I was sitting on the sidelines of my Brain Gym® 104 class. We were on Zoom and the participants were working together to practice a few of the movements I had taught them.
I was sitting off to the side (out of the frame of the camera) and observing- present in case they needed me, but giving the participants a chance to work together. As I watched and listened, I heard the discussions and conversations they were having among them. There were making connections to themselves and to the children that they work with. But they were also doing something else.
They were problem solving.
I had taught the group the movements and we had done them together, but as they were practicing them again, questions (naturally) came up and the group was working together and using problem solving strategies to figure it out. They were re-reading the directions, discussing, taking notes and physically moving through the movements again- working as a group to figure things out. It was a beautiful thing and I enjoyed watching it take place.
Did you know that we actually have a special area of the brain where much of our problem solving takes place? It’s called the Prefrontal Cortex.
At Brain Fit Academy, we like to refer to this part of the brain as the “Executive Brain”. If you’ve read my other blog post about the “Baby Brain“, then you should have some understanding of the parts of the brain. And if you haven’t read it yet, I highly recommend reading that post first because it will give you more context for the information I’m about to give you.
Go ahead. I’ll wait. This post will still be here when you get back.
The Executive Brain is the part of the brain shown here in purple. As well as problem solving, it’s the part of the brain that helps us to sustain focus, plan ahead, monitor behavior, pay attention to detail, use judgement, and organize. It’s the last part of the brain to develop and it has some pretty important jobs!
“Executive Functioning” has been such a buzz word in schools over the last few years. Schools and teachers are recognizing more and more that many kids are deficient in these skills and schools have been working to give support, develop programs, and directly teach executive functioning skills. I give the schools credit- that they are starting to address this need. I really do. And at one point I was even excited to see that my son was offered a program that helped teach some of these executive functioning skills!
What I’ve come to realize however, is that for many kids, the lack of executive functioning skills is directly related to their brain and the way it’s “wired”.
At Brain Fit we talk a lot about a “disorganized brain”. When a person has many retained (active) primitive reflexes, and the brain is “disorganized”, accessing this part of the brain is HARD. Many kids we see struggle just to get to the “thinking” part of the brain- let alone the executive part. There’s just not much left.
When those pesky reflexes are active, the child’s brain/body are working so hard to fight the reflex activity that they just can’t access the higher centers in the brain. It’s not they don’t want to be able to plan, organize and problem solve. It’s that they (literally) can’t. Their brain doesn’t have the pathways- the neural connections needed to access the executive brain.
And so, schools see the lack of those executive functioning skills and they do what they think they need to do. They do their best to teach kids the skills they are missing.
Which-when you think of it, is kind of ironic. The schools are teaching skills that require the higher centers of the brain, the cognitive “thinking brain” to learn. Skills that are seemingly needed to help the child reach the even higher centers in the brain- the “executive brain”. However, if you’re working with a kiddo who isn’t even accessing the “thinking brain”, how successful do you think the teaching of those executive functioning skills is going to be? My guess would be not very successful.
And where does that leave the child? Frustrated? Stressed? Feeling ashamed?
Yes, the executive brain- the prefrontal cortex is important. One could certainly argue that it’s very important- especially as a child gets older. And being able to problem solve is certainly important.
But can I ask this of all of you? Instead of directly teaching executive functioning skills- try looking a little deeper. Look into, and learn about, primitive reflexes. See what it’s all about. Read more of my blog posts and learn. Think outside of the box and maybe approach things a little differently.
We do it all the time at Brain Fit Academy- approach things differently I mean. You can do it too. It’s not rocket science. Seriously- what could it hurt?
And if you need help, or want more information? Contact us. We’d be happy to guide you toward the next steps.
And ultimately, you know who will thank you? The kiddo(s) you’re trying to help.