Why Executive Functions are Vital in the Lives of Twenty-First-Century Children

The economic landscape that kids are approaching today is much different than it was ten or twenty years ago. Instead of focusing solely on learning facts and figures, twenty-first century children must learn how to learn. This is why executive functions are essential in the lives of these kids. These skills are necessary for success in a quickly changing world, where problem-solving, self-regulation, insight, sustained attention, and effort are highly valued. It’s not likely that today’s children will stay in one job throughout their careers, but will move around according to their needs. It is increasingly important to help them learn to make better decisions, readily adapt to changes, consider different perspectives, and make sense of the information coming from all directions in their lives. Mastering these problem solving skills – executive functions – can lead to meaningful and engaging opportunities in their futures. 

Wondering about your child’s executive functioning skills? Take our EF Quiz for some more insight.


Plenty of experts support emphasizing these non-academic skills in schools. Educational experts such as Ellen Galinsky, Po Bronson, Ashley Merryman, and Paul Tough have authored books on the skills necessary for success in the twenty-first century, using terms such as “life skills,” “character strengths,” “social and emotional intelligence,” “grit,” and “cognitive control.” In the past, teaching executive functioning skills to children was a passive process and a result of parenting and education. Some kids may pick these skills up and others may not, focusing instead on simply memorizing facts and formulas. Now, there is a growing agreement among educational professionals that teaching these skills is essential to high-quality learning and overall development. In an academic setting, children are ready to learn and are already set up to be thinking critically about what is being taught. There is no better environment for teaching executive functioning skills than school! Fortunately, the new educational approaches of teaching twenty-first-century skills and the Common Core State Standards have translated into direct efforts to teach these skills. Children are not only learning executive functioning skills but how to integrate them with modern advances in technology and communication. These can help them succeed in a forward-facing world. 

Life skills that can be applied to a wide range of circumstances don’t simply prove useful in school and academics, but in relationships, goal-setting, careers, and life. Essential to this process is the executive functioning skill of metacognition: learning how to learn. Metacognition can be understood as the awareness of one’s own thinking and learning, and oneself as a thinker and learner. Having this awareness can lead to more effective applications of lessons learned overall. 

At LearningWorks for Kids, we have developed a simple method for building up this skill, which in turn helps with overall executive functioning. Our Detect, Reflect, and Connect method supports the transfer and generalization of learning. We have a number of classes through fun gameplay that integrate this method! Figuring out how one learns and being able to apply it to a variety of situations can be a leg up in the twenty-first century world. 


Want to help your child build up their executive functioning skills? Check out the classes we offer here!

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