Executive Functions in Our Learners

By Dan Ahlstrom, Ph. ED.

One developmental transition that becomes increasingly important as students mature is their ability to plan, organize and execute. The ability to make sure things get done from the planning stages of the job to the final deadline is commonly called “Executive Function”. As your student moves through elementary school, the responsibility for managing things like a day planner, homework, and other school related tasks will shift from the parent to the student.

Nearly all students struggle with Executive Function at times. Good educators believe that we are not only responsible for teaching the content of our classes, but we are also charged with providing our students with the tools necessary tobe successful learners.  These skills should be a part of any successful educational environment.

Here at Cedar Learning we support great educators in fulfilling their vision every day.

Executive Functions

  • Impulse control: This is your child’s ability to stop and think before acting.
  • Emotional control: This is your child’s ability to manage her feelings by focusing on the end result or goal
  • Flexibility: This is your child’s ability to roll with the punches and come up with new approaches when a plan fails
  • Working memory: This is your child’s ability to hold information in her mind and use it to complete a task
  • Self-monitoring: This is your child’s ability to keep track of and evaluate her performance on regular tasks.
  • Planning and prioritizing: This is your child’s ability come up with the steps needed to reach a goal and to decide their order of importance
  • Task initiation: This is your child’s ability to get started on something
  • Organization: This is your child’s ability to keep track of information and things.

What Teachers can do

  • Create a structured, consistent classroom
  • Present information in more than one modality
  • Make learning as visual and concrete as possible
  • Repeat, repeat, repeat
  • Break down assignments and tasks into smaller more manageable chunks
  • Model inner speech and executive functioning skills
  • Develop lessons that are intended to teach the above skills
  • Create a system for students to get the information they need without feeling ridiculed or embarrassed
  • Don’t assume all students have executive functioning skills and do not assume that because they lack executive functions that they lack intelligence or ability

 What Parents can do

  • Make checklists. Listing the steps involved in a task will make it easier for your child to see how to get started.
  • Set time limits. Your child may struggle to budget time for an activity and also for each step of that activity
  • Use planners and calendars. Not all planners have to be on paper, which is a good thing if your child has trouble keeping track of items.
  • Explain yourself. Children who are inflexible thinkers or who have difficulty with emotional control don’t always take feedback well or see the point of learning new ways of do things.
  • Let your child explain, too. Just because kids have trouble with executive functioning skills doesn’t mean their way of doing something isn’t valid

Its Time for Sukkot

10/4/2020 Debby Kinman-Ford

Sukkot is one of my favorite holidays. Why?  It’s the ushpizin. Ask my colleague, Eytan, and he will tell you it is always a topic dear to my heart. The idea of the founding fathers visiting our sukkahs throughout the holiday warms my heart and inspires me.  I wonder especially this year, what they would say about this COVID Sukkot that we are all experiencing? Where I live, in the south, the weather is never in favor of Sukkot. It is almost always humid, rainy and hot. Sukkahs in the south are often used for all of five minutes and then dinner is actually had inside. So, it’s interesting that this year of all years, we have a cool spell coming through and town, its been unseasonable lovely.  Also, because we are in the middle of a pandemic, eating outdoors is actually desirable right now. It is the perfect time for Sukkot.  Now let’s push this idea out just a bit further and imagine you are still self-isolating, this is where the ushpizin comes in. even if you are alone this Sukkot, know that the ushpizin is there, visiting you, enjoying your Sukkot with you. Generations of Jews have celebrated this festival holiday and as we carry on this tradition, the ushpizin remind us, wherever we are, whoever we are with, we are not alone.  We have the lessons and experiences of generations of Jews to look to and to look forward with. Enjoy your Sukkot and Chag Samaech!

Ode to the Squeaky Wheel

9.17.2020 Dan Ahlstrom, Ed.D.

American humorist Josh Billings (1818-1885) in his poem, “The Kicker” is attributed with the popular phrase the squeaky wheel gets the grease.  It goes as follows: “I hate to be a kicker [complainer], I always long for peace, but the wheel that does the squeaking is the one that gets the grease.” 

This phrase is often used when pejoratively describing someone who complains until they get their way. Although it is true that no one wants to be labeled a complainer, I would like to suggest that expressing your concerns in an appropriate forum and in a constructive way is not only a good thing to do but, in many instances, necessary. The idea is simple enough, if you have a concern share it, because if you do not, it may never get addressed. 

As a leader, dealing with criticism comes with the territory and even the most toxic person in your community may have stumbled onto something relevant.

A few suggestions are: 1. Remember it takes time to identify and address concerns properly. 2. Ask questions and listen for understanding. 3. Timely replies not answers are essential 4. Patience and good humor are always appreciated when dealing with difficult board.

Here at Cedar Learning, we are working diligently on improving many aspects of school leadership, from curriculum, to staffing, board work, and better communication between the school and community to school culture.  Let us help support you as an educational leader.

Rosh Hashana- a time for reflection and perspective

9.13.2020 Debby Kinman-Ford

Next Friday begins Rosh Hashana. Clearly we all know this Rosh Hashana is different. We won’t be going to synagogue, no live services, in fact we don’t have to observe anything about this holiday this year at all. After all, no one will know.

I will miss the gatherings with friends, even our whole family won;t be together to celebrate. It feels much less warm and joyous but also more authentic and introspective. For me personally the timing is good. It was a very rough last year and the absence of crowds of people and not being in the synagogue is good. It gives me a chance to reflect on where my Judaism is when it is at its most solitary point. What do I want to atone for? what do I want for the coming year? How much longer can I deal with the inconveniences of COVID?

I invite you to think about where you are, where you have been the last year and where you want to be going forward. Because we don’t have all the places to be and real time agendas to attend to, its a great time time catch your breath and reflect, review and plan. Hoping this is helpful and rejuvenating. May you be inscribed in the book of live and have a joyful new year.

Change in the midst of change

9.4.2020 Debby Kinman-Ford

Change in the midst of change- is that even a thing? It is this year! If someone had told me in March we would still be living in a COVID world by September I would have thought them crazy. Yet now we find ourselves starting a school year in brick and mortar, in virtual schools, in online schools and hybrids. As we creep forward, now we find we have no in person high holiday services. I’ve been following on FB so many educators discussing meaningful remote high holiday ideas for their students or little congregants and it got me thinking about what we want children to learn from this new year compared to others. Certainly not having to sit still for hours is a plus for the squirmy kids (AKA most kids) and not having to dress up probably also a plus but moreover this year does in fact give us the opportunity to create our own family high holiday experience. Now its up to our families to teach the importance of the Jewish new year, of new beginnings and goals to do better and remorse for things we didn’t do so well. Its another opportunity for families to create a experience for them that is real and genuine for their spiritual identity. Hopefully these last six months have taught us a lot and we have learned much about our values as a family through all of this. How important contact is- virtual or otherwise, how much we value friends, family and community. As we move forward to me this high holiday season allows us a chance to make it unique to our families and that is exciting. There is no fail just our attempts to put a place for spirituality into our lives. Changing up our experience in changing times. It is a thing after all!

Open-Ended Learning Happening NOW

8.26.2020 Debby Kinman-Ford

Chaos! It’s all chaos!!! Is there school? When is school? Where is school? What will school look like? Who is my teacher? Do I want to teach virtually or in person? How will parents flex and change their work demands to accommodate their children’s learning needs? It’s a mess out there and there is no denying it.

HOWEVER….This is the ultimate open-ended learning experience as families decide what will work for their child and their family. Like most open-ended learning, there is not a right or wrong answer for anyone, there is only the right answer for their house. And whether you are a teacher or student, looking at the materials in front of you and finding a solution, then adapting when and if it doesn’t work, is exactly what we want children to learn when they do open-ended STEM activities. Further, this situation requires teamwork. Parents working together adjusting budgets, schedules, designing rooms in their house and who knows what else. Teachers often being asked to work with students in ways they are not proficient at. Then underlining all of this- safety. If this isn’t open-ended learning, I don’t know what is!

Share this real life application with your children/students. It is an amazing time which will teach valuable lessons like adaptability, resilience and cohesiveness. It’s crazy stressful but don’t most of us function fine when things are calm. Its our ability to wade through crisis and turmoil that helps us apply the problem solving strategies we work so hard to teach our children. Well this is it! All the time we spend talking about thinking outside the box and being a critical thinker is right in front of us. Embrace the chaos and explore your possibilities – together! We got this!!!

Building a Team

8.19.2020 Debby Kinman-Ford

I love new school years. Even in a pandemic, they are always a time of hope for educators. Over and over every year we spend our time creating magical environments for children to learn in and come refreshed with new ideas from colleagues and resources. I’m curious how much, if any time, is really focused on these things in our staff meetings this year? Especially now with our focus on safety, how many are sharing their tips and tricks for safety, on creating genuine relationships with children and on building engaging environments when we feel like we work in hazmat areas. I hope that even with all of the logistical issues, leaders remember we learn best from others and educators are truly some of the most resourceful people I know. Are we carving out atleast some time for them to discuss their creative solutions and ideas? Imagine a whole building of innovators sharing ideas and solutions to concerns we all have as well as motivating each other with our hopefulness. Beyond our legitimate safety concerns, educators have been gathering exciting ideas all summer. It’s worth the time to hear them and share them with one another so we can all be more energized. Remember that when doors open, virtually or literally, educators are expected to be the same weavers of magic, the creator of dreams. In this way, school is no different.

Rituals and Education

Debby Kinman- Ford

I posted on FB and LinkedIn that I just finished a book called The Power of Ritual by Casper Ter Kuile. Interesting book recommended by Adam Grant about how as traditional affiliation with religious institutions wane, how do we create community and spiritual ritual in our lives to fill that void. It had some innovative ideas and a surprising amount of reference to Judaism- observing Shabbat, the ritual of prayer and so on. I know for myself I am a creature of habit and have rituals like lighting shabbat candles, baking challah (Yes since COVID began- don’t judge!), having a cup of hot tea before bed and meditating. I am curious how the importance of creating ritual is for our students and how we are teaching that. Certainly tefillah/prayer does that, but how are we looking at these learners in terms of finding meaningfulness in the everyday routine of their lives. Are we actively teaching mediation and mindfulness and genuine application of these things? Are we discussing how cohorts of friends gaming together is a type of ritual and community? And what does that look like in a COVID world? What will it look like after a COVD world? I invite you to stop and examine how your world, workplace and/or learning environment embraces these rituals and identifies them as authentic to ourselves and our students.

Midweek folks! Power on!!

God and STEM


Diane Otto

Agrarian practice and a profound connection to the rhythms of the biotic world are fundamental to Jewish wisdom and life. CEDAR’s Judaism through STEM program and resources not only re-harmonize our children and communities to the natural systems where much of modern society has lost touch, but also significantly improves lives, improves emotional and physical health, improves educational performance, improves critical thinking and logic, stimulates creativity, secures a better future, and provides a fundamental services in an era when no similar program exists. Our mission is to fill identified gaps in Jewish community life and to connect Jewish practice and experience with a solid education in Science and Engineering for children ages 3 to 10, and also whole communities where all ages—children to adults to seniors—work together. We aim to eliminate the long-standing disconnect with our natural world and the agricultural traditions inherent in Jewish wisdom and law by teaching attainable and valuable scientific concepts. Our program is designed to:

  • Effectively teach applied and conceptual scientific principles 
  • Improve health and teach lessons on food and nutrition
  • Teach a connection to our natural world and its biological cycles 
  • Teach life lessons such as planning for tomorrow, teamwork, helping others, leadership, decision-making, social skills, self-understanding, responsibility, and emotional awareness
  • Improve academic achievement and performance
  • Teach the essential skill of how to grow food
  • Teach how to have fun outside and explore with all five senses 
  • Provide routine outdoor experiences for mental restoration, exploration, and exercise
  • Cultivate a positive attitude towards education and a fondness for learning
  • Provide a calm safe place to recharge 
  • Teach Jewish living, Jewish wisdom, and Jewish practice

Our lessons and activities include age-appropriate skills and concepts based in both hard science and Judaism. For example, we explore wind power in age-appropriate and hands-on learning. For younger children we connect scientific concepts and discovery like taking pinwheels outside on a windy day and watch the wind move the pinwheel blades around and around. We show how we can feel wind, and we can see its power to move things, but we cannot see the actual wind—much like G-d. We can feel G-d, but we do not see G-d in an immediate physical form. We also demonstrate wind power when we use balloon cars and balloon helicopters. Older children design, build, and race a wind-powered vehicle of their choice. Similarly, we learn about SAFE low-frequency electricity, the functioning of electrical circuits, electromagnetism, and the electricity generated from the human body. We then use this knowledge by demonstrating it when we experiment with SAFE low-level electricity generated from each of our bodies that can produce visible light and electric currents. This experiment, however, requires each individual to physically connect to one another in an unbroken/ complete circuit. We learn that all natural elements and beings play a role in the interconnectedness of G-d’s great world. We learn how to function as a team with cooperation and planning in order to achieve goals.

We explore the transfer of energy and natural biological and ecological systems and the symbiotic nature of our living world. We practice planning for the future when we grow crops in a Jewish garden, or grow a single plant in a pot. We must plan which crops or single plant to grow throughout the season, plant seeds now, and wait to harvest later. We practice giving to others when we donate crops, a single beloved plant, or even seeds from harvest to a person or group. We also practice problem-solving and critical thinking as we learn how to design and test structures, plants, gardens, micro-biosystems, alternative energy powered vehicles, and much more! We explore how different fruits and vegetables are connected to different seasons of the year and different Jewish holidays. We explore the seven species written in Torah and why each one is significant and what it means. We learn about weather and life cycles. We cook and taste healthy culinary creations while experimenting with the differences between solids, liquids, and gasses. We explore the concept of cooking food for others as a mitzvah by using our time, this part of our life, to nurture other human beings. These lessons are only a glimpse of the universe and all its glory just waiting to be discovered and applied!

Welcome to CEDAR

Debby Kinman-Ford

Welcome to CEDAR! We are so excited to share our passion and resources for education with you. We all have diverse backgrounds and areas of expertise but we all share a drive to help create the best learning environments we can for this generation’s children. It is our goal to share our knowledge and resources with teachers and administrators to help them make amazing schools.

Currently we are all dealing with so many unknowns. When and how are schools opening? How can remote learning be engaging? Will there be live high holidays programming at synagogues or are we creating take home kits this year? Take out Judaism… who would have thought? Is this really a turning point in religious day school education or education in general? While I think many people are scared by all these questions, I see them as great opportunities to reinvent the system. Let’s take a serious look at what is working in education around the globe and mold that into new practices that can shift our focus from mere academic excellence to curious minds, healthy bodies and balanced learning.

Each of us will focus on different topics to explore in this blog, but this is the area I want to dive deep into. I hope you’ll join me.