How to Use Homeschool’s Biggest Assets to Develop Executive Functioning
Executive Functioning (EF) is a complicated thing. My favorite explanation of it is by Seth Perler. In words and video he explains all the different aspects of EF, what helps, what hinders, and what you need to know about it. He offers it all in simple language but boils it down to this:
He then goes on to explain how there are skills people use to make the abstract concrete in order to get things done. He offers free videos and PDFs to help parents, educators, and students learn habits that will support them. He offers conferences, one-on-one coaching, and a lot of other things too. Go check him out. I LOVE how he helps neurodivergent people navigate the neurotypical world.
But that is what I take issue with - as I work through Seth's resources it feels increasingly like using smoke and mirrors to shoehorn (albeit as gently as possible) neurodivergent people into the neurotypical expectations for being part of the world. As neurodivergent homeschoolers we don't need to fit into other people's schedules the same way.
Seth has already solved the problem of helping parents and educators help students (and students helps themselves) to be in public school. It is based on a deficit model - one that sees any unmet expectations the fault of the student, not motivation for reconsidering the expectations. And it focuses on checklists of minute tasks. So what I'm going to do is invite you to reconsider EF from a place of abundance and focused on wellbeing instead of checklists.
In homeschool as parents we have an abundance of freedom, time, and 1:1 time in the parent-child relationship. Our neurodivergent children have an abundance of potential. These are our biggest assets and they afford us a view of EF as a highly customizable practice of self-care.
Before anything can get done, one needs to feel safe and secure. They need to not be punished for who they are. That is why parent-educators like Dr. Ross Greene at Lives in the Balance and the Hilkeys at Happily Family focus on child, parent, and family wellbeing. (Coincidentally, Seth Perler also beats this drum.) So the fundamental aspects of developing EF is developing a reliable practice of self-care.
If there were a "curriculum" for self-care it would have as its goal: to be alive and well. And it would be comprised of the following:
- Physical Wellbeing: being as comfortable as can be in one's body - fed, rested, strong, and dressed comfortably and as an authentic expression of self.
- Emotional Wellbeing: awareness of how one feels, permission to access and experience the full range of emotions (especially important because of neurodivergent overexcitability), and familiarity with the ebb and flow of emotions.
- Mental Wellbeing: feeding the insatiable neurodivergent brain with whatever is interesting to it. This is why self-directed, interest-based learning is crux in a neurodivergent homeschool.
- Spiritual Wellbeing: reaching for something bigger than oneself. Imagining oneself in the world, finding or creating community, and discovering ways to contribute to it.
It is our prerogative as homeschoolers to make self-care the course of study. We can devote the vast majority of our time and energy to it... AND WE SHOULD. Because when our children are alive and well they have the resources to develop organizational habits that help them get things done and the willingness to accept help when they are stuck.
Like the nitty-gritty EF skills Seth teaches, wellbeing as the foundation for EF is something that is cultivated and something our students should not have to do entirely on their own. Our goal as educators is to guide our students toward independence. The questions that we revisit year after year are:
- What can they do on their own?
- What can they do with my help?
The difference between those answers is called the "zone of proximal development" and the basis for what educators call "scaffolding." It applies to reading, writing, and mathematics. It also applies to self-care and getting things done.
So when self-care is the curriculum, the questions we ask are:
- In what ways can my child nourish their body without me? What do they need my help with?
- In what ways can my child navigate their feelings? What do they need my help with?
- In what ways can my child learn about the subject that lights them up? What do they need my help with?
- In what ways does my child see themselves as part of the world? What can I help them with?
By answering those questions, we are able to engage with our learner with my favorite phrase for approaching those too-hard tasks:
Not only does it feel good to connect with our children, it capitalizes on the asset one-on-one support available to us as homeschoolers. We can choose to spend our time gently moving through relationships, creative work, and community activities instead of staring down worksheets and checklists. And we have the freedom to do just that. We have everything we need - freedom, time, and intimate relationships with our children.
So what about non-preferred activities? THAT is what is on the skeptic's mind. Sure, my kid can organize stuff they are interested in but they won't do it for the only thing I require they do that isn't self-directed (math worksheets, writing program, PE, etc.)! LMAO, repeat after me: "Let's do it together." Then think about this...
Our alterity as neurodivergent, gifted homeschoolers should be embraced and treated as the best way forward, not a problem to be fixed. It is uncomfortable and outside the norm. We won't be following the well-worn path of tradition. Getting things done happens at different times, in different ways, and occurs at a variety of speeds. We get to (HAVE to) make a way toward independence via wellness for ourselves and for our children by acting from a place of abundance instead of a place of scarcity. Otherwise the things that make us different (speed, rhythms, capacity, sensitivity, etc.) are a source of shame, wellbeing diminishes, and we will never get anything done.
So...what if your child can get things done? And what if every single thing they get done on their own counts, is valid, and directly supports them being their great big outside-the-box neurodivergent self in the world? What then? How would you spend your freedom and your time with your children? Just think of all the things you could get done together!
No one should stress over worksheets so I wrote the guide for learning math from everyday life...because when the world is your classroom you are free to learn math that matters.
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