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Our Picks: Three Summer Learning Apps/Games for T(w)eens

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Let’s face it—teens love their screen time. But, it doesn’t need to be wasted on Netflix or Fortnite. Check out our top three summer picks for games and apps that will keep your teen interested (while building executive function skills at the same time!).

  1. Pixton
    • This website allows kids to make comics they can print or share online. Pixton is a great tool for practicing creative writing skills and developing social skills. The website is available in any web browser and is very user-friendly!
    • Price: FREE
  1. Middle School Confidential 1: Be Confident in Who You Are
    • This is a great tool to prepare your child for the social challenges of middle school! This app is presented as a graphic novel and helps kids navigate the social issues of middle school through stories, tips, and quizzes. Topics include self-esteem, making friends, and fitting in. The app is available for iOS, Android, Kindle Fire, and Nook HD.
    • Price: $2.99
  1. Instructables
    • This app/website is FULL of DIY projects for teens! Many of these projects are great for developing organizational and planning skills, as well as improving attention. Sit with your child and select a summer project.
    • Price: FREE

What are your favorite apps/sites for the summer? We would love to hear your feedback!

Erica MechlinskiOur Picks: Three Summer Learning Apps/Games for T(w)eens

The Process of Decision-Making

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By Kristin Backert

We’re faced with a myriad of decisions every day, and most people prefer to use the same tactic to accomplish any task they encounter. However, it’s important to be flexible when faced with a new task so you can effectively complete it. According to a recent study by the University of Illinois at Urbana-Champaign, “People often take different approaches to decision-making. They might apply different strategies, consider different elements of the problem or assign value to the options differently.” For example, you might decide to study for your Spanish test by using flashcards while you might decide to study for your World History exam by creating a timeline of important events. When deciding how to tackle an issue, you need to take a variety of factors into consideration before you make a decision. With the Spanish and World History tests, for instance, you have to think about the type of material you need to know. If the Spanish test is focusing solely on new vocabulary words, then making flashcards best enables you to recall the information. If the test had been on past and future tenses, then flashcards might not be the optimal studying tool because they don’t allow you to practice creating sentences and envisaging scenarios when it’s appropriate to use a given tense.

Whether you’re choosing a studying method or trying to figure out the best way to travel somewhere, you use past experience to help inform your decision. If, for example, you made a timeline for your last World History test and passed, then it makes sense to use this strategy again for your next test! If, though, the timeline did not help, then the decision you make for the new test will differ because you have learned from your past decision.

The most important thing to remember about making decisions is that you need to be flexible. Instead of stubbornly claiming that there’s only one right way to accomplish something, you should instead consider a variety of paths you can take and weigh the pros and cons of each one. When you’re more aware of your decision-making process, you can ensure that you choose the right strategy for the task at hand!

Erica MechlinskiThe Process of Decision-Making

How to Deal with Writer’s Block

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By Kristin Backert

Picture the scene: You’re at the computer, sitting in your favorite chair. You open Google Docs in one tab and the directions for your paper in another. You put your fingers on the keyboard, the ideas rolling in your head. And then…nothing. You draw a blank, and everything you knew about the topic is off vacationing in Paris. And now, you’re stuck in front of the computer with a blinking cursor mocking you from a blank white page.

Writer’s block is a common yet unfortunate problem that many students have faced. Whether it’s a short response paper, a critical paper, or a dissertation, it can be extremely hard to know how to get started. Luckily, though, there are a few strategies you can use to get past this struggle:

  • Talk it out. Whether it’s to a friend, a relative, or a stuffed animal, talking out loud can help light a spark. It’s important to get out of your head, and by talking it out, you’re better able to focus on the ideas you want in your paper. If you talk to a real person, they can even act as a sounding board and help you clarify the points you want to make.
  • Dictate your ideas. Do you ever have that feeling where you know exactly what it is you want to say but you can’t translate your thoughts to paper? If that sounds all too familiar, then you may benefit from dictating your ideas. You can ask a friend or use a voice software program that will type out what you say, making it easier for you to focus solely on your ideas.
  • Skip the introduction. Introductions are the hardest part; it’s difficult to introduce the main ideas of your paper when you have yet to write the body paragraphs. Instead of trying to write your intro first, jump straight to the body paragraphs.
  • Walk away from the computer. Mindlessly staring at the computer won’t make words appear on the page. If you’re stuck, walk away from the computer and take a break. Go outside or go in another room and take a deep breath; a change of environment can help you refocus.
  • Use a timer. The idea of sitting in front of a computer for several hours to work on a paper doesn’t sound appealing, and that fear can deter you from writing. To make writing more bearable, try using a timer. Work for a short time (15-20 minutes) and then give yourself a 5-minute break.

Writer’s block is an enemy of students, but it doesn’t have to be YOUR enemy. Try using these strategies the next time you’re working on a paper, and let us know how they go!

Erica MechlinskiHow to Deal with Writer’s Block

The Relationship between Executive Function Skills and Language

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By Jennifer Sax & Mallory Rotondo

Language is not limited to what we speak and hear. In fact, it plays an integral role in our ability to complete many executive functioning tasks. The relationship between executive functioning and language is reciprocal, meaning each skill set is dependent on the other for success.

While it may not be an obvious connection, language is essential to success in executive function (EF) tasks such as turning in homework on time, morning routines, or following complex directions. In these examples, language serves as our “internal script”, guiding us as we monitor, plan, and execute tasks. This internal script is called metacognition. As adults, our internal thought process is natural and automatic. However, for those with EF weaknesses, mental language skills may be underdeveloped.

To illustrate the reciprocal relationship between language and EF skills, let’s consider Johnny, a 13 year old student, and how these skills work together in different areas of communication.

Oral Language
When Johnny wants to tell a story about his weekend, he has to mentally plan and sequence events (metacognition) before speaking. This mental organization allows his story to make sense to a listener. Without the EF skills of planning and organization, his story may lack structure and/or important details. As Johnny speaks, he must determine whether his listener understands his story and adjust accordingly. This requires intact self-regulation skills.

Written Language
Johnny’s teacher has assigned a 5-paragraph essay on the First Amendment. Before Johnny starts writing, he must use the EF skills of prioritization and long-term planning to research the topic and select the most important information to include. Then, Johnny needs to integrate this information into an organized outline, creating a plan for his paper. From there, he must sequence and organize this information into well-structured sentences, and incorporate transitions to write paragraphs that flow from one to the other. Throughout the process, he must utilize self-monitoring and problem solving skills to edit and evaluate his work.

Auditory Comprehension
In science class, Johnny is listening to a lecture on the respiratory system. As his teacher speaks, Johnny must sustain attention to her voice while inhibiting background distractions, a foundational EF skill. Johnny’s working memory is active as he processes language and determines what information is important to include in his notes. Throughout the lecture, Johnny utilizes metacognition and self-awareness to monitor his understanding of material and ask questions when necessary.

Reading Comprehension
Johnny is reading The Outsiders for his English class. While he is reading, he needs to sustain attention to the text and utilize working memory to decode, or sound out, new words. His working memory is also actively integrating world knowledge (what he already knows) with new information to make sense of the text. Johnny’s cognitive flexibility and problem solving skills allow him to make inferences and predictions about the novel, as well as use context to define unknown vocabulary. Finally, Johnny uses metacognition to check for understanding as he reads.

It is essential to understand the reciprocal relationship between language and EF skills to help students succeed both academically and in life. A certified Speech Language Pathologist is often the best resource to help parents and students understand that connection, and provide treatment when there are difficulties.

Erica MechlinskiThe Relationship between Executive Function Skills and Language

Managing Anxiety: Quick Tips to Support Your Child

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By Mallory Rotondo, M.S., CF-SLP

All behavior is a form of communication. There are many reasons why a child may become disruptive or have a tantrum, and it can be challenging to identify the underlying cause of this behavior. When anxiety is fueling negative behavior, it is particularly complicated to figure out.

The National Institute of Mental Health (2017) reported that anxiety affects 31.9% of adolescents (ages 13-18) in the United States. While anxiety is not formally considered a learning disability, it certainly inhibits a child’s ability to learn. When a child is experiencing anxiety, they have poor regulation skills, limited executive functioning, and develop rigid social thinking that prevents them from taking another person’s perspective.

The key to supporting a child with anxiety is to identify and prevent anxiety triggers and build social-emotional skills to cope when anxiety arises.

Katrina Schwartz, of MindShift, a company investigating and reporting on trends in learning, wrote an excellent article summarizing tips to support children with anxiety in schools (Check out the full article in the link below).

While Schwartz’s article is directed toward teachers, here are 5 great ways to support your child with anxiety at home:

  1. Take breaks. But make sure they are cognitively-engaging. Breaks are important for a kid with anxiety. But if the break isn’t paired with a cognitive distraction, it may leave the child ‘stuck’ in their negative thought process. Encourage breaks which occupy the mind (e.g., crossword puzzle, sudoku, reading a book for pleasure).
  2. Avoid countdowns. Counting down doesn’t help the child who feels anxious about finishing. Instead, find a functional stopping point. For example, “Let’s finish the problem you’re working on” or “Finish that paragraph and then join us for dinner”.
  3. Help your child recognize the signs. Talk your child through a ‘body check’. What does their body feel like when they are getting anxious? Get specific, and write it down. Self-monitoring is important to anticipating moments of anxiety.
  4. Reward practice. When a child utilizes a skill or self-calming strategy, reward the practice! Even if it didn’t work perfectly, praise him for his attempt to take control.
  5. Use a dry erase board. Does your child fear they will mess up or write the wrong thing? Try utilizing a dry erase board, where mistakes are easily erased. This may reduce some of that stress during homework time.

For more great tips, visit Katrina Schwartz’s article at:


Erica MechlinskiManaging Anxiety: Quick Tips to Support Your Child

Six Ways to Help Your Child Overcome the Fear of Failure

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ICYMI on Facebook:

School can be extremely stressful, and many students have an overwhelming fear of failure. This feeling can prevent them from getting work done because they feel too anxious to complete a task, or it can make them feel as though they aren’t good enough. If your child can relate to this, here are six ways you can help him overcome his fear of failure. #TipTuesday

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Erica MechlinskiSix Ways to Help Your Child Overcome the Fear of Failure

The Memory Game

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By Colette Leudeu Hapi

Most people, if not everybody, are aware of the fact that when we store information, we create memories. Many of us are also aware that there are multiple types of memories: long-term memory and short-term memory. However, did you know that there is a third type of memory that is just as important in our daily lives as the other two? Each type of memory plays a fundamental role in the way we remember, learn, and create. So what exactly is the difference between long-term, short-term, and that mysterious third memory known as working memory? I’m glad you asked!

Short-Term Memory vs Long-Term Memory
Short-term memory differs from long-term memory in two fundamental ways. As its name suggests, short-term memory allows the human brain to keep information in the mind for a very short period of time, such as remembering a phone number long enough until you are able to dial it. The extent of short-term memory lasts within seconds to minutes and then dissipates if effort is not made to retain the information for long-term use. Long-term memory, however, can store vast amounts of information and is usually permanent (nothing lasts forever, alas!). It is responsible for the retention of memories that have to do with life experiences, knowledge about how to perform tasks, and how to properly speak a specific language.

Short-Term Memory vs Working Memory
Working memory allows the manipulation of information and is often interchangeably used with short-term memory, even though the two are very different. Although short-term memory plays a role in working memory, working memory is a theoretical framework of the structure of how memory manipulation works. Working memory is key to learning, as it helps individuals hold on to information long enough to use it. For example, working memory is responsible for many of the skills children use to learn to read. Auditory working memory helps children hold on to the sounds letters make long enough to sound out new words, and visual working memory helps children remember what those words look like so they can recognize them in the future. When working effectively, these skills keep children from having to sound out every word they see. This then helps them read with less hesitation and become fluent readers. 

Working Memory and Executive Functioning
Before something is learned, it must pass through working memory. For individuals with executive dysfunction, they are often distracted while performing a task that the information does not pass through working memory due to inattentiveness. For example, they might need to re-read a worksheet three times before the information travels through their working memory, which will help children remember what they are supposed to.

Three Types of Memory
Remember: there is not one, not two, but three types of memory. Short-term memory allows you to remember a specific piece of information for a short amount of time (hence the name). Long-term memory, on the other hand, is responsible for life experiences and is meant to last for extended periods of time. Both of these types of memories help us function in school and work, but it is really with the help of our working memory that we are able to be successful. When we manipulate information in our working memory, we retain information from a previous task or question and use that to solve a new problem or complete a task. Although it might seem overwhelming at times to strengthen all three types of memory, there are many strategies you can use, such as visualization, mnemonics, or chunking. It is important to note that memory works just like any muscle group and has to be attended to regularly in order to see and keep any improvements that have been made.

Erica MechlinskiThe Memory Game

Coaching a Growth Mindset

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ICYMI on Facebook:

If you want your child to develop a growth mindset, it’s important that you offer support. Altering the type of feedback you give to her, such as focusing on the positives and acknowledging that a task is difficult yet not impossible, can motivate your child to improve her mindset and work habits.

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Erica MechlinskiCoaching a Growth Mindset

Thank you, Parents!

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By Rhona Gordon

I wanted to write this blog because it is time to acknowledge all of the hard work parents do for their children. I know that most children do not believe that their parents know what they are talking about, but I believe in you!

When I meet with new families, each family comes to our office with its own dynamic. Some are bantering in the office with their children and all laugh about how many coats went missing this year or how many completed assignments were left at home and never turned in. Some families come and the child tells me that everything is going fine and there is nothing to worry about while the parents report a very different story, and there are some children who really would rather be anywhere besides my office! However, some come to Thinking Organized with anxiety that hinders their performance and ability to complete their work. No matter how the child presents himself or herself, the parents are trying very hard to reinforce a child’s hard work and gently discuss the real reason the family is looking for help. That requires a lot of patience and measured word choice by the parents who are looking to help build a child’s self-esteem rather than punish him or her.

As your child begins his or her work with Thinking Organized, parents again step in to reinforce, encourage and in some cases make sure that the child is using the strategies taught. This is not an easy job because it takes time and stamina, but our parents are committed. Parents are busy with their own obligations, other children and family, yet I get reports that parents stay up with their children when the children are struggling, or some worry silently because getting involved will not be helpful for the child.  Whichever strategy you use, it is hard and stressful for parents to watch their child struggle. This is exhausting work and you are doing it!

It is time for Thinking Organized to remind all of our parents that we are not only here to cheer your child on, but also cheer our wonderful parents on. As I think I have told each one of you when we first met, effective executive functioning skills can be taught and learned, but it takes time. So, don’t give up, but do take a break. And this is the perfect time to kick back, relax and just enjoy your family! We wish you and your family a very happy holiday season and a healthy and happy New Year!

We look forward to seeing everyone in 2018!


Erica MechlinskiThank you, Parents!