Self-Reflection Activities

self reflection activities

In this blog post, we are addressing self-reflection activities as a tool to support self-understanding, self-awareness, and personal insight. In young children, this is a challenge that progresses as development occurs. But for some, the personal perspective becomes an area of frustration when empathy, executive functioning, and the ability to self-evaluate is a challenge. Challenges in the ability to self-reflect impact functional performance, social emotional skills, and learning. Let’s cover self-reflection activities and specific self-awareness exercises as a tool for development and personal growth.

self reflection activities

Self-Reflection Activities

Self reflection leads to growth.  Without looking back at failures and successes, growth is inhibited. If you are one of the few who are actually perfect in every way, you can stop reading.  For the rest of the world, read on.  The start of a new year often brings bouts of goal setting and self reflection.  


Self-reflection is a tool that kids and adults can benefit from. Reflecting on one’s actions and behaviors is a great way to grow as an individual and to meet personal goals. Think about a time you’ve set a personal goal. Maybe you wanted to start exercising and lose a few pounds.

By self-reflecting on a day’s events, you can determine what worked in meeting your goal and what didn’t work. You can intentionally put a finger on the parts of your day that helped you meet your goal of going to the gym and what stood in the way of eating healthy meals.

Self-reflection is essential for goal-setting! Most of these occupational therapy activities are free or inexpensive ways to address self-reflection in kids.

Whether this is the start of a school year, or the turning of the calendar to a new year, self reflection activities and resolutions begin to surface.  For some, self reflection comes naturally, searching for meaning, purpose, and ways to become a better person.  Others find reflection difficult.  

This post is full of self reflection activities to spark conversation, goal setting, and prompt growth.

It has been said that the first stage of recovery or change, is to recognize there is a problem.  

Many people are unable or unwilling to change because they do not believe there is a problem.  Becoming aware takes a lot of self reflection.  

People need to recognize the skills they have, and those they are lacking.  They need to keep an open mind about who they are and where they are going. 

These self-reflection activities can be a vehicle for helping kids to address areas of functioning in several areas. Improving self-reflection can help kids with self-regulation, knowing what coping strategies to pull out of their toolbox, how to act with impulse control, how to better pay attention, how to improve executive functioning skills, and how to function more easily. It’s the ability to stop and think before acting or responding, based on internal knowledge and experiences.

Additionally, self-reflection pays a part in mindfulness. If we are practicing attentiveness in the moment and attending to internal and external experiences, we can self-reflect on what worked, what didn’t work, and how to make things work better next time.

Self-reflection can be so helpful in social-emotional skills, academic learning, functional task completion, organization, and well-being! An awareness of self and the impact one’s own actions has on others is part of the stages of empathy development, too.

According to Dean Graziosi, New York Times best selling author, “Self-awareness is the ability to understand your thoughts, emotions and core values, as well as realize how these elements impact your behavior. It requires emotional intelligence, and it’s about objectively evaluating yourself and aligning your actions with your internal standards.  To be self-aware is to be able to realistically assess your strengths and weaknesses while maintaining a positive mindset. It’s the ability to judge where you are in life, determine where you would like to be and set goals to achieve your vision.”

To become self-aware, you must be able to:

  • See yourself honestly, flaws and all
  • Identify and control your emotions
  • Realize your strengths and weaknesses
  • Take strides toward growth – having a growth mindset helps

One tool for supporting awareness of emotions in general is by doing an emotions check in where the student (or any one, this can be done at any age), identifies how they feel and what their emotions are based on the situation, setting, and triggers. Another tool which is similar but different, is the feelings check in.

Self-Reflection Activities for Kids

One of the first steps in raising self-reflection to to help kids be more self-aware. They can use tools to improve mindfulness to notice how they feel, how the react, or how they behave. Most kids will struggle with this ability in the moment (It’s tough for adults, too!) but they can identify what worked and what didn’t work in a particular situation through conversation.

Using self-control strategies like the Zones of Regulation can be helpful in talking about feelings and self-awareness.

Explore along with the child. When a child is playing or exploring their environment, it can be helpful to play right along with them. Use play experiences to communicate through play.

Use play experiences to mirror actions. When a child is playing, play right along with them! Mimic their actions and words to be more aware as a caregiver of the details of a child’s interactions and to bring awareness for the child. Use this tactic only when the child is in a positive mood. Mirrored actions should not be completed when a child is behaving poorly or to bring attention to behaviors.

Reflect on the day as a family. Plan a family meeting and talk about the good, the bad, and the ugly of the day. It’s a good way to talk about ways to work on areas of need.

Create a Choice Collection. Come up with options that include coping strategies or tools to use in different environments. These could be part of a sensory diet or self-regulation strategies.

Work on impulse control. The impulse control journal can help.

Use a journal to self-reflect through words or drawings.

Act out situations and how the situation played out. Consider adding dolls or toys for characters in the situations.

Model appropriate behaviors and self-reflection through conversation.

The sensory-based strategies outlined in The Sensory Lifestyle Handbook can be a beneficial tool for addressing self-reflection in kids.

Executive Functioning Skills

Positive Self-Talk for Kids

Impulse Control Strategies

Finally, try some of these self awareness games to build skills through game-playing.

reflection about personal development

Children, teens, and adults of all ages develop in different ways. It’s said that we never stop learning, and this is true at every age and stage. Through learning experiences, there is either success or failure, with some level in the middle. This development occurs whether learning a new skill, trying something new, or trying a new way of doing something. 

When there is learning, there is personal development. 

As participants in an activity, we can utilize self-awareness skills to monitor successes or challenges that lead to goal achievement. 

We can use that information to identify areas of need, or specific areas that we need to try again in a different way. 

This allows us to create a feedback analysis of sorts that supports further growth in an area. 

Some ways to reflect on personal development include tactics that are used for self-awareness and goal achievement. These strategies are types of reflection exercises and include:

  • Self-talk
  • Monitoring progress
  • Goal mind maps
  • Goal ladders
  • Identifying next steps
  • Talking with others for constructive feedback
  • Addressing negative feedback


Self-reflection activities are not just focused on the negative perspective.

There is a certain stigma to self reflection activities that they are just focusing on the negative things that need to change.  There is positive self reflection also.  What did you do well that you need to encourage yourself to keep doing?  What did you learn that will be a great asset to your skillset?

Positive self reflection takes as much practice as reflection for growth.

Theoretically is your glass half full or empty?  Do your learners search for problems, look for drama, or doubt themselves?  By answering these questions we can come up with tools to support habits that our learners might be challenged with. Self-awareness activities are strategies to support self-reflection.

Encourage positive self reflection by trying some of the following activities: 

  • Write three positive things about yourself each day
  • Journal about positive experiences
  • Practice acts of kindness
  • Don’t compare yourself to others, solely reflect on your own abilities
  • Start a gratitude journal along with various gratitude activities
  • Ask yourself self reflection questions
  • Positive self talk activities for kids
  • I am….- learners write positive statements starting with “I am”
  • Post positive affirmations around the room, class, social media, or wherever it helps to self reflect on positive thoughts and actions
  • Teach learners to flip a negative into a positive – I am bad at math, could be turned into I am a great reader, or I can count to 1000
  • Use a mirror for positive self talk – practice affirming while looking at yourself
  • Create a positive self talk morning ritual – The Miracle Morning is a powerful resource


Everyone has room for growth. Some have the personality type that limits self-reflection and personal awareness, while others have a stream of consciousness that easily enables self-reflection. We are all unique individuals, and these different types of traits are totally ok!

I bet the number one athletes in the Olympics believe there is room for growth.  Practice does not make perfect, it makes it better.  When I am evaluating students, I often start by asking them why they think I am seeing them.  Most of them have some idea, even if they have no idea what Occupational Therapy is.  That is my jumping off point.  I find out what they believe to be their weaknesses and strengths, and go from there.  They may not be accurate, but it is their belief, so it can be shaped.  

  • The key to shaping beliefs and setting goals is to set measurable ones.  The acronym SMART stands for specific, measurable, attainable, relevant, and timebound.  
  • Use metrics and data to gather correct information about skills and deficits
  • Learners who have an unrealistic view of themselves, may need counseling to work through this.  Body dysmorphia is one such example.  People suffering from BD see flaws that no one else sees.  They set unrealistic expectations and goals for themselves trying to reach an imaginary goal
  • Teach The Power of Yet – I may not be the best chess player YET.  I could be with more practice and instruction
  • Ask useful questions – create writing prompts starting with key questions:
    • What am I afraid of?
    • I struggle when . . .
    • One of the most important things I learned was . . .
    • Being myself is hard because . . .
    • I wish I were more . . .
  • Letter to future self – what would your learners tell their future self?
  • Create a realistic self view – while some learners feel they are all bad, others feel they are amazing.  It seems counterintuitive, but the second group will need some help to realize everyone has growth potential.  Gently shape these learners to also see their weaknesses as well as their strengths without squelching their self confidence
  • Take a step back – electronics spoon feed information, making it readily available.   The answers are just a click away.  While this is great in some ways, it is not teaching self control, reflection, and the power of doing nothing
  • Utilize the individual’s passions as a vehicle for addressing self-awareness. If they have a hobby or skill where they are successful, how did they learn the ability to complete aspects of that skill? How did they accomplish goals? How would they support another learner who is at the beginning of this skill learning? Sometimes when shifting the perspective to a teaching role, we can all use creativity in supporting self-reflection skills. 
  • Focus on emotional vocabulary as a tool to support students’ reflections of themselves, whether they are looking at personal achievements in a positive light or a negative light. This is an important skill to encourage, as we all have moments of doubt and moments of high confidence and assurance. Emotional learning is one tool in the toolbelt for supporting self-reflection in daily functional tasks.

A FINAL THOUGHT on self-reflection activities

Mindfulness is not new, but it has resurfaced as people have forgotten how to slow down.  Monks have been using this technique for centuries.  They can sit for an entire day doing and thinking nothing.  They are able to clear their mind for hours.  I have tried this and can make it about 30 seconds before my mind is racing.  It even races while I sleep.  Self reflection takes the same discipline and focus to make it meaningful.  

As with anything new and different, change takes time and practice.  The act of self reflection itself, can be your first goal!

Use these self-reflection activities for kids to help kids reflect on behaviors and identify coping skills or self-regulation strategies that work in the home or classroom.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

Functional Play

Functional play

Play is the primary role of the child and so in In this blog post, we are covering functional play to support development using toys you might find in most households. Occupational therapy supports the development of individuals across the lifespan and when working with children, the main tool for supporting development of skills is functional play. Not only for young children, but throughout the lifespan there is functional play. We cover more on OT play interventions in our occupational therapy play post.

Functional play

Today we are talking about using everyday toy items in developing skills in therapy sessions or at home, all to promote child development.

What is functional play?

Functional play refers to using toys, objects, and items designed for play in their intended function to participate in play as an occupation. There are many types of play and the various functional play skills promote development in young children. Play age and stage makes a difference in the development of functional play. 

For example, functional play is:

  • Building blocks into a tower or other imaginative construction
  • Coloring with crayons
  • Driving matchbox cars along the floor
  • Swinging a bat to hit a ball
  • Kicking, throwing, or rolling a ball
  • Pushing a doll in a play stroller
  • Using a volleyball to play a volleyball game

Many toys can be used in ways different than their intended nature. We see this a lot in occupational therapy sessions where we think outside the box with the toys we have on hand. Toys are used in ways not exactly inline with their function, or the reason why they were created.

  • We use blocks or jump ropes to make an obstacle course path.
  • We make playdough using crayons.
  • We stack kitchen containers.
  • We climb up the slide.

Each of these examples stretches the object’s typical use into other ways to play.

Functional play is neither right, or wrong.

It’s good and natural to think outside the box. Functional play offers tools for healthy development in children. The opposite of functional play, or using those very same toys in ways that they were not intended is healthy for the development of children, as well!

Like many homes, ours has lots of children’s toys in random locations. Books under the coffee table. Light up balls in the hallway. Sports equipment by the door.

But.  Then I remember the function that all of these toys brings to my children.  These plastic pieces, wooden blocks, and little figures are tools for learning and development.  They are the tools of functional play!

We all use toys, tools, equipment, and materials in functional play.

Types of Functional Play

The types of play change over the course of development. Broken down, play includes these various stage of play as a developmental progression:

We can break down each form of play into play activities that utilize the levels of play as a powerful tool to support development. In each level listed above, you’ll see components:

  • Creative play
  • Communication play
  • Movement-based play
  • Socio-dramatic play
  • Dramatic play
  • Imaginative play
  • Explorative play
  • Fantasy play
  • Mastery play
  • Role play
  • Historical play

How do kids use basic toys in imagination, language development, social skills, fine motor strength, sensory integration, gross motor development, and problem solving?  

Toys are tools of function and help to develop a child’s skills in so many areas.  Grab a cup of coffee, move the ninja turtles from their couch battle scene, and read on!




Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.




The Function of Play in Kids

In Occupational Therapy, probably one of the most asked questions is, “What is Occupational Therapy?” Since hanging up my graduation cap over 15 years ago, I’ve probably answered this question a few zillion times.  
Occupational Therapy is rehabilitation and treatment of activities of a person’s daily living skills and occupations in order to improve function.  A child’s occupations are learning to get themselves dressed, feeding themselves, and play, (among other things and depending on their age)!  
Whatever is important to a person, whether it be interests or to function throughout a day, is what an Occupational Therapist can work on in therapy services. 
“Play is a child’s work.”  It’s a phrase coined by Maria Montesorri, and a concept developed by  Jean Piaget.  Through play, children learn, develop, and integrate their systems and functional abilities.  
Today, I’m going to share how children can use those random toys scattered all over the house in development and learning.

But first, here are a few easy play ideas we’ve shared on the blog using toys you probably have around the house:


Build a Tinker Toys Pulley system and explore STEM concepts in learning with kids.Toys that will help improve pencil graspUse this gift guide to help kids who need tools and toys to help with attention and focus in the classroom, school, or at home.Hand strengthening activity for kids to play and create buildings with a asimple, no-prep activity. This is perfect for a busy bag activity for kids to do while waiting at restaurants or other places.  Also tips and ideas to work on intrinsic hand strengthening in kids, from an Occupational Therapist.



The Role of Play for Children

From infancy, play is a way of learning and developing skills.  A baby reaches for a rattle and discovers that their arm can move intentionally.  
The sound, weight, and texture of a rattle integrates into the child’s central nervous system and establishes neural pathways.  
This early sensory integration and every interaction with the environment helps to work on sensory processing in a child.  As a child ages, they bounce, run, jump, and LOVE to play; their body seeks play.  
From 0-2, play is solitary.  They are experiencing tastes, touch, sights, sounds, and smells.
A one year old repeats the same play actions over and over again in play routines.  Peek-a-boo and putting blocks into a basket over and over again helps the child to master physical and sensory skills.  
They develop problem solving, cause and effect, direction following, and a sense of self.

Functional Play for a Baby is:

  • Peek a boo games
  • Board books with an adult
  • Cloth toys
  • Teething toys
  • Texture toys
  • High contrast toys
  • Play mats
  • Floor play
  • Balls and sorting toys
Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.

Functional Play for Toddlers

Toddlers begin to imitate, pretend, and play with others.  Pretend play encourages language, emotional exploration, and “job” scenes.  Through pretend play, children build social skills.  
They can lead scenes, take turns, follow directions, explore empathy, gain more of a sense of self, build self-confidence, while working on tool use, clothing fasteners, and building and developing fine and gross motor skills.
Toddlers explore their environment by walking an finding things, putting things into containers, rolling things, throwing things, turning pages, and examining the inside and outside of things.  
From 2 to 2.5, children observe others but do not play with them. Kids aged 2.5-3 play alongside other children, but not with them in social situations. Starting at 3, children often times begin to interact with others in their play.  
  • Bath toys
  • Scribbling with crayons
  • Putting toys into a sorter
  • Rolling a ball
  • Carrying a bag full of toys
  • Pushing a toy shopping cart
  • Cause-effect toys
  • Board books
Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.

Functional Play for Preschool

In Preschool aged children, kids play together with shared roles. They are curious and love to explore stories about animals and people.  
Crayons, paints, scissors, clay, sand, dirt, and other things are fun!  
Running, jumping, tumbling, rolling, and spinning provide movement and heavy work fun.  
Functional play in the preschool years includes:
  • Pretend play with baby dolls, figures, cars
  • Building with blocks
  • Coloring with crayons
  • Painting 
  • Cutting with scissors and snipping paper
Preschoolers love to mix and feel how things are as they explore.  Around three and four years old, imaginations begin to become awesome as they tell stories! 
Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.

Functional Play for School Aged Children

School-aged children build cognitive skills in games as they problem solve, establish executive functions, share, build relationships, take part in winning/losing situations, and establish complex roles with other children.  
They are constructive with tools, projects, and toys. 
Functional play for school aged children includes:
  • Board games
  • Crafts
  • Drawing activities and supplies
  • Sports games and sporting events
  • Video games
  • Books

Functional Play for Teenagers

Teenagers are involved in play, too! Even during the teens, children are developing skills in executive functioning skills, and refining motor skills, motor planning, and skill use. 

This is good information for occupational therapy for teenagers in middle school or in high school. We cover specifics in this post on middle school occupational therapy.

Functional play in the teenage years includes:

  • Board games
  • Books
  • Video games
  • Social activities
  • Crafts
  • Cooking activities


What do we learn from Functional Play?

Play happens naturally.  A child is led to perform instinctive physical milestones through play.  
A baby rolls over to reach that brightly colored shaky toy.  
A toddler pushes a car around the house while crawling on all fours, providing himself with vestibular and proprioceptive input and strengthening to the arms and neck. Read here about crawling as a functional play tool and mobility as independent activity for young children.

There are so many benefits to play! Just some of those naturally occurring skills include:

  • Problem-solving skills
  • Functional task practice
  • Fine motor skills
  • Gross motor skills
  • Practicing communication skills and vocabulary
  • Working through behaviors in a low-stress environment
  • Reinforcement of skill development
  • Understanding the world around the young child and getting a sense of the world as it occurs through practice
  • Repetition of skill performance through repetitive actions
  • Exploring one’s surroundings
  • Executive functioning
  • Visual motor skills
  • Hand-eye coordination
These play situations happen naturally and purposefully (even if the kiddo doesn’t realize that his body is seeking out certain sensory situations!)  Play should happen naturally, but there are ways to work on skill areas through play. 
How can you build on natural play instincts with toys you already have in your house to work on developmental areas or Occupational Therapy goals?  
  • Use a child’s interests to create pretend play situations. 
  • Model appropriate language or problem solving. 
  • Encourage imitation of actions using cars or action figures.  
  • Work on arm strength and shoulder girdle strength by pushing cars up a ramp.  
  • Provide proprioceptive situations by playing and building couch cushion forts for dolls.  
  • Respond to attempt to communicate in pretend play with animal figures.  
  • Encourage turn-taking.
  • Allow your child to “lead” a play situation.
  • Encourage grasp development with toy manipulatives.
  • Discus social interactions with small figures in small worlds, like this outdoors small world scene
  • Work on multi-step direction following in a pretend play situation where the bug needs to hop on the block, then go around the sticks, and get food from under the rock.

Functional Play Toys

The benefits of functional play occur in the natural environment for the child: the home, playground, outside, in the school classroom, etc. Play happens everywhere! So what are some functional play toys that can support this aspect of development?

Try these toy ideas:

  • Legos
  • blocks
  • play dough
  • An empty cardboard box (great for creative play)
  • art supplies and a piece of paper
  • Playground equipment such as a swing and slide

The benefits of play does not need much! You can foster higher-level skills with simple materials.

What are your child’s favorite play figures or imaginative toys?  
This post is part of my 31 Days of Occupational Therapy series where I’m sharing ways to work on common Occupational Therapy treatment areas using every day, free, or almost free materials. 
Developmental play ideas for function in kids with everyday play items.
You will love some of these play and developmental ideas!

Baby Play Ideas for babies and toddlers
Toddler Play Ideas for kids aged 2-4
School-Aged play ideas for educational learning