Engaging Executive Functioning Activities

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Executive functioning activities are tools to build skills in attention, working memory, self-control, and cognitive flexibility. But these brain tasks can be HARD for some kids. So, when enhancing executive function is a real challenge, how can you make executive functioning activities meaningful and engaging? In a previous post, we talked about the use of strategy games as a method to improve executive functioning (EF) skills. Executive functioning games can be one means of engaging individuals in processing and self-reflection. While games are a great tool that children and teens can participate in both in and out of the clinic, there are many other everyday activities to promote EF skill development! Here are some more engaging ways to improve executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning activities can be motivating and meaningful when they use the interests of the child.

Executive Functioning ActivitiesThat Work

Executive functioning skills are an important client factor contributing to successful participation in daily occupations. EF is currently a buzzword, but it isn’t a new idea. Creating a EF activities that are personalized and based on interests is an effective strategy for ensuring participation. If the child has a deep interest in specific themes or activities based on their personal preferences, executive function practice and skill work becomes more fun as opposed to “work”.

Using the interests of the child as a motivator and as a scheduler can have great results. 

Check out a few ways that you can help children and teens develop their EF skills!

Cooking for Executive Functioning Skill Development

Cooking is a great way to work on executive functioning with a treat at the end! Cooking requires many executive functioning skills. Kids need to use impulse control to complete one step at a time and pace themselves, avoid ingesting raw ingredients or eating all of their hard work, as well as prevent injury with sharp or hot tools.

They also need to use working memory to recall what ingredients they need after looking at a recipe, as well as recalling the quantity of that ingredient. Here is information and strategies to teach direction following with cooking activities.

Crafts and Projects for Executive Functioning Skill Development

Crafts for kids and projects are another great way to work on executive functioning skills. Does your client have a special interest in the U.S. Presidents? Have them create a board game related to this interest! They will need to keep track of their materials, manage their time appropriately, and consider the perspectives of others who might play their game!

Executive Functioning and Gross Motor Activities

Gross motor activities and executive functioning activities can go hand in hand. Almost any activity can be adapted to integrate gross motor play! In a large room, a child could look at a list of items, then race to the other side of the room on their scooter to find an object, just like “I Spy” books and games! Many kids love to make obstacle courses, allowing for the development of initiation (getting started on building, instead of making grand plans and running out of time to make the course), impulse control (try changing the rules on them halfway through! “No touching red pieces!”), and metacognition (have them evaluate what went well, what did not go as well, and what they would change).

Executive Functioning and Daily Routines

Daily routines are a natural opportunity for the development of executive functioning skills. However, this also goes the other direction, because executive functioning is critical for independence in daily routines. Have clients create visuals to support their attention and sequencing of multiple step routines. If a child takes a significant amount of time to complete their routine, have a race to see who can get ready the fastest!

Executive Functioning and Technology

Some kids are highly motivated by apps and technology. These interests can be used as part of therapy intervention or as a reward. Here are occupational therapy apps which contain some free options to address executive functioning skills. Here are Alexa skills for therapy that can be used to work on executive functioning and other areas.

It’s all about executive FUNctioning!

Try a few of these activity ideas to integrate executive functioning skill development in an enjoyable, approachable way! These are engaging and fun ways to build executive functioning skills through meaningful strategies. They work for kids, and adults. The most best thing is that building mental skills can be meaningful and fun!

Looking for more motivating executive functioning activities? Try the Impulse Control Journal. It’s a fun and creative way to journal through skills…impulse control is covered, but also working memory, attention, organization, planning, prioritization, flexible thought, and more.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

Address the habits, mindset, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids.  More about the Impulse Control Journal:

  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies 
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights 
  • 8 Journal worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals 
  • Mindset,Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact 
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like 
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day 
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday  
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits  
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self-confidence
  • MORE!  

Click here to read more about the Impulse Control Journal and to add this resource to your therapy toolbox.

 How to Teach Kids Impulse Control


What is Modulation?


Easy Ways to Improve Impulse Control

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.

Executive functioning activities can be motivating and meaningful when they use the interests of the child.