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Martin Van BurenHave you seen the Google ad “Dress Like a President Day”? It’s been called one of the best on television. It’s certainly among the funniest.

The clock on the wall tells the story. It’s 7:40 AM – the last chance for an on time arrival at work and school. And then it happens-

The family’s daughter announces that it’s “Dress Like a President Day”- and she supposed to be Martin Van Buren!

In true television fashion, Mom whips up a costume and off they go.

Sound familiar? Not the Martin Van Buren part. The failure to plan part.

It’s a common problem for children who can’t distinguish between “due” and “do”. Like the little girl in the commercial, they know the date of a special event or celebration. They just don’t factor in the time and effort it will take to be prepared.

Learning the meaning of “do” is one of a group of skills referred to as executive functions. Together they represent the control center of the brain, responsible for making plans, inhibiting impulses, and staying focused. Deficits in executive function make it difficult for children to manage the routine tasks of school. Studying, maintaining friendships, and shifting attention from one task to another are challenging for them.

Strengthening children’s working memory is a good way to improve their executive functioning. Here are some strategies to try:

Model information management
• Write things down. Make “to do” lists. Cross tasks off as you complete them.
• Post checklists (or pictographs) for common household tasks like “Cleaning Your Room” or “Packing Your Book Bag”.
• Put frequently used items in a designated place for easy retrieval.

Increase awareness
• When children succeed, ask probing questions about what strategy they used. A mnemonic device? A picture in their mind? A jingle or rhyme?
• Keep track of strategies that work. Encourage children to use them again.

Compartmentalize tasks
• Write each step in a task on a separate index card. Tear the cards up as the steps are completed.
• Encourage children to focus on one task at a time. Avoid visual clutter. Discourage multitasking.

Play games!
• Card games, board games, video games. Play them together and talk about the strategies behind each move.

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