Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function
We prepare dinner while simultaneously helping our children with their homework and making notes about appointments we need to schedule for the week. We focus on our jobs when we need to and our families when they need us. We remember the phone number that our neighbor just gave us so we can write it down as soon as we find a pen. We take a deep breath, rather than honk, if the car in front of us fails to move immediately when the light turns green.
Executive function skills help us plan, focus attention, switch gears, and juggle multiple tasks—much like an air traffic control system at a busy airport. Acquiring the early building blocks of these skills is one of the most important and challenging tasks of the early childhood years. Their strength is critical to healthy development throughout childhood, adolescence, and early adulthood.
This working paper from the National Scientific Council on the Developing Child explains how these lifelong skills develop, what can disrupt their development, and how supporting them pays off in school and life.
Suggested citation: Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University (2011). Building the Brain’s “Air Traffic Control” System: How Early Experiences Shape the Development of Executive Function: Working Paper No. 11. Retrieved from www.developingchild.harvard.edu.