedback on academic progress in all subject areas. Additionally, this feedback should include critical student behaviors that are associated with academic success such as time, management, organization, note-taking and test preparation. February is the time to (a) review/discuss progress in academic skills and student behavior and (b) create/implement specific plans to address areas of weakness for the remainder of the school year. 

Here’s a list of things to consider in the month of February:

  1. Ensure a time for a school meeting if there are concerns that are not being addressed or limited progress has been made. At this point in the school year, it is worth doubling down on efforts of remediation, providing extra support, or even arranging for an evaluation. Concerns are legitimate in February and should not be put off or ignored. Seek support as needed. 
  1. Ensure extra time during the weekly schedule to work on projects and essays. It’s not unusual for there to be an uptick in long-term projects during the middle of the school year. With the minimal interruption to school days, teachers will take this time to build skills in areas such as writing, research skills, even domain specific skills such as engaging in the scientific method. With this school instruction will come increased work for students on projects and papers. This work may be in addition to regular homework. So, it is recommended to dedicate  specific chunks of time in the evenings and on weekends to completing projects/essays. Having specific work times on these activities ensures there will be time for the work and that work on these projects is important. 
  1. Parents and outside support (tutors, coaches, and educational therapists) should review the details and requirements of essays and long-term projects even if they are supposed to be done during the school day. Many teachers outwardly share with students and parents that many, if not most of the long-term assignments are to be done during the school day. This works- until it doesn’t- and can cause a great deal of stress for students, parents, and teachers when the deadline fast approaches and work has yet to be finished. Best practice would suggest that parents and support people stay aware of deadlines and details of assignments so they can be informed and assist if/when needed. Any avoidance of last minute work will help reduce tension in the home. 
  1. Continue to 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 overcome it:

  • 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. Continue to ensure you have the items needed for executive functioning success. Not sure what to have? Check out this list!

Wishing all a productive and peaceful February!