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Executive functioning

Our work boosts brain skills.

The Family Partnership has developed and successfully piloted our new Executive Functioning Across Generations© 2Gen curriculum designed to boost executive functioning skills in children and their parents.

For information on piloting or to schedule a presentation, contact us today! 

The Purpose of Our Curriculum

The Family Partnership’s Executive Functioning Across Generations© intervention is designed to buffer children against toxic stress, and support their caregivers in providing that strong environment of support for healthy brain development.

The curriculum is designed to set children ages 3-5 on the path to becoming executive functioning superstars in preschool settings and supports their parents in championing their child’s brain development at home. Adaptations for other program settings, including home visiting and parenting groups, are being piloted in four states.

When children are exposed to adverse childhood experience (ACEs), without being buffered by a supportive relationship with an adult caregiver, toxic stress results. Brain science research shows that this stress can impair development of healthy executive function and self-regulation skills – predisposing people to many mental and physical health problems in later life (including heart disease, diabetes, addiction and depression, to name a few). 

Sources: Robert Wood Johnson Foundation and

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Early intervention boosts healthy brain development.

Our curriculum steps in early to help build executive functioning – the essential skills that everyone needs to stay on track with goals, imagine consequences of actions and inhibit impulsive behavior. We use a two-generation (2Gen) or whole family approach because these self-regulation skills are not only important for children, but also essential for positive parenting.

How the Curriculum Works

The Executive Functioning Across Generations© curriculum helps children and caregivers develop awareness and skill with the specific elements of language development that build executive functioning skills in both parents/caregivers and children. The curriculum helps children learn “Internal State Words” that are the building blocks for executive functioning.


Once children can name feelings, they can talk about them, ask a caregiver for help, better understand a situation that bothers them and understand what makes themselves happy. Once children develop language for their feelings and experiences they no longer have to act out on impulses; they have choices. Through daily lessons, children learn words for the internal states they are experiencing.

As children learn, they practice using these words to identify their feelings and express how they are doing. They develop personal narratives and stories about emotionally significant experiences, good and bad, that put them into a context that makes dealing with similar situations and feelings easier next time. 

PerceptionSee, look, hear, smell
Physical StateHungry, thirsty, sleepy
Emotion/AffectHave fun, funny, proud, sad
Volition/AbilityNeed, have to, can, hard
Thinking/Mental StateThink, remember, forget, pretend, dream
Moral JudgmentBad, naughty, may, let


Parents have a similar learning process. They learn internal state words that their children are learning in the curriculum, so that they can do “serve and return” with their children: back and forth, face-to-face communication that promotes children’s social-emotional learning. Parents also learn about the elements of personal narration so that they can intentionally coach their children to make sense of emotionally significant events.

Practicing these skills with children benefits parents, too. As parents increase their ability to recognize and respond to their children and provide supportive relationships, they build their own executive functioning skills, which benefit them in other stressful circumstances including the workplace and other relationships.

A parent told us that when she feels stressed, her daughter reminds her to do belly breathing. It is great when what a child learns in the classroom transfers to the parent.

John Till, Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation

Positive Pilot Results

From 2017-2019, The Family Partnership developed and piloted three rounds of the curriculum with preschool children and their caregivers in Minneapolis.

Children participating in the second and third pilots experienced statistically significant increases in executive function using the Minnesota Executive Function Scale (MEFS), a tablet-based app developed by the University of Minnesota. 

  • The children in the second and third round of pilots increased their MEFS scores
  • In the third pilots, children started below the age-adjusted national median for executive function skills using the MEFS, but at the end of the intervention scored above the national median
  • Both teachers and parents reported that children’s use of internal state words increased when pre vs. post-intervention, internal state word use was compared
  • The complexity of children’s personal narratives also increased when pre vs. post-intervention narratives were compared using advanced linguistic software

Parents living in high stress environments who were engaged in the pilots showed great interest in brain science and the curriculum. They quickly developed warm, trusting relationships with each other and with the facilitators. One staff member said that “This is the best parent group we have ever done at the center.” One parent who was particularly guarded in the past, asked staff for help for the first time with a significant life stressor. Another mom reported their child reminds her to do “belly breathing” exercises at home, a mindfulness technique taught in the children’s curriculum, when she becomes stressed!

Pilot Partners

Funding for The Family Partnership’s initial pilots was provided by The Medica Foundation, and many other funders have also contributed to the development of the curriculum. Other partners include: Dr. Christine Wing, PhD, CCC-SLP, curriculum developer; the Future Services Institute and the Center for Early Education and Development at University of Minnesota; Reflection Sciences (developer of the MEFS app); Harvard Center on the Developing Child-Frontiers of Innovation; and, The Institute for Child and Family Well-Being.

Interested in learning more? 

Contact us for information on piloting or scheduling a presentation: 

John Everett Till

Senior Vice President of Strategy and Innovation