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The Power of Why?

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By Stephan Nazarian

I’ve always been curious, to the point that my mother nearly lost the last bit of her sanity during my childhood as I demanded explanations for everything that she told me and wandered off to satisfy my curiosity whenever her back was turned. While I might have been more inquisitive than most, all children can drive their parents and teachers up the wall with their curiosity. There are few things more humbling in the world than being asked to explain how or why something works and having to admit that you either don’t know or can’t begin to explain. 

As I’ve pondered how best to help parents build strong executive functioning and logical thinking skills in their children, I think that turning the tables may be one of the most powerful methods for parents. During sessions, I ask my students “why?” a lot. If I want to find the y-intercept of a quadratic or linear equation, I just have to plug in 0 for the x term. Great! Why? The overly punitive provisions of the Treaty of Versailles crippled Germany’s economy and set the stage for World War II. Interesting. Why?

I think that this technique is incredibly powerful for a number of reasons, but I think the most important is something that I emphasize to my students constantly: it’s easy. There are countless ways for parents to help their children grow as students and as thinkers, but many are more time-consuming than we can manage. Asking your children to explain what they’re learning in school and then asking them to dig deeper into why those things are true is simple. And yet, this one question will encourage your children to process the information that they’re learning at a much deeper level. Everything we’re learning about the science of memory teaches us that our ability to remember information we hear or read once is very low. The simplest method of increasing that retention is repetition. We’ve all repeated a series of numbers in our head ad nauseum to ensure that we remember them. But the most effective method of retaining information is elaboration, where we take the information and add something to it that is already in our memory. Comparing the events of World War II to the latest episode of Naruto embeds that knowledge much more deeply in our brain than simply repeating the key events ever could.

By asking your children to explain things themselves and create personal connections between the material, they must process the information in a new way. By encouraging them to create analogies, explain how one thing leads to another, put the same thought into different terms, and push past surface level facts, they have to elaborate on the information in new ways, which will help them improve their retention. At the same time, they have to think for themselves, to look for connections, to consider alternative methods, and to interact actively with the things that they are learning. This kind of deeper thinking will help them learn to make the simple inferences that are at the root of good critical thinking. By encouraging them to make inferences regularly, you will be strengthening skills that are at the foundation of all the education they will receive as adults, where understanding is infinitely more important than memorization. 

Erica MechlinskiThe Power of Why?

The Tie that Binds

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By Katarina Yngente

Having disabilities in the family is complicated. My younger sister has hydrocephalus, a neurological disorder in which her brain produces extra fluids that crowd her brain. Her hydrocephalus required repeated brain surgeries throughout our childhood and numerous therapeutic interventions to remediate a slew of learning disabilities and mental health needs. While my sister’s experience is ultimately one of courage and resilience, growing up with such demanding medical needs in the family was both challenging and rewarding.

The most salient challenge was communication. Since my sister’s need for surgery was unpredictable, my parents had to create a protocol for informing our community. Once at the hospital, my mom secured childcare for us kiddos, and my dad summoned our extended family to cycle through the hospital so that my sister was never alone. Another challenge was navigating the realm of support services, which, unless you already work in education or healthcare, is very difficult to comprehend. The biggest challenge of all was maintaining a loving and judgment-free zone through all of the logistics and frustrations. For my parents, having a child with complex medical needs and navigating the education and healthcare systems, all while working full-time and raising other kids… it all wears on you – on your emotional well-being, your mental health, and your relationship. 

Despite the infinite challenges, having a family member with disabilities can also be rewarding. My family recognizes – and truly values – how different perspectives bring nuance and depth. We always have an open-door policy at home and lovingly welcome anyone and everyone to dinner. Such a unique family experience strengthened our bond and, to this day, continues to enrich our relationship both within our family unit and outside. 

Here are a few lessons that I learned from this experience:

  • Humor makes even the toughest situations better
  • Appreciate the little things
  • A disability does not define; identity is multifaceted and we need to appreciate others beyond their abilities/disabilities 
  • “Love and kindness” is more than a mantra; it’s an approach to building relationships, even when that may be more difficult because of a disability
  • It takes a village: take the help, whether from a friend or a professional. Parents don’t/shouldn’t have to do it all on their own 

Having disorders and disabilities in the family makes for a complicated and nuanced experience. While there are numerous challenges and rewards, a family can be left with values and bonds strengthened by their resilience.

Erica MechlinskiThe Tie that Binds

Carving Out Time

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By Jennifer Sax

It’s hard to remember a time when my to-do list was empty. As a working mom, it can be hard to balance what I need to accomplish to be a successful professional, with what I need to take care of in my daily life. This certainly was the case for me in the fall of 2020, when I returned from maternity leave and found myself working full-time from home. The boundaries between work and home life felt blurry, and taking time for myself felt like a luxury. New mom or not, COVID or not, student or not, most people can relate to feeling like a 24-hour day just isn’t enough. Although everyone’s life circumstances are different, I’ve found that carving out time for all parts of my life is essential to keep me feeling healthy, sane, and more productive. 

One way I manage my time is by creating a to-do list that’s synced with my digital calendar. Although many people choose to use separate calendars/lists for work and personal tasks, I’ve found that integrating them allows me to better visualize my day, ultimately making me more productive. My to-do list typically looks something like this:

My list includes weekly tasks, such as errands, work items, chores, and appointments. I also include long-term, often “aspirational” projects, such as organizing my closet. Although sufficient time to complete these larger tasks is rare, when the grandparents decide to babysit, I know where to look for inspiration. 

You may also notice that I include “self-care” activities, such as painting my nails, working out, and meal prepping. Unfortunately for many of us, personal time is often not a priority. Lately, I’ve realized that me-time is incredibly important; it renews my energy and focus, and creates space for me to be fully present when I’m working. Therefore, I always add self-care tasks as concrete items on my list to serve as a reminder of their importance, as well as to cue me to schedule them on my calendar. 

Although I would love to share my actual calendar to demonstrate how I fit it all in, I need to protect my clients’ privacy (#HIPPAlife). Instead, you’ll have to settle for… I mean, you will have the privilege of seeing my version of the Thinking Organized “How I Spend My Time Worksheet.” Using this worksheet or my personal calendar to create a detailed schedule helps me identify times when I’m free, especially when my to-do list is long. I block off work, daily routines, and appointments first. Then, I look at all of my available flex time. Believe it or not, I schedule my “self-care” tasks next, followed by errands and chores.

On particularly busy weeks, finding time to accomplish everything feels impossible. During these times, I pair activities together to be efficient. I’ll listen to an audiobook while folding the laundry, or I’ll call my family while washing dishes. I create space in my schedule by waking up 30 minutes earlier to workout, cooking a crockpot meal, or ordering my groceries online. On these weeks, I make an effort to schedule time for phone calls with friends, to read a book, or watch Netflix, because these “smaller” self-care activities are important and necessary.

Reflecting back on the fall of 2020, I recognize that many of the challenges I faced balancing work and home life had to do with my mindset. I wanted to cook a family dinner every night, clean the house, play with my son, and be the one to put him to bed. While that may be a reality for some families, it isn’t for mine. I learned to establish a manageable schedule based on realistic expectations, as well as the value of delegation. I often rely on my husband’s support, hire someone to help me clean when I’m too busy, or take my son to grandma’s house so I can get more accomplished.  Of course, I could choose to stay up late doing laundry or finishing up work, but then other parts of my life would suffer. I learned to accept that there are days or weeks when everything cannot get done. There are 24 hours in a day, and I am only human.

Erica MechlinskiCarving Out Time

New Year, New Me

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By Colette Hapi


With the new year comes a profound sense of “newness.” Suddenly, we’re empowered and excited by the opportunities that a new year brings and come up with all sorts of New Year’s resolution ideas. We’re excited for a fresh start and all of the things that we plan on accomplishing. No wonder the hashtag #NewYearNewMe is so popular!

If you’re anything like me, your resolutions list will be about one mile long, fraught with things that you want to change, like taking up new hobbies, meeting new people, getting better grades, reading more books, or working out more. However great our intentions are, the statistics say that only about 10% of us ever achieve our New Year’s resolutions and break free from our bad habits. As much as it saddens me to say, I’ve been part of the 90% who don’t meet their resolutions far too often. One of the main reasons is that I usually make too many resolutions. Until recently, I hadn’t even thought about the fact that my long-winded list of resolutions was a reason for my downfall. In my attempt to be as detail-oriented as possible and address every area of my life, I created too many expectations and unrealistic goals. As a result, this huge list caused me to feel exhausted and completely over it by the third week of January. 

By trying to create so many drastic changes at once, I essentially shocked my system because I didn’t build those habits over time. It’s no wonder that I reverted back to my comfort zone and completely ignored my attempts to improve myself. So this year, I’m taking a different approach:

  1. Instead of writing a long and drawn-out list of things I’d like to change in my life, I’ll pick 2-3 areas and wholeheartedly focus on them over the course of the year. 
  2. Instead of focusing on the end goal, I’ll focus on making small changes in my daily repetitive routine. For example, I won’t focus on my goal of reading 20 books a year but will instead focus on reading for 30 minutes a day.

Taking on too much all at once can be daunting. It can be particularly difficult because establishing new behavioral patterns takes time and sustained effort. Focusing on one specific goal at a time makes keeping #NewYearNewMe much more achievable!

Erica MechlinskiNew Year, New Me

Executive Functioning and the Holidays

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By Madeline Albertine

Holiday season is officially here! For many, the holidays mean seeing family, taking time off of school/work, and relaxing. However, it can also be a busy season for parents who want to festively decorate their home, prepare fancy meals, or buy gifts for the whole family. The amount of prepping for the holidays can feel daunting at times, but with the right amount of planning, stressful situations can be managed. One way to do this? Include your kids in the process! 

The best part about involving your kids in holiday planning is that you can simultaneously lighten your own load while putting your children’s executive functioning skills to the test. There are lots of easy ways to involve your kids in the many holiday tasks that need to be completed. As a child, I didn’t realize how some of my own family traditions over the holidays were using and improving my executive functioning skills. For example, my family used a large calendar year-round that was placed in the kitchen where everyone could easily view it. This calendar became particularly important as the holiday season rolled around because it helped us keep track of all the important dates that we needed to remember. Some of these events required preparation, so my family wrote in tasks for completion on specific days to keep us organized. Things like when we wanted to hang up holiday decorations, place ornaments on the tree, or even go to grandma’s house to put icing on cookies were all included on our calendar! This task was further organized by having a color designated for each member of the family; that way, it was easy for me to spot plans that applied specifically to me.

Another tradition in my family was writing or typing out my Christmas wish list. Making a Christmas or Hanukkah wish list requires thinking ahead and careful planning, as any kid will tell you. Some years, this was easy because I knew exactly what I wanted. Other years, I searched the internet or asked friends what they were asking for to get inspiration and to ensure that my parents knew what I wanted. As I got older, my parents even included a budget to go with the wish list, which added an extra component of planning ahead for me (and let me tell you, sticking to a budget when you want so many things is hard!). 

These are just a couple ways my family involved us (the children) during the holiday season. Think about what might work for your family and start involving your kids in the planning process. Not only will they feel included, but they will also be improving their executive functioning skills without even knowing it!

Erica MechlinskiExecutive Functioning and the Holidays

Learning a New Skill

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By Kristin Backert-Evans

During the COVID-19 pandemic, I’m sure that you heard about the dozens of videos of people learning new skills. From baking bread to juggling to playing an instrument, it seemed like everyone was putting their newfound free time to good use. But if you’re like me, you might have just skipped those videos because you felt guilty for not discovering that you’re secretly a wonderful opera singer or a master jigsaw puzzler. Like a lot of people, I didn’t want to try something new and be bad at it. I mean, there are few worse feelings in the world, right? To try so hard and put in somuch time and effort, but in the end, to just fail. 

It’s a hard mindset to break out of, as I can attest to. This past summer, I embarked upon a magical yet soul-crushing journey: learning how to crochet. My sister-in-law makes great crochet figures, and I was struck with the desire to make myself a Charmander, which is one of my favorite Pokémon. Reader, it was not pretty. Although I grasped how to make a basic stitch, I kept accidentally increasing and decreasing stitches. My pieces would start off straight and then suddenly get wider and narrower at random moments. I’d accidentally rip the yarn into thin pieces and get weird knots in my designs. My husband encouraged me to watch tutorial videos and to remind myself that I was just a beginner. I understood what he was saying — “you’ll get it eventually! You’re still new to this!” — but he was just wrong. Why wasn’t I getting it? Why couldn’t I transform the yarn into the figures in my head? Why was I so terrible?

I hated it.

And yet…I also loved it. It was so relaxing to sit there and create something — even a wonky square — out of yarn. I failed time and time again, but I went back to it. Sure, I’d take several days off because I was convinced that I was the worst crocheter of all time, but after taking time to cool down, I’d pick up my needle again to figure out what I did wrong. Sometimes I could quickly figure it out; sometimes it took a bunch of more failures for me to see what I needed to do differently. I also started looking for patterns more at my level. While I had this vision of crocheting the most adorable Charmander right out of the gate, that may have been a tad unrealistic. I decided to instead shift gears to a small ball because that requires many basic techniques that would allow me to practice perfecting them. It was less exciting, but successfully making a ball increased my confidence and showed me that I’m not all that bad.

Sadly, I’m not a crochet master yet. Am I better than I was five months ago? Absolutely. Do some of my creations still somehow come out looking like blobs? You bet. But I’m sticking with it because it’s something that, despite all of the frustration that it causes, I really enjoy. So if you find yourself wanting to try something new but are afraid of failing, let me be the first to say that you WILL probably fail. You’ll feel angry and upset. You’ll question why you tried in the first place. But failing is a necessary part of learning, and if you stick with it and learn from those failures, you’re going to make progress. I guarantee it.

Erica MechlinskiLearning a New Skill

The Transition Isn’t Over Yet

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By Colette Hapi

It’s October (yay Fall!), and we’re a little over a month into the academic year. Usually, around this time, students have gotten used to their schedules and are really getting into the swing of things. However, this year is unlike any other. After a year and a half of virtual or hybrid learning, getting acclimated to participating in activities in person, including school, has been easy for some students but hard for others. Many students thrived on the online platform and relished in completing their assignments at a leisurely pace. Now, having to make the shift to school as they knew it, many are finding themselves struggling under the weight of the demands and expectations. 

While it may be tempting to take a step back during this “normal” time, we’re finding that students are still very much in need of assistance to adjust to this transition. If your children are finding it difficult to manage their in-person classes, there are a few steps that we highly recommend you try: 

  • Make sure that your children are staying on top of their work by checking in with them and encouraging them to use a calendar or planner to track their work 
  • Help them review each subject as needed (if you’re not a math whiz, help them identify someone who could be a good resource!)
  • Ensure that your children pencil in some social time with friends
  • Assist your children in advocating for themselves
  • Frequently check in on your children’s mental health

There’s no argument that the past year and a half has been physically, emotionally, and mentally challenging. Our children need more support now than in pre-COVID times, and that’s okay! As they get used to the hustle and bustle of a regular school year, you can slowly start to scale back your level of help. We will all get through this together! 

Erica MechlinskiThe Transition Isn’t Over Yet

Benefits of Nature on Cognition

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We hope you had a wonderful summer of fun and adventure! Summer is often the season when we get a chance to spend more time outside, whether that’s hiking, biking, swimming, or more. As the school year starts up, though, it can be hard to find the time to even take a simple walk. Sitting in a classroom or office all day is difficult on kids and adults alike, so this year, we highly recommend that you recharge in nature. According to scientists, here are some of the perks of spending time in the great outdoors:

Improves                                             Decreases 

focus                                                 anxiety and stress

short-term memory                         ADHD symptoms 

mood                                                 mental fatigue

stress hormones

Directed attention (what you might think of as focusing on a task for work or school) can be mentally exhausting if it is overused. Thinking Organized promotes focusing smarter not harder! We encourage taking strategic breaks to be efficient, and finding a green space to rest in might bring extra benefits.

According to Stress Recovery Theory and Attention Restoration Theory, the environment we are in can have a huge effect on psychological stress and mental fatigue. Many studies suggest that a natural environment can be more restorative than an urban one. Additionally, nature creates a stimulating environment that allows people to take a break from directed focus, allowing them to recharge. This creates feelings of fascination and has an overall positive effect. To focus more effectively on school and work, try spending some time in nature. Playing sports, having a picnic, gardening, hiking, or going on a walk can all provide a helpful dose of time outside. Just because summer is over doesn’t mean that we need to stay cooped up inside. 

At Thinking Organized, we are passionate about supporting and improving our clients’ cognitive abilities and providing them with solutions and tips to help them live a more productive life. 

Sources and more information:

Erica MechlinskiBenefits of Nature on Cognition

Having Fun with Executive Functioning Skills!

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By Aileen Choi

Summer is almost over, so I’m sure that you and your family are eager to travel in this last month before the new school year starts! Traveling is a great way for your children to practice their executive functioning skills (and yours, as well!).

Before we jump into how to involve your kids with planning a trip, it’s important to consider the benefits of planning ahead:

  • Booking tickets and hotels ahead of time makes it much more affordable to go away. Waiting until the last minute might mean switching to a less-desired option, or not going at all! One tip is to book flights more than a month in advance. Once it hits that one-month point, flight tickets tend to go up.
  • You can book all aspects of a trip without activities being sold out or full, including hotels and car rentals. Everyone can participate and select activities if you plan ahead of time, which is especially important if your traveling party has people of all different ages in it.
  • The best way for children to learn a skill is to have someone model what the process looks like. Involving teenagers in family trips is also a great way to pique their interest!

Feel ready to involve your children in planning? Great! Here’s some advice on how they can have fun thinking through how to create a memorable trip:

  • Let them choose an attraction or destination to visit. They can pick one small part of the trip or a larger part, depending on their age. Have them do the research and write notes about their plan. Before they begin, brainstorm together some of the things they’ll need to figure out, such as days/hours of operation, cost, tickets, directions, where to eat nearby, etc. 
  • Similarly, build an itinerary for each day. Together, choose a few places/sights/etc., that you want to see. Ask your children to figure out in what order you should travel to each location, how long you might spend at each place, restaurants in the area, and transportation if needed. Personally, I like using Google Sheets or an Excel document for my itineraries; I put the dates on the top and the time of day on the left-hand side. Here’s an example:
  • Create a packing list. Packing lists can be overwhelming, so this should be a structured process. Ask your children to visualize their day from waking up to going to bed. Then, brainstorm categories of items they’ll need, such as clothes, shoes, toiletries, and special activities (e.g., the beach). After making this list, they should then count the number of days of the trip, check the weather, and decide how many of each article of clothing they’ll need. 
  • If you’re going on a road trip, build your route together! Research attractions along the way and find the most reasonable route. Have your children estimate how long it’ll take to drive there and compare it to how long it actually takes. Plus, this allows them to enjoy the ride, rather than napping or zoning out the whole way through! 
  • One way to up the ante is to impose a budget. Ask your children to find a hotel or restaurant that doesn’t go over a budget. Or, give them a budget and ask them to plan an activity that will fit within the limits.

These are just some small ways to motivate your kids to get involved in trips while using their executive functioning skills. No matter where you travel to, make sure you start planning early. Save your family the stress of throwing a trip together at the last minute by planning ahead!

Erica MechlinskiHaving Fun with Executive Functioning Skills!

In Defense of Graphic Novels

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By Stephan Nazarian

The term “graphic novel” was coined in 1964, and these texts have grown in popularity ever since. Beloved by readers of all ages, graphic novels have inspired a great deal of debate amongst parents and educators. Certainly no one will deny that any reading is better than no reading, but many parents would prefer that their children read the kind of chapter books that they grew up with. I’ve never been a huge graphic novel fan, with the exception of some of the works that transcend genre like Alan Moore’s Watchmen, but having spent much of my life encouraging children to read, I’ll happily take any tool available to me. I completely understand the concern that since graphic novels replace so much of the text with images, they appear to require substantially less “reading.” But for any parent on the fence about the value of graphic novels, let me offer some advice on how this medium can play an important role in developing the emerging reading skills of young readers. 

Reading Abilities 

When evaluating your children’s reading abilities, there are two broad skills that are important: reading fluency and reading comprehension. Reading fluency is built by learning the basics of phonics and sound blending and then practicing those skills, with appropriate corrections where needed, until they are automatic. Traditional novels have substantially more words and thus more opportunities to practice reading fluency. Reading comprehension, however, is a much more nebulous skill, the most important component of which is reader engagement. A child with absolutely flawless reading fluency could read every single word of the most punishing Dostoevsky novel without having any idea what the book is actually about. Graphic novels present a wonderful opportunity to help your children build their reading comprehension skills precisely because these stories contain far fewer words. For children whose reading fluency is still emerging, it can be incredibly difficult to simultaneously worry about comprehension. Graphic novels can be a great tool to help your children develop their ability to understand what they are reading without the stress that reading fluency can often bring.

Adopt The Child’s Mindset 

My brother’s oldest son has reached the age where he’s venturing out into the world and is delighted by much of what he sees. There’s no switch that he doesn’t want to flip, and there’s no greater joy in life than identifying which chain controls the light and which controls the fan. When you tell him something, he’s never satisfied; he always wants to know why? This kind of rampant curiosity sometimes fades as children grow a little bit older and a little bit wiser. But it is exactly this kind of inquisitiveness that we should be encouraging in kids whenever they read anything, whether it be a graphic novel or a weighty, pictureless tome. When you’re asking your children about the graphic novel that they’re reading, adopt their mindset: constantly ask why. This superhero is the most powerful. Why? That character is really mean. Why? I’m scared that something bad is going to happen to this person. Why? Asking open-ended questions encourages children to think critically. What is it exactly that makes one character stronger/meaner/more likable than another? 

Make Predictions

One of the most important things children can do to help build their ability to read and understand is to make predictions. When your children are reading a graphic novel, ask them what’s happening in the story and then challenge them to make a prediction about what they think will happen next. Once they’ve hazarded a guess, ask them why? So many of the skills important to reading require a myriad of deductions that most adults make subconsciously. We observe or read about a person taking a series of steps, and through a combination of simple deductions, familiarity with archetypal plots, and countless other factors, we’re able to predict what will happen next. Like all skills, that skill must be practiced. So, challenge your children to predict what will happen in the next few pages, and even more importantly, try to identify what allowed them to make that prediction. If they think that the main character is nervous for an upcoming event, can they identify the clues that indicated that the protagonist was nervous? Were there sweat beads drawn on the character’s face? Did his facial expression suggest something about his tone? By challenging your children to identify these clues, you’re helping them build the ability to recognize evidence and make deductions. And perhaps more importantly, you’re subtly reinforcing to them that they should be reading actively. 

Reading all of the words in War and Peace and understanding nothing will do much less for the reading comprehension of a 7-year-old than throwing themselves completely into reading the graphic novel series that they love. If your children love graphic novels, consider encouraging them to use these texts as an opportunity to learn to read actively.  

Erica MechlinskiIn Defense of Graphic Novels