Executive Functioning in School

The back to school season, or any transition in school can be chaotic for kids, but it can also be a great time to work on executive functioning skills in a practical way! From shopping for supplies or creating a countdown, to getting on the bus that first day, the options for working on executive functioning in school situations are endless. Continue reading for more information on executive functioning, with the back to school/school transitions edition!

Executive functioning skills during the school day and cognitive skills kids need for transitions in school.

Executive Functioning in School

Every year at the end of summer, there tends to be two “camps”—those who cannot wait to get back into the classroom and those who cannot wait for next summer! Regardless of the type of child you may have, executive functioning skills are critical at every age as this season approaches!

Executive Functioning and Transitioning to Preschool

Think preschoolers do not need or have executive functioning skills? Think again! Studies show that critical development in this area starts far earlier, but especially strong growth occurs during the preschool years. 

As your preschooler starts to prepare for the start of the year, consider the following ways to work on executive functioning development in a positive, age-appropriate approach. By doing so, you give them the chance to start the year out strong!

  • Provide opportunities for play dates, perhaps with classmates, to work on emotional control and problem-solving skills.
  • Begin adjusting wake and bedtimes about 1-2 weeks prior to school starting so that your child can be acclimated before that first day, avoiding any difficulties with initiation or shifting attention.
  • Encourage your child to select their own school supplies, giving them 2-3 items at a time to retrieve in an aisle for their working memory!
  • Model coping strategies, especially if this will be your child’s first exposure to the school setting, addressing emotional control and self-monitoring.
  • Allow your child to help pack their snack or lunch for the day.

Executive Functioning and Transitioning to Elementary School

A child’s independence increases exponentially during the elementary school years. Start off the year on the right foot with these activities!

  • Help your child develop self-reflection skills by discussing what they thought was the best part of summer, their least favorite part, what they are most excited for with school coming back in session, and what they are nervous about with the new school year.
  • Provide opportunities for impulse control, planning, and working memory by giving your child their supply list and allowing them to check items off as they place them in the cart. You may need to model components, such as having a notebook/folder set of particular colors. 
  • Encourage your child’s organization skills by having them label their school supplies with their name and pack their backpack
  • Give your child the opportunity for more independence and accountability to pack their own lunchbox. You can still have some control in this by organizing your refrigerator and pantry with designated labels, such as taking one item out of each container on the bottom shelf. 

Executive Functioning in Middle School

The middle school years are filled with so many changes! Help your child prepare for these changes by integrating some of these activities:

  • Use a calendar to set up regular family meetings, including all members of the household. This allows for communication lines to be kept open, preventing any major hiccups, while promoting your child’s ability to manage their impulses (interruptions, especially!) and control their emotions, along with reflecting on things that might need to be changed. 
  • Begin allowing for more and more independence with tasks, such as packing up their backpack each night, fading back prompts with homework, and encouraging their use of a planner. 
  • Provide opportunities for developing self-advocacy, having your middle school direct communication with teachers versus jumping in yourself when conflicts arise. While you are still there to support your student, this is a life-long skill that they will thank you for later!

Executive Functioning in High School

Your child is now off to high school! This is a pivotal time in a teenager’s life—an opportunity for them to prepare for adulthood while still having the active support of their family. Check out these ideas to encourage continued growth in executive functioning skills as your high schooler heads back to school. 

  • Have a teen driver in your house? Let them drive to the store with their school supply list and get their needed supplies! If you will be paying for the supplies, send them with an allowance to promote money management. For an additional challenge, give them a set time that they need to complete their shopping in to promote time management! 
  • Continue to encourage your teenager to manage conflicts or difficulties with teachers themselves prior to jumping in, because soon, they will not be living in your house and will need to do this themselves!
  • Allow your child to have more of a say in which electives they take. This is a great opportunity for exploration—you never know what class might pique their interest for a future career. 
  • Provide opportunities for your child to learn multiple note-taking methods to organize information in classes. 

More help with executive functioning in kids

Executive functioning skills develop throughout a child’s school years. Try some of these with your child, and have a great year!

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

Kids of all ages (including adults) can use The Impulse Control Journal to work on self-regulation, self-control, planning, prioritization, and executive functioning skills in everyday tasks. These hands-on journaling sheets are perfect for all ages. Grab the Impulse Control Journal here.

The OT Toolbox contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L

This post was written by contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist in the Madison, WI area. Emily participated in the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association’s Emerging Leaders Program (2016), earned her level 1 digital badge in autism from the American Occupational Therapy Association (2017), received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Chatham University (2018), and was appointed the South-Central District Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (2019). Emily has presented at both state and national conferences and is passionate about professional development. While trained as a generalist, Emily particularly enjoys working with clients with autism spectrum disorder and challenges related to executive functioning skills.

Valentine’s Day Play Dough

Valentines Day play dough to build fine motor skills

Have you ever had a candy tray, chocolate gift box, cupcake holder, or other container and wondered if you can use it in play? Incorporating Valentine’s Day activities into occupational therapy sessions is fun with interactive play ideas like this one. We used a chocolate gift box as a Valentine’s day play dough activity with a fine motor component.

Valentine’s day activities for kids can be a fun way to work on skills like fine motor strength or eye-hand coordination. Take this heart maze or instance. This is an easy prep activity that can be upgraded or downgraded for each child’s needs and levels while working on visual perceptual skills and eye-hand coordination with a heart theme.

Valentines Day Play Dough

Use a recycled chocolate tray for a Valentine's Day play dough activity.

Creating this play dough activity is easy. Make a set of colored play dough. Our crayon play dough recipe will get you set up with literally any color in the crayon box.

Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Activity

Playing with play dough and rolling small balls of play dough is a great way to build fine motor strength, especially intrinsic hand strength.

The sky is the limit when it comes to this open-ended play activity. Encourage imagination and play in a fun, Valentine’s Day theme!

Kids can press the dough into the trays to strengthen the hands, work on finger isolation, separation of the sides of the hand, and more.

Valentines Day play dough activities are a fun fine motor activity using play dough.

Invite your kiddos to use their imagination. Can they make teeny tiny sprinkles from the play dough? Hellloo, precision and fine motor work!

Use the play dough to make play dough chocolates, candies, chocolate bars, or other treats from play dough.

Use chocolate candy containers and play dough to work on fine motor skills and hand strength with a Valentine's Day theme activity.
This valentine's day activity for kids is a powerful fine motor play dough idea that works on skills like hand strength.

They look good enough to eat, right??? Use the dough to roll balls of “chocolates” using just the fingertips. It’s a great way to work on separation of the sides of the hands, intrinsic strength, and arch development.

Use a Valentine's day chocolate box in play dough activities for a Valentine's day theme activity.
Valentine's Day Play dough activity for kids

More Valentine’s Day occupational therapy activities

Valentine’s Day Snacks

Valentine’s Day Sparkle Fine Motor Craft

One Zillion Valentines Craft

Valentine’s Day Fine Motor Busy Bag

Heart Visual Perception Maze

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

One Zillion Valentines Day Craft

Valentines Day crafts

Have you read the book, One Zillion Valentines?  It i such a cute Valentine’s Day book for kids.  We read the book and made a Miniature Candy Heart Valentine based on the book a few weeks back.  That same day, we made this airplane valentine craft too, because we loved this part of the book! Valentines Day crafts are a fun way to work on certain skills in a way that is motivating for kids. This window cling Valentine’s Day craft we made years ago is a fine motor powerhouse, a lot like this airplane craft.   

This is just one of the Valentine’s Day occupational therapy activities here on the website. Use this heart craft to work on skills like fine motor strength, dexterity, direction following, and more.


Valentines Day craft for kids

Have you read the book, One Zillion Valentines? Such a cute book for kids and this craft is based on the book.

Valentines Children’s Book Activity

Pairing a book with therapy or when working on skills with kids is a fun way to open up conversation, problem solving, and strategizing to create a project or activity based on the book. This Valentine’s Day book for kids is just that. One Zillion Valentines is one children’s book that pairs nicely with a fine motor craft for kids.   This post contains affiliate links.

One Zillion Valentines craft

Valentines Day Book Activity

One Zillion Valentines is one fun book for kids around Valentine’s Day.  We love this part of the book…the message and the images!  We decided to make our own airplane craft for Valentine’s Day.

First we drew a big glue heart on large blue paper. Be sure to use squeeze glue for strengthening the hands.

Grab a handful of cotton balls.  Some brands of cotton balls are rolled and you can pinch and unroll the layers of cotton.  This is a great fine motor activity for kids!  Other brands of cotton balls can be pinched apart into strands.  

This is ALSO a great fine motor activity for kids!  Pinching and pulling the cotton balls apart works on the intrinsic hand strength of the small muscles of the hands.  These are the muscles that are located within the hand and are essential for endurance during writing and coloring tasks while holding a writing utensil with an open web space.

Make a paper airplane from red cardstock.  My Little Guy (age 5) was totally into following a step by step example to make his own airplane.  

Glue the paper airplane onto the trail of Valentine smoke and you’ve got a super cute airplane craft! Keeping the cotton strands on the glue is an exercise in eye-hand coordination.

This is a great craft that doubles as a book extension activity AND a means for working on specific skills.

How to make this Valentine’s Day Craft:

Time needed: 15 minutes.

Make a Valentine’s Craft based on One Zillion Valentines.

  1. Create the background of this Valentine’s day craft.

    Use squeeze glue to draw a big swoop on blue construction paper. This will be the clouds following the airplane.

  2. Use cotton balls to make clouds.

    Stretch out the cotton balls using both hands. This is a great fine motor workout.

  3. Make a paper airplane.

    Use red paper (if you have it) to match the book. Fold a paper airplane by bending the paper in half and folding the top of the page into a point. Fold in half again. Bend the wings down in the opposite direction. It can help to make a paper airplane along side your child so they can copy each step.

  4. Glue the paper airplane onto the page.

    Add the paper airplane at the end of the cotton clouds.

More Valentine’s Day Activities for Kids

There are many Valentines’ Day activities here on The OT Toolbox that double as fine motor and visual motor powerhouses. Check out some of these Valentine’s Day themed activities for therapy:

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Handwriting Analysis Observations

When it comes to analyzing handwriting, there is no escaping handwriting if you are a pediatric OT.  Handwriting evaluations and interventions is a main task of school-based occupational therapists. It’s no wonder when you consider that handwriting is one of the primary tasks that school-aged children engage in, and is one of the most prominent reasons for an OT referral in the school and outpatient settings. Today we’re talking handwriting analysis and clinical observations related to assessing handwriting.

Seems like handwriting should be pretty easy right? The challenge in teaching handwriting is often the limited exposure we receive prior to entering the field, and ensuring that we are providing a skilled service and not tutoring.

Handwriting analysis of writing samples is an important part of a handwriting evaluation. These underlying skills are essential clinical observations in handwriting assessment.

Handwriting Clinical Observations

When I was in school, we briefly touched on fundamentals of handwriting,  and the Handwriting without Tears program. I later had some great exposure to handwriting during my Level 2 fieldwork in a school setting, but still felt unprepared to really dive into what prohibited kid’s from learning to write, and to then decipher those findings.

Since practicing on my own, I have developed a set of clinical observations that are relevant to the handwriting process as it relates to OT and what they meant in terms of function. Check out the list of clinical observations below.

Working on handwriting and pencil grasp? Be sure to join the Pencil Grasp Challenge…a FREE five day challenge loaded with information, strategies, and resources related to a functional pencil grasp.

Below are strategies to use in analyzing handwriting. THese are clinical observations that can impact the legibility of written work.

Pencil Grip

This one seems like an obvious one, but there have been many times that I have sat down to write an evaluation and realized that I didn’t note anything about the grip pattern.  Yikes! The major points of clinical observations of pencil grips to keep in mind are that you watch for dynamic finger movement, hyperextension of joints and overall functionality.

Here are some important things that therapists wish parents and teachers knew about pencil grasp.

Dynamic Finger Movements and Pencil Grip

Dynamic finger movement is a big key to preventing fatigue. If the hand or wrist move as a unit, fatigue and endurance significantly increase. Dynamic movements also allow for more control of the utensil within a given space.

 Once dynamic movements have developed, it is exponentially easier for the kiddo to color or write in small spaces, form multi-step lower case letters and produce smaller sized letters and numbers.  

Hyper-Extended Fingers and Pencil Grip

When a child hyper-extends a joint when holding a writing utensil, the grip typically appears “tight” or “too hard”. Hyperextension can lead to damage in the joint itself, along with uncomfortable feelings to the fingers, increased levels of fatigue, poor overall endurance, and hinder dynamic movement. 

Children with poor overall joint stability or poor strength often exhibit this pattern of pencil grips. The “tight” or “too hard” grip that leads to hyperextension is a compensatory strategy to increase motor control and dexterity within the task. Due to the variety of pencil grips that children display, it is important to assess the functionality of the grip before attempting to change it.

Functionality of Pencil Grip

Current EBP indicates that there are several functional pencil grip patterns outside of the standard tripod grasp pattern that we all identify as “the best” or “most functional” grip pattern. Other patterns include static and dynamic variations of tripod and quadropod grips.

However, I really encourage you to just take a minute to see if the child is functional with their current grip pattern. Trying to change the pattern they are functional with is not always the best option for addressing handwriting.

If they are able to control the utensil for accurate execution of strokes, are able to remain in the given boundary and are not showing signs of poor endurance or fatigue—then they are functional and other components of handwriting should be addressed.

Posture and handwriting

I want to touch on posture’s impact on handwriting quickly because you can learn some interesting things about a child’s handwriting this way.

If they are slouched over or use their hand to hold their head up, poor core and upper body strength may be the culprit. This will greatly impact their fine motor skills. Without a strong foundation, dexterity skills will not develop.

It’s also important to note if the hand that is holding the child’s head up is covering one eye consistently. This may indicate that there is an underlying vision issue that needs to be addressed. Children typically cover the eye that is making them see double or causing blurred vision.

This is not only an issue from a vision standpoint, but also because you now don’t know what the child is seeing for letters or strokes. Once the vision concern is addressed, the child may have to “relearn” the letters and strokes which can appear as a regression of skills.

Similar concerns are also noted when the child is consistently adjusting their head position in location to the paper.

Hand Dominance

Dominance plays a large role in handwriting and if a child does not display a dominant side, or has mixed dominance, delays in handwriting can occur.

Lack of dominance can prevent adequate levels of motor practice of strokes and letters from being completed. This can then lead to sloppy or illegible writing, along with confusion on the sequence of strokes to form letters. Children who display these motor patterns typically have delayed automation of handwriting, may have a higher incidence in reversals and struggle with getting their thoughts onto paper.

These three simple tips on hand dominance, laterality, and functional activities are a resource in establishing this essential skill.

Segmental Drawing

Segmental drawing is when a child “draws” or writes a letter using singular strokes with clear, and abrupt stops between the strokes. This is time consuming, and requires a high level of active thought for the child. Essentially, it’s very non-functional and needs to be addressed.

Segmental drawing not only provides a picture about the child’s writing skills, it also provides insight to the therapist on how they process information. Children who typically utilize segmental drawing are only able to process small or shorter pieces of information at one time. For example, they may need directions given in short bursts or in simple statements to be successful.

Sequence of Strokes and Handwriting

Building on segmental drawing is the sequence in which strokes are completed. Letters in our culture flow from top to bottom, and left to right. A child who is demonstrating a bottom to top orientation or sequence of strokes, when writing may have a significantly harder time learning to form letters correctly and fluidly. Their brains may be “wired” naturally to move in this pattern, or they may be compensating for a visual motor impairment such as spatial relations deficits.

Case Use and Handwriting

The case a child chooses to write in, or the combination of case they use provides information on letters that they may be unable to recall, are unsure of their direction (reversal prevention/compensatory strategy), or are unable to execute. By analyzing the use of upper case and lower case letters you can determine where the break down in skill is.

Fluidity and Handwriting

Finally, as all of these observations come together, the final piece is fluidity.  This looks at a few different things including the child’s speed of writing, whether they talk to themselves or watch their hand when they write, and if they demonstrate any motor overflow.

The amount of time that a child takes to write can be an indication of poor memory recall and lack of automation of the writing process. The longer the task takes, the more difficulties the child is having retrieving the information from their memory and utilizing it effectively.

Children who are struggling with writing often talk themselves through the process—from where to start to the verbal cues taught to them. This external processing further indicates poor processing speeds. This can also be seen in the form of oral motor overflow. This is when a child’s mouth moves in odd patterns, they stick their tongue out or some combination of jaw and tongue movement.

Along with motor overflow and outward verbal processing, a child may watch her hand when writing. By watching her hand, the child ensures that the stroke she recalled from her memory is indeed correct and that she is able to execute it. This pattern further hinders the automation of handwriting and indicates challenges with processing and memory recall. When writing requires this much active thought for just the formation of the letters, spelling, sizing, spacing, and thought completion often go by the way side.

Use these handwriting analysis strategies to analyze pencil grasp and writing components during handwriting evaluations.

Final Thoughts

Handwriting is such a large part of being a kid, and being a pediatric OT, that it deserves more attention than it often gets. There are so many foundational skills that go into handwriting, and many places for the skills to become a challenge for a kiddo.

Hopefully everyone from seasoned OT’s to brand new grad’s found this post helpful and learned something new in handwriting analysis and clinical observations needed to assess handwriting.

Pencil grasp challenge activities to help pencil grasp problems

Healthy Habits for Kids

Occupational therapists can play a powerful role in establishing healthy habits in kids. The Occupational Therapy Framework indicates a connection between healthy routines and occupations, making healthy habit monitoring and implementation of strategies a meaningful role for therapists to address. Therapists work on a variety of skills when they take the “whole person” lens on helping kids achieve functional goals. Providing healthy habits as part of that wholistic approach can be a supplement to traditional occupational therapy interventions.

Healthy habits in kids allow for occupational performance.

Healthy Habits in Kids and Occupational therapy

According to the Occupational Therapy Practice Framework, Domain and Process, therapists can play a powerful role in addressing healthy habits in kids. A habit such as drinking enough water, getting enough sleep revolves around routines. Using practical suggestions, adaptive materials, or modifications such as equipment that supports the individual’s specific needs, OTs can address those needs to make healthy choices a part of a child’s every day.

Healthy habits that can impact a child’s occupational roles (school work and learning, play, roles as a sibling or family member, etc.) can include these:

  • Education on getting enough sleep
  • Limiting personal device screen time or television
  • Getting enough physical activity
  • Making good food choices
  • Spending enough time studying
  • COmpleting household roles such as chores
  • Using a positive mindset during various occupational roles
Help kids with healthy routines like sleep, reducing screen time, healthy foods, and getting enough physical activity.

Occupatioanl Therapy’s role in establishing healthy habits in kids

All of these areas impact function. When a child doesn’t get enough sleep, they can struggle with task completion, learning, and general occupational performance.

AOTA Fact Sheet on sleep describes interventions and the role of OT in addressing sleep issues in children and adults. SOme of those interventions can be included in educating family members, and others are performed by directly intervening with the child through awareness and strategies, etc.

This might look like the following ways to make sleep a healthy habit in kids:

  • Educating on routines and patterns
  • Sensory strategies to calm or to address sensory seeking/sensory avoiding behaviors
  • Visual schedules and step-by-step task lists
  • Sharing options for sleepwear and bedding to address sensory needs
  • Making suggestions for the evening routines
  • Family calming routines and activities
  • Suggestions on lighting, white noise options, relaxation time before bed
  • Daytime activities that can increase activity and exercise resulting in better sleep
  • Interoception education and interventions
  • Bedtime snack suggestions
  • Use of modifications such as blackout curtains, white noise machines, compression pajamas, weighted blankets, bedding, etc.

Similar to addressing sleep needs in children, OT can play a role in intervening in other healthy patterns by educating, providing strategies to address sensory needs, intervening in alertness and modulation, providing modifications to current environments, informing parents on interoception and the role that sensory system plays in areas like thirst, eating, rest, etc.

Likewise, providing visual and verbal cues through checklists and bringing self-awareness to the child is an important strategy.

Using a checklist, short journaling prompts, habit trackers, etc. are great strategies.

The thing is that making these choices are not so much difficult, as they are…not easy. It’s easier for them to grab an unhealthy snack. It’s easier to sit and watch videos on their tablet. It’s easier to stay sedentary than it is to get up and go outside. It’s easier to toss their shoes, coats, food wrappers, whatever everywhere than it is to pitch in and declutter.

But, providing education, awareness, and intervention can help to move unhealthy choices toward the right direction.

Use journaling, lists, and trackers to help kids form healthy habits.

Healthy Habits and Executive Functioning

Take a look at some of the healthy habits kids are impacted by in everyday tasks. It’s interesting to note the role that executive functioning skills play in making these decisions. A decision to eat a bunch of junk food over a healthy snack can be impacted by impulse control and self-regulation. Similarly, making a point to put down a screen device or making an active choice to participate in physical play takes incentive on the part of a child. There is so that goes into a child making healthy choices beyond simply knowing it’s good for them.

But there’s more to it than simply comfort levels. Executive functioning and higher-level cognitive skills play a huge impact in breaking bad habits, and making healthy choices that ultimately lead to healthy routines.

One study found that the disruption of unhealthy habits can be made possible by improvements in executive function. It indicated that cognitive flexibility, is a means to making these changes by behavioral changes.

Strategies to improve healthy habits in kids

In all unhealthy habits that impact occupation, therapists can work through making parents more aware of the issues limiting occupational performance. They can educate the family members about what’s going on behind the scenes to impact that performance level, and they can provide specific interventions to address those needs.

For routines such as physical activity, therapists can help individuals identify goals, provide potential physical activity ideas and methods, and establish tracking methods to help them monitor, measure progress, and revise goal areas.

Kids can establish healthy habits with these strategies.

Habit tracking and progress monitoring

The Impulse Control Journal is one method of tracking habits and monitoring personal goals with kids. The journaling sheets, habit trackers, goal planning sheets, and jun pages make a creative and realistic means of working toward healthy habits that improve occupational performance.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

References:

American Occupational Therapy Association. (2014b). Occupational therapy practice framework: Domain and process (3rd ed.). American Journal of Occupational Therapy, 68(Suppl. 1), S1–S48. https://doi.org/10.5014/ajot.2014.682006

MePicard, M. American Occupational Therapy Association. (2017). Occupational Therapy’s Role in Sleep. Retrieved from https://www.aota.org/.

Reifenberg, G., & Persch, A. (2018, January 22). Practical Tools for Addressing Healthy Habits in Children. Retrieved January 28, 2020, from https://www.aota.org/publications-news/otp/archive/2018/practical-tools-for-addressing-healthy-habits-in-children.aspx

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

Books About Executive Functioning

books to teach executive functioning skills

Reading is a great life-long occupation! Did you know that there are books on executive functioning for all ages? Check out this list for your next read, while teaching kids about executive functioning skills…and maybe learning a thing or two yourself!

Books on Executive Functioning for All Ages

Books are an accessible and approachable learning opportunity for many skills, including executive functioning! From children’s books, to workbooks geared to teens, to evidence-filled books for adults, there is a plethora of option to meet your needs. 

Amazon affiliate links are included in this post.

books to teach executive functioning skills

Books on Executive Functioning for Ages 4-10

Experts support the use of books to support child development in social and emotional health, which is highly interconnected to executive functioning. Children in the early school-age range benefit from intentional introduction to these concepts. Many books geared toward this age lend themselves to activities to further solidify their concepts. 

Executive function books for kids

Here are a few favorites for this age range! 

  • The Dot by Peter H. Reynolds
  • Books by Julia Cook, including It’s Hard to be a VERB!, -Difficulty with impulse control can look like wiggles, getting out of one’s seat, fidgeting, or constantly moving. This is a great book on managing impulses.
  • My Mouth is a Volcano! – A great book on impulse control, managing thoughts and words, and teaching the skill of listening and waiting for one’s turn to speak.
  • Planning Isn’t My Priority…and Making Priorities Isn’t in My Plans!Planning, prioritizing, and thinking ahead can be hard. This book teaches kids about making choices, prioritizing, and using one’s strengths and weaknesses creatively to build these essential executive functioning skills.
  • I Can’t Find My Watchamacallit!– Some kids are more organized than others. This books highlights unique skills and helps kids understand, develop, and apply organization skills.

These books can make reading fun for even the most hesitant reader!

Books on Executive Functioning for Ages 11-18

This is a fun (and critical) age range for executive functioning development! Self-awareness is beginning to develop further. These books emphasize skill development in this area to promote participation in everyday activities!

Executive function books for teens

Check out these books for preteens and teens:

Books on Executive Functioning for Ages 18+

Whether an individual struggling with the demands of executive functioning in everyday life, a parent, or a professional, there are plenty of books for adults to learn more about executive functioning! Some are even available as audiobooks, if you are looking to develop the skill of shifting and divided attention by multitasking! 

In this list, you are bound to find some new favorites! Enjoy learning more about the brain. After all, that in itself is an executive function!

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

Kids of all ages (including adults) can use The Impulse Control Journal to work on self-regulation, self-control, planning, prioritization, and executive functioning skills in every day tasks. These hands-on journaling sheets are perfect for all ages. Grab the Impulse Control Journal here.

The OT Toolbox contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L

This post was written by contributing author, Emily Skaletski, MOT, OTR/L is a pediatric occupational therapist in the Madison, WI area. Emily participated in the Pennsylvania Occupational Therapy Association’s Emerging Leaders Program (2016), earned her level 1 digital badge in autism from the American Occupational Therapy Association (2017), received the Distinguished Alumni Award from Chatham University (2018), and was appointed the South-Central District Co-Chair of the Wisconsin Occupational Therapy Association (2019). Emily has presented at both state and national conferences and is passionate about professional development. While trained as a generalist, Emily particularly enjoys working with clients with autism spectrum disorder and challenges related to executive functioning skills.

Welcome to the Pencil Grasp Challenge!

The pencil grasp challenge for kids

I am SO excited about this challenge. What is the Pencil Grasp Challenge? Well, if you know a child who struggles with pencil grasp, holds the pencil with a tight or inefficient grip, uses all of their fingers to hold a pencil , or writes with an awkward grasp, the Pencil Grasp Challenge is for you! Starting on Monday, January 20th (We’ll be celebrating National Handwriting Day in style that week!), we will be starting this FREE 5 day mini-course and challenge, and I am SO excited to share this with you. Let me tell you a little more about the challenge.

PENCIL GRASP CHALLENGE

The pencil grasp challenge for kids

If you already signed up, be sure to check your email, because I have some surprises there for you and access to our private community.

If you haven’t sighted up yet, but want to, find the link to join us below.

What is the Pencil Grasp Challenge?

Pencil grasp challenge activities to help pencil grasp problems

The pencil grasp challenge is a free, 5 day mini course and challenge. During the course of five days, I’ll be teaching everything you need to know about the skills that make us a functional pencil grasp. You’ll learn what’s going on behind the inefficient and just plain terrible pencil grasps you see everyday in the classroom, clinic, or home. Along with loads of information, you’ll gain quick, daily activities that you can do today with a kiddo you know and love These are easy activities that use items you probably already have in your home right now.

Besides learning and gaining a handful (pun intended) of fun ideas to make quick wins in pencil grasp work, you’ll gain free printable handouts that you can use to share with your team or with a parent/fellow teacher. You’ll get access to printable challenge sheets, and a few other fun surprises. And, possibly the best of all, you’ll get access to a secret challengers Facebook group, where you can share wins, chat about all things pencil grasp, and join a community of other therapists, parents and teachers working on pencil grasp issues. This is going to be fun!

Pencil grasp challenge and activities for a better pencil grasp

It all starts Monday, January 20th (National Handwriting Day is that Thursday, and get ready for a pencil grasp party!) But, if you haven’t already, be sure to sign up now, because we’re gearing up fr a fun week in the pencil grasp Facebook group.

Click here to sign up for the Pencil Grasp Challenge, if you haven’t already.

More about the challenge

This challenge has been on my mind (and on my laptop) for almost TWO YEARS. Crazy, right? You know how life gets in the way of really big and world-changing projects, right? Well, here’s how it started. I have A LOT of handwriting and fine motor activities here on The OT Toolbox website. A lot of those activities are perfect for developing a functional and efficient pencil grasp. I had an idea to create a challenge of fine motor activities to boost the skills kids need for strong and efficient hands, so they can hold and manipulate a pencil without difficulty. I started using #pencilgraspchallenge hashtag on my Instagram posts for those activities, with the intention to start this challenge with all of you.

In fact, go ahead and check out #pencilgraspchallenge on Instagram…you’ll find loads of fun fine motor activities designed specifically to build the skills needed for a better pencil grasp.

Use these pencil grasp activities to  help build the fine motor skills kids need for handwritng

Want to join us in helping kids achieve a better, functional pencil grasp that works for them? This is going to be fun!

Click here to join The Pencil Grasp Challenge!

Join the pencil grasp challenge series to build fine motor skills in kids
Pencil activities to help kids write with a functional grasp

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

5 Things OTs Want Parents to Know About Pencil Grasp

Pencil grasp recommendations is a question that comes up a lot when kids have trouble with handwriting. In fact, many times occupational therapists receive a referral to check on a child with handwriting challenges and one of the things the teacher mentions is the child’s pencil grasp. Parents may have a lot of questions about pencil grasp development, too. They may wonder if their child is on track with their pencil grasp or how to help kids that are struggling with holding a pencil. The thing is that there is a lot that goes into gripping a pencil! Here are the top things that pediatric OTs wish parents knew about pencil grasp.

Facts therapists with parents knew about pencil grasp

Pencil Grasp Facts

If your eyes glaze over when it comes to pencil grasp, how your child is holding a pencil, and how to help them, don’t worry! Here are the main points you need to know about pencil grasp development:

Pencil grasp is not clear-cut.

In typically developing kids, children progress from using their whole arm to move a crayon, to using their forearm and wrist, to using their fingertips. That progression indicates upper bodies that support the arm, strong arms to stabilize posture, and refined fine motor skills.

In children with physical, cognitive, or neurodevelopmental considerations, grasp may not follow the age progression or demonstrate delays in progression. Other children skip developmental stages of pencil grasp for a variety of reasons.

Limit the screens and offer more play.

Kids today are exposed to a variety or play activities (or lack thereof). They are also exposed to technology and screens from a very young age.

Think about it this way: when a young child holds a screen, they are missing out on time that other generations would have had to experience play and activity through their hands. They are also spending hours of time in some cases with a “screen grasp”. When a young child holds a screen, there is heavy weight through the ulnar side of the hand. The pinky side of the hand curves over and is in constant active grasping position to hold onto the screen or device.

That allows for a lot of strength in the pinky side of the hand, and time spent in the same position. The hand isn’t getting a variety of experiences to stabilize, manipulate which are important for in-hand manipulation and separation of the sides of the hand.

Then, the child is typically using the pointer finger to swipe. There isn’t the variety of grasp, manipulation, pincer development, and precision occuring.

Likewise, with screen use, there is a shift to thumb swiping and movements of the thumb on the screen. The thenar eminence gets a lot of the same motions. All of this adds up to a perfect storm of limited fine motor experience and lack of fine motor skills.

Functional writing is most important.

This is one of the biggest take-aways that therapists want parents to know: A functional pencil grasp might not look like the traditional tripod grasp. Kids can hold their pencil with a thumb-wrap, cross-over, modified tripod, quadrupod grasp, or any of the many other variations…and STILL write in a way that is legible and efficient.

Research tells us that pencil grasps do not impact skills like letter formation or legibility. In the child using a mature pencil grasp (the fingers and hands do the work to move the pencil), variations of pencil grasp do not impact writing speed.

When speed is an issue, there is probably something else going on such as the child is using a transitional grasp pattern, sensory issues like heavy writing pressure are present, or motor planning issues like letter formation are occuring.

Kids need play! Yes, it’s worth repeating. 

Coloring, play dough, climbing trees, tumbling in the grass, and manueving on the monkey bars are important parts of pencil grasp development.

It’s true! The underlying skills that kids need to grasp the pencil and write occurs through play. The early stages of child development includes lots of crawling, and that’s an important stage!

Many times, we see fine motor difficulties in kids that skip the crawling stage. Sometimes the connection between crawling, fine motor exposure, and play isn’t apparent when it comes to pencil grasp.

Children need fine motor play to develop hand strength for precision and using those fingers. Kids need to climb and move to gain stability and control in their upper bodies so their shoulders and arms are able to support and stabilize distal mobility.

Don’t rush the “picture perfect” pencil grasp.

So often, kids are rushed to hold a pencil perfectly. This assumption happens in classrooms everyday. Kids begin to write letters before they are developmentally able to hold and manipulate a pencil at a level that “looks correct” and in the meantime, miss out on valuable progression through pencil grasp stages.

We are seeing children start to learn to write letters in preschool and are pushed to write letters, words, and sentences in kindergarten. Going by developmental progression, this is before a child is developmentally able to manipulate a pencil with precision and mobility in the fingers and hand.

It’s OK to see a pencil grasp that isn’t perfect in preschool, kindergarten, or even the early grades. Keep offering fine motor experiences, play, and activities!

Need more pencil grasp help?

Try some of these fine motor activities to promote the skills kids need:

Use small pencils. Broken crayons and golf-sized pencils are perfect!

Try these games to build a better pencil grasp.

Improve pencil grasp with play.

Pencil grasp activities to strengthen fine motor skills for kids

The Pencil Grasp Play Book is a resource designed to help you better understand the skill needed for a functional pencil grasp. The activity guide offers resources and activity sheets to use in therapy planning, home programs, and OT homework!

Click here to grab your copy of the Pencil Grasp Play Book.

Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20 years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.