Executive Function: What it is, what it does, and why your kids don’t have it (yet)

Have you ever been in the checkout line when it hits you—Milk!—and you have to haul it to the dairy aisle and back before it’s too late?

That’s your working memory saving you from another trip to the store. Working memory is just one component of executive function—which is a fancy term for the ability to focus, plan, remember, and have self-control.

Executive function consists of working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-control—skills that help us make plans, manage time, resist temptation, and remember the milk.

However, these are not skills we’re born with.

Executive function skills develop over time, which means that little ones under the age of three are learning them, practicing them, or don’t have them at all.

But whether you’re a little one just learning or an experienced adult, nothing derails executive function skills quite like stress. And what’s more stressful than the Holidays? It’s hard enough for us grown-ups to keep our executive function skills on track this time of year—let alone our kids who are just starting to develop those skills.

Here are some tips to help you relieve your frustration and give your brain (and your kid’s!) a helping hand.

Make a list…check it twice.

Make all the lists. You can never have too many. Even if you forget the list at home, you will have the tactile memory of writing each item. However, remember the list.

You can also ask your kids to help remember the grocery list—it makes them feel involved, helps build their working memory skills, and might even save you a last minute dash from the checkout line.

Let the little ones help.

Kids can be a massive help in the kitchen, when they are given tasks that match their skill level.  Take it from my personal experience: Thanksgiving is NOT the time to start knife training—that is unless you fancy extensive urgent care lines.

Here are some tasks that all kids can help with that will give you a hand AND help them develop some executive function skills of their own:

  • Washing fruits and veggies
  • Mashing the potatoes
  • Measuring ingredients (think of the math!)
  • Making place settings
  • Setting the table
  • Cleaning up

Summon your executive function.

If you’re feeling overwhelmed, remember that stress is messing with you—and your executive function. Now that you know what those skills are and what they do, you can take a step back from the stress and remind yourself that you’re an expert. And if you feel your patience wearing thin, remember that your kids are still learning.


Now, go get that shopping done.


Fun Facts for Your Next Play Group: Handling Holiday stress

On October 31st I had the fright of my life. It was a fall day like any other: Leaves were changing, wind was blowing, children walked blissfully in their Halloween costumes. Then it happened—a sight so scary I nearly fell off my bike…

People were putting up holiday decorations.

I was immediately struck with panic. A series of questions rushed through my brain: What day is it? Did I miss the Tofurkey? Have I been abducted by aliens?

I went from the excitement of candy to the fear that I didn’t have my holiday shopping complete. I know I am not alone in this. The time-warp between Halloween and Christmas is maddening. It’s stressful, and your kids are picking up on it. 

A massive part of your little one’s development is social emotional, and the strategies you provide your little one with to handle stress are more valuable than any king-size candy bar.

Here are some quick tips to help you and your family destress this holiday season.

Stick to a routine.

Kids thrive under a steady routine. Try your best to stick to nap and bedtimes. While sticking to a schedule maybe hard this time of year, it is WAY easier than trying to reestablish post-holiday crazy.

Maybe don’t eat all the cookies.

It is easy to give treats during the holiday season. Pies, cookies, cakes—no matter where you look there’s temptation…for you and your kiddo. While you are welcomed to get your sugar high on, make it a sometimes treat for the kids. Random tip, if your kids discover the frosting container in the fridge you can level out the sugar crazies with water. That being said, keep your kids hydrated.

Just say no.

It’s okay to say no. Are you invited to another holiday party, a cookie swap, another playdate? Before you say yes, take a moment and be realistic with yourself. Do you or your child honestly have the time or energy to attend? Remember your friends are just as crazy busy and stressed as you are. If you say no, they will understand.

Forget perfection.

Not every year has to be a Martha Stewart year. Did you forget something? Burn something? Did the children already destroy their holiday clothes? It happens. What matters is how you handle it. Take a deep breath…take 10 deep breaths. Remind yourself that this is a moment and it too shall pass.

My final little tip is to live in the day. I am the biggest “tomorrow” person. I am constantly thinking about what I have to do tomorrow, the next day, the next week. I do this so often that I tend to miss the amazing moments that happen around me. So although the holiday decorations are up, remind yourself that it is November and relax.



Very Busy Toddler

Each time your child visits the museum it’s a brand new experience.

“Treehouse…been there, done that,” you might think after your first or second visit, but not so fast— for kids, the museum experience is never the same.

It’s true! Children are constantly creating new experiential memories that scaffold them to higher thinking. Think of it this way: On one visit, your little one learns how the nuts and bolts work. During their next visit, those very skills help them to build a massive structure in Skyline that you will take a billion pics of and gram the tags #childgenius #futurearchitect #chicagochildrensmuseum.

Studies show that the best way to learn is by making experiential connections.

Take it from me: I can tell my mother how to use Snapchat, but it’s not until she sends me a ton of selfies of her as a puppy…or swapping faces with my dad (seriously, Mom: Enough)—that’s when I know she has learned this new skill.

Play creates the same experiential connections to power amazing brain-building results. Between birth and five, children make more neurological connections than any other time in their lives. If only there was a place designed for children where they could learn through play…oh, wait… There is!

Now that you know all of the amazing benefits of play and experiential learning, let’s take a closer look at some of the exhibits at Chicago Children’s Museum.

Treehouse Trails

Ah! The great outdoors without the bugs and rain. Use all your senses as you explore the trickle of the water from the waterfall. Practice your hand and eye coordination as you catch fish in our stream. Make a delicious meal, and real life connections, as you play in the cabin. Play in the canoe, climb a rope, and go down the slide as you take safe risks…and get out some energy.

Very Busy Toddler Video 1 blog image

Thankful Cards

The Thanksgiving season is upon us and we want to know, who are you thankful for? In the Kraft Artabounds Studio, visitors have been creating one-of-a-kind cards to show how much they care about the special people in their lives.


How do you and your family give thanks?


Join us in the studio this week to design your own card. Be sure to check our calendar for studio hours. We look forward to seeing you here!

Snow Much Fun experience is now open! (video)

Where can you throw snowballs, dress up a snowman and skate in your socks?
Chicago Children’s Museum, of course! An all-new Snow Much Fun, the museum’s much-loved winter experience, is now open. This family favorite has been re-imagined as an immersive snowy cityscape that’s the perfect setting for winter fun—no mittens required!

Last Weekend (Oct 26-27) for SPOOKY OCTOBER and READY, PET, GO!

This weekend (October 26 – 27, 2013) is your last chance to experience Spooky October at Chicago Children’s Museum! Paint your face, make your own costume, explore our SPOOKY Backyard or do all three! Chicago Children’s Museum is the perfect place for families with children of all ages to experience and celebrate the fall season indoors (especially when it feels more like winter outside!).

owl costume

It’s also the final weekend for Ready, Pet, Go! CCM’s beloved exhibit about all things pets! Snuggle up and read a book in our giant nest, pretend to be a cat and climb our “kiddie condo” or coral and groom our giant stuffed animal horses!
Ready, Pet, Go! closes October 27.


You won’t want to miss these awesome exhibits! See you soon!

Labor Day Weekend!

School may have started for some kids, but there is still time to enjoy the last days of summer this Labor Day weekend! Chicago Children’s Museum will be open all weekend long, Monday too! Join us for fun programs like:




Pec Pets

and The Laugh Shack‘s LIVE OPEN MIC!
This is the final weekend for The Laugh Shack! You won’t want to miss it!

IMG_9905Please note, the museum will be closed after Labor Day Monday (September 3 – 6, 2013) for improvements. See you this weekend!

Q and A with Threadless Winner, Aaron Jay!

Our Threadless design challenge winner, Aaron Jay, was at Chicago Children’s Museum  hosting a workshop: Wearable Illustrations! Visitors worked with Aaron to draw their own wearable patch. We asked Aaron about his experience at CCM and in Chicago.

Aaron Jay 1

What did it mean for you to win the Threadless & Chicago Children’s Museum “Real Play” design challenge?
As soon as I saw the challenge posted I felt like this was something I needed to win. The brief for the competition fit really well with my style so it seemed obvious to give it my best shot. It meant a great deal to win as I had put in a lot of effort to make sure I had a decent chance against strong competition from other artists.

How did you enjoy your visit at Chicago Children’s Museum?
Initially I was quite nervous however the staff were extremely friendly and helpful so I felt at home almost immediately. The children I worked with were really enthusiastic and the one on one interactions were by far my favorite part of the whole experience.

What was leading the workshop like?
Leading the workshops was really rewarding, I found the imagination and creativity of the children was really inspiring. The children seemed really interested in the drawing with the tablet as well as watching me sketch, I often realized after the workshop that the kids had taken my sketches home with them which was heartwarming.

Aaron Jay 2

Did you have any favorite moments or interactions with the kids?  Any surprises?
My favorite moment was drawing completely random things with kids after they had finished the activity, we would be laughing and sketching and I would often forget that I was there to lead the workshop as I was busy having fun. Another favorite was receiving a hand drawn thank you note from one of the children.

What was your impression of Chicago?
I have actually been to Chicago previously however this time I managed to take in a lot of the sights and eat pretty much all the food available around the city, so I would say this experience was far more interesting and exciting and maybe a little bit fattening.

http://www.threadless.com/product/5018/Dream_Big/tab,guys/style,shirtYou can purchase the t-shirt Aaron designed for CCM here.

Why Did The Chicken Cross The Road?

To get to Chicago Children’s Museum’s new pop-up exhibit, Laugh Shack!

Logo Graphic

We’ve opened a comedy club just for kids! Welcome to the Laugh Shack, a place to hone your funny bone and get seriously silly. Try out some goofy faces, learn a wacky walk or build an arsenal of original knock-knock jokes. Once your material is ready, it’s time to hit the stage and showcase your best bits! Does your comedy personality wear a hat? Use a prop? Or maybe you’re a bit of prankster! Whatever your sense of humor, you’re sure to have your family in stitches at the Laugh Shack!

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Open every day in August. Check out our website for more information and for programming times.

Summer Dance Parties!

Our staff has been hard at work, moving and grooving, to learn as many moves as possible for Summer Dance Parties, happening every Friday and Saturday night this July. Enjoy a variety of music, learn popular dance moves and boogie the night away. The fun begins today!