Executive function skills in the early years

Following instructions, staying focused and using self-control are important skills that are learned and built from an early age. Known as executive functioning, these skills include having the ability to plan, prioritise, follow multi-step directions, multitask and switch focus.

Skills include;

  • Knowing the difference between inside and outside voices,
  • How to problem solve,
  • How to plan ahead and prioritise,
  • Following instructions,
  • Maintaining and switching focus.

By the end of their first year, the foundations of your child’s executive skills have already started to develop, and these will continue to develop over the span of their early childhood and schooling years.


It takes time

Early brain development is built in layers, with basic skills forming the foundations for more complex skills and knowledge as they grow. Babies and children build foundation skills with time, support from you and everyday experiences.


Building skills through play

Playing with a toy that is hidden under a blanket is a great place to start with babies.  With time, they will understand that the toy is still there, and then feel comfortable using multiple steps to reach and then pull back the blanket to find the toy.

Even a humble game of peek-a-boo with a baby helps them understand that things are still there, even when they are out of sight.

Playing with other children is a great opportunity for your child to practise communication skills (organising what the game will be), negotiation (who will play what role and how) and memory (remembering the rules and who is in what role).

mother and child at playgroup

Find out more on executive functioning in the early years here.

Published — 15 June 2017 Last updated — 15 June 2017

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