The importance of the executive function of the brain in early literacy development

  • Ansie C Lessing University of South Africa
  • Marike W De Witt
Keywords: Anticipation, early literacy, executive function of the brain, form consistency, grouping, pre-school child, relations, schema matching, sequence and pattern completion, sound consistency, thinking


South African learners struggle with reading regardless of all the interventions and workshops presented to preschool and the foundation phase teachers. Lately, literature emphasises the role of neuropsychology in successful learning and reading but teachers seem to be uninformed about this. The aim of this investigation was to provide a view of the role of the EF in laying the foundation for early literacy and the reading process. Experts from the field of Early Child Development assessed the researchers’ views on the basis of the following research question: Do the suggested early literacy activities contribute to the development of the EF? The authors suggest a number of pre-reading activities and indicated their view of the role of the EF in the activities. The authors’ found that various aspects of the EF play in a role to a greater or lesser extent in mastering the selected activities. An explorative pilot study was done in a qualitative research approach to test the authors’ view of the role of the EF in the selected activities. Although the participants mostly agreed with the authors’ view suggestions by the participants were made to expand the role of the EF in some of the activities. The EF plays an important role in the understanding and completion of preschool activities for mastering of early literacy skills. The authors suggest a change in teachers’ approach to enhance pre-school children’s emergent literacy giving special attention to the development of the EF.

Author Biographies

Ansie C Lessing, University of South Africa
Ansie C Lessing is a Research Fellow in the Department of Psychology of Education at Unisa. Her teaching experience includes involvement in the teaching of Hons BEd (School Guidance and Counselling), MEd (Guidance) and the supervision of postgraduate students.  She was a member of the team responsible for the training of educational psychologists. Her research focus and interests are postgraduate supervision and examination, discipline, initial reading, the executive function of the brain and support to learners with learning impairment and emotional problems. She was involved in education for the last 45 years.
Marike W De Witt
Marike W de Witt is a research fellow in the Department of Psychology of Education at the University of South Africa. She has teaching/ lecturing experience of more than 35 years. She was involved in teacher training programmes, including the training of preschool student teachers as well as postgraduate students. She also acts as promoter for Masters and Doctoral students. Professor de Witt has published numerous research articles in nationally and internationally accredited journals in the field of education. Her research interests focus on, inter alia, executive function of the brain, early literacy and early numeracy.