Assessment of Childhood Advancement in Executive Function by Way of an Enhanced Learning Curriculum

Student Researcher:
Alycia Amatto

Supervisor / Principle Investigator:
Robbin Gibb

Additional Authors:
Claudia Gonzalez
Lara Coelho
Celeste Halliwell

MD Class of 2020


Introduction: Executive functions are a grouping of mental skills including; working memory, inhibitory control and cognitive flexibility. These skills have been found to be better predictors of educational success than IQ. In 2014 kindergarten children were assessed on readiness entering school, and the results showed the children of Lethbridge, Alberta were lagging developmentally (compared to national results). This motivated the establishment of the Building Brains and Futures Project (BBF) to address these deficits by enhancing executive function. The research question addressed was “Will children show significant improvement in executive function through implementation of an extended curriculum and increased parental awareness?”

Methods: The extended curriculum (10 executive function skill building games) was implemented in 4 early education sites in Lethbridge for one year. A total of 44 right handed children (24 males; ages 3-5) took part in the pre/post curriculum implementation study. The pre/post tests were comprised of 3 grasping tests, 4 table-top executive function tests, 1 vocabulary test and 3 subjective parental questionnaires. The non-normative data was assessed with Wilcoxon tests (pre/post).

Results: The results showed significant improvements in the post-test (compared to pre-test), for 3 of 4 table-top games (p’s<.03) There were also significant decreases in total errors in all three grasping tasks (p’s<.01), and a significant decrease in total time in the mega block building task (p<.001). Lastly there were significant changes in 2 of 3 questionnaires (p’s<.059).

Discussion: The BBF Initiative was successful in improving multiple objective measures of executive function, on which participants had not been explicitly trained.