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Cognition & Executive Functioning

Baby Sitting and PlayingCognitive and executive functions begin developing during very early childhood and are affected by a young child’s environment and everyday interactions. The healthy development of skills associated with cognition and executive functioning are thought to be among the most important for a child’s success later in life. The cognitive area of development describes how a child acquires knowledge, thinks and learns about his or her environment. Executive functioning refers to how children regulate their behavior, attention, persistence, problem-solving, memory, organization and planning skills.


Here you will find resources, such as archived webinars, articles and chapters, handouts, audio/video clips, and websites with information related to supporting the development of cognition and executive functioning in infants and toddlers.


Click the links below to jump directly to the following sections of this page.
Archived Webinars | Articles & Chapters | Handouts & Documents | Audio/Video| Websites & Programs


Archived Webinars

Executive Function Skills: Approaches to Learning for Infants and Toddlers
VA’s Integrated Training Collaborative
Partnership for People with Disabilities
Presented by Ann Janney-Schultz
This webinar provides an overview of the development of executive function skills in infants and toddlers. Content includes discussion about what executive functions are and why they are important. Strategies are also offered to help infants and toddlers develop and improve these skills. Click the link above to visit the 2013 Talks on Tuesdays Archive and scroll down until you find the webinar.


Articles & Chapters

Berk, L. E. (2011). Cognitive development in infancy and toddlerhood. In Infants, Children, and Adolescents (pp. 202-245). New York, NY: Pearson.
This textbook chapter covers cognitive development and includes overviews of Piaget’s Cognitive-Developmental Theory, information processing, the social context of cognitive development, individual differences, and language development.

Diamond, A. (2013). Executive functions. Annual Review of Psychology, 64. 135-168.
This article provides an overview of executive functions, including their developmental progression, associated controversies, and the importance of social, emotional, and physical health for cognitive health.

Skoff, B. (2004, November). Executive functions in developmental disabilities. Insights on Learning Disabilities, 15(2). 1-10.
This article provides a definition of executive functions, their importance in everyday living, their development, and specific information about associated developmental disorders. Individual differences and interventions are also discussed.




Handouts & Documents

Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function (external website)
Working Paper #11
Center on the Developing Child
Harvard University
This joint Working Paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child and the National Forum on Early Childhood Policy and Programs explains how these lifelong skills develop, what can disrupt their development, and how supporting them pays off in school and life.

Cognitive Development Domain (external website)
California Infant/Toddler Learning & Development Foundations
This article describes cognitive development including foundations such as cause-and-effect, spatial relations, problem solving, imitation, memory, number sense, classification, symbolic play, attention maintenance, and understanding of personal care routines.

Early Experiences Can Alter Gene Expression and Affect Long-Term Development (external website)
Working Paper #10
Center on the Developing Child
Harvard University
The experiences children have early in life—and the environments in which they have them—shape their developing brain architecture and strongly affect whether they grow up to be healthy, productive members of society. This working paper summarizes new scientific research that shows that environmental influences can actually affect whether and how genes are expressed.

Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence
(external website)

Center on the Developing Child
Harvard University
This 16-page guide (available for download) describes a variety of activities and games that represent age-appropriate ways for adults to support and strengthen various components of executive function and self-regulation in children.




Executive Function: The Thinking Brain (external website)
Dr. Stephanie Carlson
This brief interview with Dr. Carlson provides an overview of executive function (EF) and discusses EF in bilingual children. The development of EF and the effects of child’s play, nurturing, and ineffective discipline are discussed.        

InBrief: Executive Function: Skills for Life and Learning (external website)
Center on the Developing Child
Harvard University
This video provides an overview of information about executive functioning, including how these skills develop, what can disrupt their development, and how supporting them impacts school and life.    



Websites & Programs

Executive Function: A Series by Philip David Zelazo, PhD (external website)
This 6-part series explains executive function, including its development during infancy and early childhood, brain growth, and associated disorders.




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