It’s Never Too Early to Model EF Strategies

It’s Never Too Early to Model EF Strategies

When is it helpful to start modeling executive function strategies for students? A recent brief from K-12Dive↗(link opens in new tab/window) highlights that it’s never too early to start. Modeling ideal behaviors and executive function strategies when students enter early childhood education can ensure that they grow into independent learners and flexible thinkers.

The Why: Starting in Early Childhood

Educational systems and curriculum objectives often assume that young children are not yet ready to develop the capacities that will eventually lead them to direct their own learning journeys. Research and experience tell us a different story. The key lies in helping students develop flexible mindsets, which arise from periods of trial and error over searching for one “right answer.”

Today’s students will face complex challenges and uncertainty in their futures. We will need to prepare young students to become self-directed learners who know how to ask questions, solve problems, and unleash their creativity. Therefore, it is important to ensure students are equipped with the skills to understand others’ perspectives and work with their peers.

The How: Modeling for Young Students

In the K-12Dive Brief, Taína Coleman, an educational specialist from the Child Mind Institute, shares that modeling helps all students—students who need time to learn the skill and those that need to practice it. While many lessons follow the sequence of “I do, we do, you do,” Coleman adds a step to this process. After the “I do” portion where students watch her carry out a strategy, she pauses to model the steps very clearly.

The When: Opportunities for Modeling     

Three excellent opportunities for modeling in early childhood education classrooms are transitions, sharing, and persistence.

  • Transitions: Teachers can model using a clock to measure how much time is left in class and include verbal and visual reminders of what cleaning up looks like and how to get ready for the next class or activity.
  • Sharing: After reading a book on sharing, teachers can model taking turns and sharing a game, puzzle, or other activity with multiple students.
  • Persistence: Research has shown(link opens in new tab/window) that beginning in infancy, children make more attempts to achieve a goal (such as unlocking a keychain or making a toy sound) when they observe adults around them persisting. Infants who watched adults fail at a task and attempt the task multiple times were more likely to attempt a challenging task for a longer period of time. The infants were more likely to persist when the adults around them made eye contact and spoke directly to the infants.


  • Caitlin Vanderberg, M.Ed., SMARTS Associate

SMARTS Executive Function Curriculum:

Research Institute for Learning and Development: