The term, executive function, describes processes that are vital to us in all aspects of life. Executive function is a term used to describe the processes of thinking, acting, and solving problems. Executive function is needed for learning new information and remembering and retrieving old information. Our executive functions allow us to solve new problems of everyday life. When executive function skills are deficient, it is noticeable. An example of this deficiency is when some students are working in school or studying they usually have a plan A, but when that doesn’t work out, they are unable to come up with plan B. These are the students who do the same thing over and over again even if it doesn’t bring academic success.
How else do executive function problems look?
- my child struggles with planning and carrying out a project at school.
- my child doesn’t have a good idea how long something will take to complete.
- my child doesn’t seem to tell a story in the right sequence.
- my child has a lot of trouble “getting started.”
- my child struggles with ignoring other children or noises.
- my child has problems with short term or working memory- for example: remembering the process for doing a math problem or writing a story while remembering spelling, punctuation, and the “word” he or she wants to use.
Sometimes children are described as having executive function issues when parents and teachers think of the child as having ADHD. Parents can take steps to support their child in this area.
The interesting news is the research that indicates that practicing a musical instrument has a positive impact on executive function in children with lasting effects on the cognitive abilities of the aging brain. Practice changes the anatomy of the frontal cortex of the brain. Results from research by Jentszch, Mkrtchian, and Kansal “suggest that higher levels of musical training might result in more efficient information processing in general (indicated by faster overall speed across tasks without accuracy tradeoff), and confirms earlier reports indicating a positive link between mental speed and musical ability.” This study indicates that a person who has practiced a musical instrument over time is able to monitor his or her performance while playing, and not become overly bothered by errors, and thereby adjust to the errors. You can see how possessing the skill to notice errors and adjust to them would help students in school and adults in life.
The executive function skills that seem to be improved by studying and practicing a musical instrument would be so valuable to a youngster who doesn’t intuitively monitor his or her performance in life, doesn’t control reaction to events, and may even overreact. Not only would learning to play the violin be fun for a child, but it might just help the child’s executive function skills!