As you know a big part of how we coach executive function skills is to teach children how their brains work. Making executive functions transparent for children takes the mystery out of learning and empowers each child to become a “cognitive scientist” helping their brain to do what is needed to learn and behave better.

First, let’s show you what the Cognitive Conversation regarding executive functions might sound like.

Here is a video about sequencing, planning and inhibition important skills related to a child’s attention engine.


Now Let’s Talk About “My Attention Engine”


In 70 Play Activities and Musical Thinking, we review aspects of our direct instruction method for teaching children how to plan, sequence, alert, select and sustain attention. One tool we use is “My Attention Engine”.

With “My Attention Engine” we teach children the phases of attending, via their Attention Cycle. Your brain uses a cycle of attention in order to alert, select and attend to salient people, places, things, and information. Since you cannot be focused 100% of the time, knowing the parts of the attention cycles empowers children to have better self-awareness regarding whether they are focused or drifting. We use cueing cards, poems and worksheets to help children learn about and monitor their attention.


First, we introduce the children to the concept that they have an attention engine in their brains.

“Your Attention Engine turns on, selects a target and focuses on that target in order to take in information and turn it into knowledge.”

Then we teach children how to observe, monitor and manage their attention.

Children love to learn about how to turn their engine on, focus their headlights on the subject of their attention and direct their energy toward the person or thing they are trying to learn from. Being mindfully aware of your executive function skills is a first step toward improving use of those skills. Awareness is empowerment. Cognitive skills can be learned through direct instruction, interaction, play, movement, and music.


The THINK cards are tremendously helpful in coaching children about their executive functions as well.