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Academics & Arts
Middle School@Home

Executive Functioning: Middle School@Home

Executive functions are involved with most aspects of daily life, including learning, emotions and social situations. The transition to Laurel School@Home presents many new opportunities to utilize and strengthen executive functioning skills.

Leveraging Executive Functioning for Remote Learning in Middle School

This week's focus is on the skills of SELF-MONITORING and WORKING MEMORY.
As always, Laurel's team of psychologists is ready and available to support girls and their families. Don't hesitate to reach out to Dr. Cordiano (tCordiano@LaurelSchool.org) or Dr. Pearlman (iPearlman@LaurelSchool.org) with any questions or concerns.


Additional Strategies Include:

  • Maintain routines: adhere to regular routines for bedtime, mealtimes, work time and leisure time. Encourage your daughter to create a general schedule of activities throughout the day. If your daughter is going to bed later, help her work backwards from the time she needs to be ready for school to determine an appropriate bedtime.
  • Take breaks: encourage a variety of options for physical activity, including yoga, walking the dog, outside play or aerobic exercise (e.g., jump rope, jumping jacks, calisthenics). Most girls need brain breaks after 25-35 minutes of structured academic work.
  • Prioritize play: offer a variety of low-tech leisure activities, including art and active play/sports activities 
  • Discuss emotions: check-in with your daughter about how she is feeling and offer to listen or to help come up with ideas to manage those feelings
  • Normalize reactions: help your daughter understand that sadness, anger, disappointment, worry, confusion, frustration and other intense emotions are normal and understandable reactions to this situation

  • Change it up: encourage a change of scenery while working (e.g., completing some work in a different area of the house, working outside when conditions allow)
  • Take breaks: walking away and doing something else for a time can help girls clear their minds and return ready to approach a problem in a new way
  • Review directions: encourage your daughter to state task directions in her own words to ensure she understands what is being asked of her
  • Clarify her question(s): help your daughter move beyond, “I’m stuck,” by asking her to state or write her specific question(s) about the task
  • Problem-solve asking for help: think with your daughter about specific ways to get help when she needs it, including checking in with her teacher, asking a classmate or working with a parent or older sibling
  • Embrace the YET: use growth mindset language to help your daughter reframe mistakes as important learning tools and normalize that everyone is learning through making mistakes during these uncertain times
  • Minimize distractions: remove unnecessary distractions from the workspace. This includes obvious distractions such as electronic devices (when she doesn’t need them for work) but in a home setting could also include loud conversations between other family members, noisy siblings or the sound of the television. Consider noise-cancelling headphones and physical barriers between people working in the same space. Do the best you can, knowing that when everyone in the family is sharing the same space, certain distractions are unavoidable. 
  • Review directions: provide directions in multiple forms - some girls prefer verbal directions, some can read directions on a screen and some need directions written or printed out. If your daughter gets stuck at the start of a task, have her state task directions in her own words to ensure she understands what is being asked of her. 
  • Break down tasks: if your daughter struggles to get started, help her divide complex tasks into smaller steps. For more structure, encourage her to write down steps to check off as she completes them. Encourage her to use a timer to complete specific steps or parts of a larger task (e.g., “I’m going to work on this for at least 15 minutes now…”).
  • Offer choices: when possible, think with your daughter about the order in which she wants to complete her work, to offer autonomy and increase motivation.
  • Take breaks: brain breaks that include physical activity are key to helping girls get started on tasks throughout the day. Most girls need brain breaks after 25-35 minutes of sustained academic work.


  • Emotion regulation: identifying and managing intense emotions, like anger, frustration and disappointment
  • Flexibility: shifting between tasks, generating multiple solutions to problems
  • Initiation: beginning a task, from generating ideas to actually starting the work
  • Organization: using effective and reliable systems for managing work and belongings
  • Planning: making and adhering to a short- or long-term plan
  • Self-monitoring: monitoring one’s pace of work, allocating time strategically and catching one’s mistakes
  • Working memory: holding and using information in short-term memory

Each week, we will focus on 2-3 executive functions and present strategies to help your daughter leverage her executive functioning skills for remote learning.

These strategies are offered in the spirit of supporting your family, should you find them helpful. Given the demands placed upon everyone during these uncertain times, no family should feel obligated to follow these strategies - or even to read any further if you’ve reached your limit of new information for the day!

If you are interested in even more content on executive functioning, Laurel’s Center for Research on Girls’ (LCRG) Research Brief “Executive Functioning and Study Skills in Girls” offers additional research-backed information. Resilience and executive functioning go hand-in-hand. You can find detailed information on LCRG’s five components of resilience, which help support girls’ executive functioning, on the LCRG website.
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