Is Your Student Scattered? Improving Executive Function Skills Will Help by Jessica Bush

Is Your Student Scattered? Improving Executive Function Skills Will Help by Jessica Bush, Bergen County Moms

Do you have a student who struggles with organization, planning, and prioritizing? Help them start off the school year on the right foot!

It’s the start of a new school year! Along with the usual excitement and nervousness, many students are transitioning from remote to in-person learning. Add in ongoing uncertainty around the pandemic, and there are plenty of reasons why both students and parents may feel a bit scattered!

But just as you made sure to fill your student’s backpack with all the school supplies on their list, it’s important to give them the tools they need to plan, prioritize, and stay organized.

The skills related to executive function play a key role in time management, organization, and effective planning. We use these skills on a daily basis as adults, and it's critical to help children start developing them at a young age. What exactly are executive functioning skills? They generally refer to a set of mental tools that relate to areas such as:

  • Organization and planning ability

  • Time management

  • Attention span and focus

  • Memory and recall

Students with executive functioning difficulty are challenged when it comes to keeping school materials organized and staying on top of homework assignments. One of the best ways to develop these vital skills is to give students the tools they need to practice and master them. Here are some simple things you can work on together to improve your student’s planning, organization, and time management skills.


Keeping a detailed planner or agenda and consistently logging in homework assignments, projects, tasks, activities, and even family and fun time is a great way for students to get – and stay – on track. Different students prefer different planners – the important thing is to let them choose the one that works for them.

  • Many students benefit from having a paper planner – even if they don’t realize it at first. Creative kids especially enjoy customizing their planners of choice. I had a student who loved horses and found a wonderful horse planner on Amazon. Another teen created a custom bullet journal using colored markers, stickers, and sticky notes. She made one section of the journal a calendar, another a to-do list, and made charts to track different personal things. It became a special possession she carried with her all the time.

  • Tech-savvy students like using a Google calendar. They can access it their phone and computer, share it with a parent, and create two calendars in one (a school schedule and soccer schedule can overlap.) They can also color code tasks – for example, yellow for study time, green for homework, etc. Helping kids learn this skill in middle or high school will be a huge benefit as they move on to college and life.


Prioritizing what is most important on a day-to-day basis is a valuable tool for helping students make progress towards specific goals. We suggest creating a system to prioritize assignments and responsibilities. Something as simple as using a to-do list in conjunction with their calendar allows students to prioritize which tasks or projects are most pressing during a given day or week. They can then focus on completing those tasks first. Crossing tasks off the list gives students a sense of accomplishment and helps them feel more in control.


It can be difficult to keep track of school materials, especially for students in middle school (and beyond) who are taking multiple classes – and lots of advanced classes. Using separate binders, dividers, notebooks, and folders for each subject is the perfect way to stay organized. Forming routines is also a big help – like making it a rule to get their backpack ready the night before and to clean it out at least once a month.

Time Management:

Does your student constantly forget to turn in assignments or submit them late because they missed the due date? This is where color-coding classes and activities in their planner or agenda can be extremely helpful. In addition to designating a different color for each activity, students can color-code each class to help them block time for subjects or assignments that need attention.

Our tutors often work with middle school students on figuring out timeframes for completing a project or assignment by a certain due date. Students tend to find this task very challenging until they learn to plan in advance and block out the time on a calendar. Encourage your student to set aside time on Sunday evening to look at the week ahead and plan out what needs to be done, when the due dates are, and how much study time they’ll need.

When it comes to helping students manage their time, keep in mind that it is just as important to plan for fun as it is for studying. Blocking out family time, fun time, friends time, and downtime time teaches kids about creating balance in their lives – a valuable lesson for us, too!

Focus and Attention Span:

We’re not surprised when students tell us they do homework in the living room with the TV playing in the background. And we know that kids who were learning online last year often did their work in bed! When it comes down to it, any type of distraction is going to make it difficult to stay focused. Students need to create a dedicated space for schoolwork – not in their bedroom – that is quiet and free of background noise and electronic devices. These small adjustments to their environment can result in big improvements in their ability to give assignments their full attention.

At Tutor Doctor, we know how passionate you are about helping your kids achieve their goals. If your student is having trouble with any of these areas, try some of these techniques to encourage good academic habits. If you feel your student needs additional support, give us a call. We’re here to help!

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Meet Jessica Bush

For Jessica, “making learning personal” is not just a slogan – it’s the foundation on which she has built Tutor Doctor North Jersey and Rockland. For the past 10 years, her instinct for uncovering the unique needs and desires of students and their families – and her passion for helping them achieve their dreams – have been the hallmarks of her tutoring practice.

Jessica understands that learning is often about more than just mastering academics. Whether it’s test anxiety, executive function, or school avoidance, her expertise lies in helping families address even the most complex learning challenges holistically. Families can count on her not only to connect the right tutor with the right student, but to build a support team with a shared commitment to seeing each student succeed – in school and in life.

Tutor Doctor North Jersey, Rockland, Bergen County Moms

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