Receptive Language

receptive language

This blog discusses the importance of receptive language and how it impacts development. Learn why understanding directions directly correlates to a child’s behaviors. You will discover receptive language activities to support preschoolers in complying with age appropriate requests. Read in this blog how auditory processing and attention play a huge role in receptive language.

Receptive language information and tools

What is Receptive Language?

Receptive language refers to how we understand spoken words, the language around us, and the ability to hear/understand/comprehend spoken language. Language is needed for learning, play, communication with others, understanding directions, safety, and participation in everyday activities. Functional participation requires receptive language in order to thrive and communicate wants, needs, thoughts, and ideas.

Receptive language can include spoken, written, and implied language. It is the intake of information, therefore receptive language can include un-spoken words. 

How about Expressive Language?

Receptive language is the information that is taken in.

Expressive language, in contrast, refers to the use of language to communicate with others. Expressive language is “expressed” through speech, sign, written words, picture symbols, gestures, body language, or alternative forms of language to communicate wants, needs, thoughts and ideas.

Receptive and expressive language are different aspects of language but are closely connected.

Receptive and Expressive Language

Expressive and receptive language fit together like important puzzle pieces. Any form of communication such as sign language, alternative forms of communication, and non-verbal cues, are types of both receptive language and expressive language. 

There are many different components that affect a child’s behavior, including the environment, co-regulation, sensory needs, emotional vocabulary development, relationships, and developmental milestones. 

As children develop, their comprehension skills and ability to interact with the world changes.

Receptive and Expressive Language in Tantrums

Miscommunication occurs between adults and preschoolers when children are given directions in ways they don’t understand. When a child has difficulty with understanding what is asked of them, the result is often a tantrum. The same is true when a young child does not have the words to express themselves.

There are many reasons why preschoolers have difficulty following directions, or responding to age appropriate prompts. Sometimes they do not understand the directions.

Other times, toddlers do not want to do what is asked of them. When they are upset, overwhelmed and uncooperative, give children the tools to settle down.

Once a child has calmed down, try giving the direction again. Encourage them to use words to communicate why they are feeling frustrated about the direction, and if they have a different idea on how to complete a task.

You can see how the receptive language input and expressive language communication output, along with auditory processing, or sensory processing of auditory input, all connect and impact one another as they play a role in tantrums vs. sensory meltdowns. It is all connected!

Why is receptive language important? This article covers receptive language development.

Receptive Language Development

Toddlers and preschoolers learn new words at a rapid rate. One morning you may hear your child say a three word phrase, and the next day they say a five word sentence. A child’s brain is magnificent, growing rapidly through the first five years of their life. Because development is complicated, it may feel overwhelming to new parents. This article explains important milestones by age. 

When children are born, they understand facial cues, the sounds and tones in voices, and follow gestures. As they grow, children start to understand pointing, hand gestures, spoken words, and picture vocabulary. Receptive language is the foundation to a child’s ability to understand what is being asked them, or others in their environment. 

As children learn about the meaning of gestures and words, they are able to anticipate and respond to the needs of those in their environment. The process of how our brains collect and decode language, is complex.

When children are learning how to process language, adults can support their comprehension by providing directions in simple phrases, incorporating gestures, and being patient when a child forgets to complete a task. Being mindful of the environmental surroundings also plays a key role in making sure children are able to focus on the words being directed towards them, with minimal sensorial distractions. 

For instance, if a parent yells a three-step direction from the kitchen while their four year old is watching a television show in the other room, it is likely the child did not hear the entire direction.

They may hear the first, middle, or last part of the phrase instead. When a child is given a direction that is new to them, or that they don’t fully comprehend, it may take a few moments for children to process and understand what is asked of them.

One important tip for receptive language skills is to give a child a moment to process directions before repeating them. If they still do not understand, speak slower, with shorter commands.

Students who are strong in these skills may be auditory learners.

The Anatomy behind language

This peer reviewed article on “The Functional Neuroanatomy of Language states:

  • Recognizing speech sounds is carried out in the superior temporal lobe bilaterally
  • The superior temporal sulcus bilaterally is involved in phonological-level aspects of this process
  • The frontal/motor system is not central to speech recognition, although it may modulate auditory perception of speech
  • Conceptual access mechanisms are likely located in the lateral posterior temporal lobe (middle and inferior temporal gyri)
  • Speech production involves sensory-related systems in the posterior superior temporal lobe in the left hemisphere
  • The interface between perceptual and motor systems is supported by a sensory-motor circuit for vocal tract actions (not dedicated to speech)
  • It is very similar to sensory-motor circuits found in primate parietal lobe
  • Verbal short-term memory can be understand as an emergent property of this sensory-motor circuit.” 

No wonder language is so complicated!

Receptive language activities and strategies for receptive and expressive language

Receptive Language Activities

Focusing on receptive language activities support the development of receptive and expressive language, because these types of language are so closely tied together.

Talk

Encourage children to take part in everyday activities to build language comprehension, understand social cues, and follow directions given to them on a daily basis.

Talk with them all the time. Have conversation in the car, name all the items in the grocery store, talk about their daily schedule, and encourage opportunities for them to express themselves.

Age-appropriate activities

When children are provided with age appropriate cues, and a calm down spot to process their feelings, they can thrive in all aspects of development.

Focus on auditory attention during these age-appropriate tasks.

Here are nine simple ways to ensure your kids are hearing and understanding directions:

  1. Make sure to give directions in simple form (one step directions for children under 20 months old; two-step directions for children under three years old; three step directions for children under five years old).
  2. Use visual and auditory cues when giving directions, such as pointing, gestures, words and picture cues. 
  3. Give directions when you are in front of the child, kneeling down at their level. 
  4. Make sure you have their undivided attention (no television, music, electronics, or other distractions).
  5. Encourage eye contact if appropriate (some children with neuro-diverse needs have a harder time making eye contact and this is not appropriate. It is always important to address individual needs, strengths, and goals).
  6. Make sure what you are asking the child to do, is developmentally appropriate for their current skill level. 
  7. Use these first/then visual cards to communicate what you are requesting. 
  8. Implement a visual schedule to support requests around transition times. 
  9. Try the activities in the Auditory Processing Kit found on the OT Toolbox. This printable resource offers tools to support listening skills, whole body listening, listening comprehension, active listening, and auditory processing needs. This printable packet contains active listening activities, hands-on strategies, activity cards, visual cards, handouts, and more.
  10. Try a DIY whisper phone to focus on auditory attention, sounds, and focus on a whisper.

Why is receptive language important?

Receptive language development directly affects all areas of development, from attention span, to literacy, social skills, and many more.

Receptive language development is important for:

  • Learning
  • Comprehension (hearing and deciphering between auditory cues- suffixes, pronunciations, tone, etc. in speech)
  • Communication skills
  • Social emotional development
  • Safety
  • Play and interaction with others
  • Functional development
  • Many other task and participation skills!

It’s easy to see how language challenges with nuances of receptive input can impact so many areas. These are just some of the difficulties a child with delayed receptive language development may present with. 

Challenges related to receptive language include:

  • Attention and concentration challenges- Sustained effort is involved in understanding language, and being able to hold that information long enough to get the task done.
  • Behavior challenges- Not being able to understand and perceive directions, can result in social emotional challenges, or maladaptive behaviors.
  • Literacy challenges- Reading and writing struggles can occur in the classroom with if a person has receptive language struggles.
  • Social skills concerns- Participating in social situations can be difficult when engaging in reciprocal interaction with others (either verbally or nonverbally). This can impact social situations, social emotional learning, and functional participation.
  • Sensory processing needs- Auditory registration of sounds, language, and information can be impacted through sensory processing disorders. 
  • Executive functioning requires using auditory information that is received and processed, to complete higher order reasoning and thinking skills, following directions, participating in tasks, and using working memory.
  • Expressive language delays- Expressive language can be impacted by not understanding language from others (receptive language delay), because it is not accurately received correctly, in order to be processed. 
  • Planning and sequencing concerns- Receptive language impacts direction following, and accurate sequential completion of multi-step tasks 
  • Auditory Processing issues- Difficulty in the ability to hear sounds, distinguish between similar sounds or words, and separate relevant speech from background noise.

A final note on receptive language

Receptive language impacts a variety of areas of development. When teachers and other caregivers slow down speech, and support receptive language skills, all other areas of a child’s life will benefit.

Starting at birth, singing, talking, and reading to children, helps develop neuron and synapse development in the brain. 

Don’t forget to check out all of the great resources on the OT Toolbox, including the Auditory Processing Tool Kit.

Auditory Processing Kit

Jeana Kinne is a veteran preschool teacher and director. She has over 20 years of experience in the Early Childhood Education field. Her Bachelors Degree is in Child Development and her Masters Degree is in Early Childhood Education. She has spent over 10 years as a coach, working with Parents and Preschool Teachers, and another 10 years working with infants and toddlers with special needs. She is also the author of the “Sammy the Golden Dog” series, teaching children important skills through play.

Auditory Attention Activities

auditory attention activities

Below, you will find information on how to improve attention and memory with auditory processing techniques, specifically through auditory feedback. We’re sharing information regarding an auditory processing tool and auditory attention activities to utilize auditory feedback to promote attention and memory within functional tasks. Attention to language, aspects of sound, and auditory memory skills can be impacted by auditory attention. This as well as auditory sensitivities can impact learning and functional participation in everyday tasks.

Auditory attention activities for kids and adults

On a daily basis, therapy providers witness the strong connections between attention and memory, and their influence on function. They’re also able to prescribe customized therapy programs that ameliorate each level of auditory processing needed to carry out a task. Activities that work multiple systems while strengthening the foundation of function help to streamline therapy and meet goals. This wholistic approach is a hallmark of the occupational therapy profession.

Auditory Processing

We’ve shared various auditory processing activities here on The OT Toolbox. Today, we’re chatting about auditory feedback and the part this plays in improving attention needed in learning. You can find additional resources and activities like this auditory feedback tool at the bottom of this post.

Tips and strategies to improve attention and memory with auditory processing.

Memory and Attention are the Foundations for Learning

Memory and attention work together in the brain to form the basis of our cognitive abilities. Attention is the ability to process information—sometimes selectively—and memory is the ability to store that information for retrieval as needed.

This foundation impacts everything we do, including basic cognitive tasks (such as brushing our teeth) and more complex tasks (like playing a musical instrument).

What is auditory feedback and how does this  skill play into auditory processing and its impact on attention and memory?

What is Auditory Feedback

Auditory Feedback is a natural process in the human body that helps us understand and modulate sound and speech signals in real time. When we speak, our ears receive the signal, and our brains make sense of it.

In the case of vocalizations, and to a greater extent speech, our brains modulate the productions in real time so that we can quickly adapt, ensuring our message is accurate.

Strengthening the Foundation

Simply using the auditory feedback system—or auditory feedback loop—is one way to ensure that memory and attention continue to work well. We do this every day by listening to sounds and speaking.

In order to improve these skills, we need to challenge the brain in specific ways. We know that the brain is plastic; it is a living organ that changes and adapts to the needs of the body. I

f someone stops using their left arm, the brain will strengthen connections to the right arm to compensate. Furthermore, the neural connections that aren’t being used for the left arm will start to deteriorate, which is hard evidence for the “use it or lose it” adage.

Practical and Results-Focused Brain Training

Disclosure: Affiliate links are included below.

Capitalizing on the audio-feedback loop and its ability to improve memory and attention in the brain is the business of Forbrain® Bone Conduction Headphones. With these headphones, a simple task can become a multi-faceted memory and attention-boosting transformation.

Bone conduction hearing is ten times quicker than air conduction and while using Forbrain, which includes a microphone and a dynamic filter, manipulated sound stimuli reach the brain quicker, and are presented in a way that’s naturally challenging.

Challenging the brain is synonymous with growing the brain!

The use of bone conduction headphones has been proven to improve therapy outcomes. One study suggests that there is a real basis for the claims that Forbrain can improve voice quality and the executive attentional mechanisms and memory. The results suggest that an auditory feedback device such as Forbrain® could be helpful in improving focus in those who have attention disorders such as ADHD, and those who have difficulties with speech production and auditory processing (Escera).

Easy auditory Attention activities:

These auditory attention activities are easy ways to to improve attention through auditory processing. These strategies can be used at any age, and depend on the need. Learners that struggle with listening comprehension will find strategies that impact attention. Younger children will benefit from quick activities such as nursery rhymes and clapping games that impact auditory attention skills at an age-appropriate level.

It’s as simple as wearing the headphones while carrying out auditory feedback activities during therapy or during everyday tasks. All of these strategies impact auditory memory.

Examples of activities might include:

  • Reading a book or poetry aloud
  • Reciting nursery rhymes
  • Clapping games and movement activities
  • Practicing tone and pitch while singing
  • Playing a musical instrument
  • Memorizing material for an exam
  • Performing exercises to improve posture and diaphragmatic breathing

Forbrain isn’t just for therapists or those of us in a therapy program. If you or someone you know can benefit from the improved memory and attention abilities that Forbrain provides, read more about using a bone conduction headset and grab one of your ownn here.

Tips and tools for better attention using auditory feedback and other auditory processing strategies.

References:

Escera, C. (2015). A scientific single case study on speech, auditory processing and attentional strengthening with Forbrain® . Retrieved from Agency name website: https://www.forbrain.com/uploads/editor/files/Scientific_Research_Forbrain-Carles_Escera-Summary_Report.pdf

The Auditory Processing Kit is a tool to support learners by building skills in listening comprehension, auditory processing needs, and much more. The tools offer support to learners with hyper-responsive or hypo-responsive auditory systems. Therapists love the hands-on activities to support learning and active listening through play and handwriting tasks.

  • Listening Comprehension
  • Fine Motor Listening Skills
  • How to Improve Listening Skills Poster
  • Clap It Out Syllables Orthographic Activities
  • Beginning Sounds Letter Activity
  • Rhyming Words Activity
  • Activity Listening Activity
  • Hearing Skills Activity
  • Auditory Memory Strategies
  • What Does Active Listening Look Like?
  • Whole Body Listening Activity
  • Whole Body Listening Poster
  • Listening and Motor Skills Game
  • 2 Step Direction Cards
  • How to Support Hyper-Responsiveness of the Auditory Sense (handout and info sheet)
  • How to Support Hypo-responsiveness of the Auditory Sense (handout and info sheet)
  • Auditory Processing Tools Cards
  • Auditory Processing Speed -2 Digit Numbers
  • Auditory Processing Speed -3 Digit Numbers
  • Auditory Processing Speed -4 Digit Numbers

Use the handouts and posters to teach about the auditory system and auditory challenges, with strategies to support individualized needs. Get your copy of the Auditory Processing Kit today.

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.

Memory Card Games

memory card games

Occupational therapy professionals know the benefit of using memory card games to build skills in therapy sessions. OTs love to use games in therapy sessions to address a variety areas in novel and fun ways…and kids love the gaming aspect of therapy!

Memory card games as an occupational therapy activity to work on working memory, attention, concentration, spatial relations, visual motor skills, and handwriting.

Memory Card Games in Occupational Therapy

There are so many reasons to play memory games in OT! Areas like executive functioning skills, to working memory, attention, focus, to fine motor skills, visual motor skills, visual perceptual skills, and even handwriting can be improved through the use of memory card games.

We’ve talked about using games in a variety of ways…today, we’re covering the use of a Memory Card Game to work on various skills in OT. Here’s why this simple game is such a powerful tool for impacting function:

Memory games are a powerful way to work on sort term memory, working memory, and executive functioning skills such as attention organization planning prioritization organizational skills.

Memory games are fun way for kids to work on short term memory and other skills that are beneficial for learning in the classroom and at home.

When kids play memory they can work on holding short term information in their memory In their short term memory. This allows them to use visual attention and visual memory while they remember where pictures are located playing a classic memory game.

Kids with other executive functioning issues me to be struggling with the same challenges in the classroom or at home. By playing a game such as memory kids can work on these executive functioning skills in a fun and low-key manner.

When they play memory kids can work on prioritization such as choosing which card to pick first.

When you play memory you pick a card and if you seen it before you you need to remember where you’ve seen that location of the card. This scale requires time management self-regulation and self-control. You don’t want to pick up the next card in a rush without thinking through your your process of where you saw that picture last.

Memory card games can be used to address visual motor skills.

Playing a game of memory can help with short term memory and retention of information as well. When kids need to recall where they saw a card in a previous play they need to think back and use their mental memory skills in order to recall where that card is located in the board. This visual component of working memory skills carries over to the classroom when kids need to remember to do it to do their homework or what skills have worked in the past in order to solve problems on tests or in situations of game or learning at school.

A memory game also helps with multitasking and helping kids to stay and complete a task through to completion. All of these executive functioning skills are powerful skills to develop through play such as using a memory game.

“Grading” Memory Card Games to Meet Different Needs

When therapists add a toy or game to their “OT toolbox”, they need to use the material in a variety of ways to meet the needs of different levels of children and while addressing different skill areas.

This refers to grading activities.

Grading, in occupational therapy, means making an activity more or less challenging in order to meet the needs of the individual. This can also refer to changing an activity in the middle of the task, depending on how the client or child is responding. Grading is important when it comes to finding the “just right” amount of support or adaptations that need to be made to a task that challenge the client while also allowing them to feel good about doing the therapy intervention.

If the activity is too easy, you would grade it up to make it a greater challenge.

If the activity is too hard, you would grade it down to make it easier to accomplish a sub-goal or skillset, while also challenging those skills.

Memory card games are a great tool to use to challenge a variety of skill levels and abilities.

  • You can help to boost skills by changing the number of matches that you are using in the memory card game. If a child who struggles with attention, focus, impulse control, visual perception, eye-hand coordination, or working memory, you might play the memory game with only two matches or four matches so that there are four or eight cards total on the playing board.
  • You can further adapt this game by giving clear and concise instructions or hints in other words. Try to help the child use their memory, attention, working memory, and recall skills by defining the match that they are looking for and details that are on that image. This can be accomplished by saying things like, “I’ve seen that card before. Have you?”
  • Another strategy to grade memory games is to ask the child to talk through their moves. This self-reflection can build self-confidence, and it’s a helpful way to remember where they seen a matching card before. And, this self-talk skill also translates over to functional tasks. When a child performs a task such as a chore or a homework assignment they can talk through the task at hand. This allows them to recall what they’ve learned and what’s been successful. They are able to use skills they’ve established in the past. Self talk skill is a great strategy for kids who both struggle with executive functioning skills and anyone in general.
  • Another modification to memory card games include offering visual cues or verbal cues of what the child has seen. You can support this by asking the child “Have you seen this picture already?” Ask them to recall what the image was near on the board and see if you can picture in your mind where that card is in relation to others on the board. This involves a spatial-relations component as well as other visual perceptual skills.
  • Finally it’s helpful to reduce distractions while playing memory game. Sometimes the aspect of attention is limited by other things happening around a child which can’t be addressed in a situation such as a classroom or a community situation however you can work on specific skills such as showing the child how to self regulate like taking a deep breath or preparing themselves before they make their move. This can help with over feelings of overwhelm and stress the kids sometimes get.

How to play memory games in therapy

When kids play memory they are playing the classic memory game that you’ve probably played in your childhood.

  1. The game uses matching cards which are placed facedown on the table.
  2. Players take turns selecting to picture cards they turned one over at a time and see if they’ve got a match. If they’ve got a match they can go again.
  3. If the player doesn’t have a match they turn the cards back over so they were they are facedown on the table.
  4. Then the next player goes. The second player selects two picture cards and turns them over one at a time. It’s important to turn the cards over one at a time because if you have a card because if the first card that is turned over is a card that you’ve seen before then you need to remember where that match is on the board. This aspect of playing the game of memory really works on attention focus and impulse control.
  5. Players continue finding the matches until all of the cards are selected.
  6. The player with the most number of matches wins the game.

What’s missing Activity with memory cards

“What’s missing” is also another great way to use a memory game to work on specific skills of executive functioning including the ones listed above.

How to play what’s missing with Memory Cards

  1. To play what’s missing you would set out a spare set number of memory cards on the table face up.
  2. Then the player gets to look at the cards for a set amount of time.
  3. The player tries to memorize every card on the table.
  4. Then the player closes their eyes or looks away from the table while another player removes one or more cards.
  5. Then the first player looks back at the table and tries to recall and identify the missing images.

What’s Missing games address a variety of visual perceptual skills, visual memory, visual attention, spatial relations, form constancy, and visual discrimination.

This activity can be graded up or down in a variety of ways by adding more cards shortening the amount of time to look at the cards and remember the cards or to add more matches and to remove more or less cards. To make this harder you can have two all different cards or you can have matches and some without matches.

Memory games in sensory bins

Memory cards make a great addition to sensory bins. Children that especially enjoy specific themes can use memory card games in a variety of themes with specific characters or topics such as vehicles, princesses, sports, animals, ect.

To use memory cards in sensory bins, you need just a few materials. This can include a dry sensory bin material, the memory cards, and possibly scoops, tweezers. Dry sensory bin materials include such as dry beans, rice, sand, shredded paper, etc. Then memory cards can be added to the sensory bin and hidden away, much like we hid sight word cards in this sight word sensory bin.

Another bonus is then building and refining fine motor skills through the scooping and pouring of the sensory bin materials.

In the sensory bin, children can look for the matching memory cards. This activity builds skills such as:

  • visual discrimination
  • form constancy
  • visual memory
  • attention
  • sensory tolerance through play
  • fine motor control
  • transferring skills
  • bilateral coordination
  • controlled movements
  • MORE

Memory Card Games and Handwriting

Therapists are often looking for short and functional means of working on handwriting skills through play. Memory games are a great way to address this need.

With a memory card game, children can write down the matches that they’ve found when matching cards. The same is true when playing “what’s missing” games. They can write down the words of the images that they’ve found on the playing board. And, by writing down these words, they can then work on letter formation, letter size, spacing, and legibility. This occurs in a in a short list format that is motivating for kids.

Yet another benefit of working on handwriting skills with a memory game is that children are excited to find matches. This excitement can translate to the handwriting portion. Kids will want to write more words because that means they are finding more matches. This is a very rewarding and positive way to work on handwriting skills, which can often times, be a challenge for kids.

Memory Card Games for Therapy

Memory cards are a powerful tool to add to a therapy toolbox! This is especially true if memory games are focused on an interest of the child. You will really enjoy a new series of themed memory cards with handwriting pages that I have coming to the website shop.

First up is our Back to School Memory Game and List Writing Prompts!

Work on attention, memory, focus, visual skills, executive functioning skills, visual perceptual skills, concentration and a variety of other skills. PLUS, the themed cards include handwriting pages with a variety of lined paper options.

This Back-to-School resource is a great way to quickly assess your caseload for handwriting, coloring, cutting, motor skills, midline crossing, visual memory, visual perceptual skills, motor planning, executive functioning, and more. And, such a fun and motivating activity to quickly and informally reassess each child on your caseload at a “just right” level.

This memory card activity can be printed off, laminated, and used again and again.

Click here to add the Back-to-School Memory Game and List Writing Prompts resource to your therapy toolbox.

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.

Executive Function Activities (at the Beach!)

executive function activities

Executive functioning development is partly learning through experience, and partly trial and error. But did you know you could foster powerful executive function activities through everyday experiences? Here, we’re chatting how to foster executive functioning skills through play…and even at the beach! Add these ideas to improve executive functioning skills this summer.

Executive function activities don't need to be boring. Use these executive function activities at the beach or while on vacation.

Heading out of town on vacation to the beach soon? Check out these cool ways to work on executive functioning while you’re there! Once you get back, get to work on these seashell souvenirs!

Looking for engaging executive functioning activities doesn’t need a trip to the beach. Some of these ideas can be set up in your own backyard. But, if you are going on a vacation or trip this summer, why not use it to foster development of skills through executive functioning activities?

Executive Functioning Activities: Planning and Prioritizing for a Vacation

Trips to the beach can be a great opportunity for families to enjoy some time away! They can also be a fun way to integrate some therapy. Sensory processing, motor skills, executive functioning—the options are endless! Sensory processing and motor skills might seem more obvious than executive functioning. Let’s take a deeper look at a few popular activities at the beach and how they can use executive functioning!

You can start working on executive functioning even before you leave for the trip! These are excellent ways to work on planning and prioritization skills. Especially important in planning for a vacation is the prioritization aspect: when to pack, when to set aside time to wash necessary clothing, making the time to plan out a trip and make reservations can all impact the success of a vacation.

  • Have your child look up the forecast
  • Work on creating a packing list
  • Schedule time to gather needed items
  • Work together to organize vacation items into available bags.

This can be a great way to get them involved! It also challenges their ability to delay gratification, as they will need to wait until it is time to go, even if that is a few days away. Time management will also be necessary so that packing doesn’t take all day!

Executive Function Activities: Build Sandcastles

Kids love building sandcastles! This activity requires a lot of executive functioning skills.

A child needs to use impulse control so that no one gets sand thrown in their eyes and to avoid the castle from being smashed prior to completion.

The child also needs to develop a plan and organize their ideas prior to or as they build in order to get the product they would like.

They need to recall where they put their shovels or buckets, as well as sequence multiple components as they build.

They also need to problem solve, as the sand might not be their desired consistency! Sandcastles—a great, complex way to work on executive functioning!

Executive Function Activities: Skipping Stones

Remember trying to skip stones during calm days on the water? This is another great way to integrate the use of executive functioning skills.

Stones need to meet specific criteria in order to be the best candidates. Or, this can become an area for problem solving or making predictions (foresight) to see what type of stone might skip best.

Certainly, there is a significant amount of impulse control needed in order to ensure safety of others in the area! Work on emotional control through contests of who gets their stone the farthest, especially if a child has difficulty losing.

Don’t have the motor planning or coordination to skip stones? No problem! Toss stones into a pool of water instead.

Boogie boards/knee surfing Executive Function Activity

Boogie boarding or knee surfing can be another activity to work on executive functioning in a hidden way! A child needs to plan their motor movements before they take place, as well as consider timing of waves. Safety awareness will also be important, along with persistence, since this can be a challenging activity!

The beach is a great way to work on a variety of developmental skills, whether sensory processing, motor skills, or executive functioning! Enjoy some of these activities on your upcoming trip and enjoy the benefits of the beach!

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.

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.

Improve Executive Functioning Skills this Summer

improve executive functioning skills this summer

Summer is coming! And, I have some fun ways to improve executive functioning skills during the summer months, while the kids are on a break from school. Working on executive functioning doesn’t need to involve boring projects, long checklists, or tedious tasks that make the kids run. These executive functioning activities can help to improve the skills that translate to better planning, prioritization, and staying on task during day-to-day functional tasks and when back in the classroom.

How to Improve Executive Functioning Skills This Summer

When school ends for the year, we can all have wonderful intentions of a great summer filled with enriching activities to continue our student’s growth. Sometimes, that means having plans that are hard to achieve. Sometimes, that means having absolutely no plans, but then realizing this is a bit too unstructured!

Whatever camp you are in, a middle ground is a more attainable place to be. Check out these ways to work on executive functioning skills this summer.

Under each activity idea below, you’ll find strategies to improve executive functioning skills. Use these tips to work on areas like:

  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Organization
  • Task Completion
  • Attention
  • Working memory

Then, when children see success that they’ve made in fun and meaningful tasks, they can carry those skills over to other tasks. Be sure to point out hard work, worthy attempts, and small successes. This auditory input can help to get a point to stick later down the road.

Get started with some fun summer games. Planning a weekly game night with the family can get this on the calendar and make game playing an event. Think about even adding themes or special fun snacks to the game night events.

Interest Based Occupations to Work on Executive Functions

Occupational therapists use meaningful occupations (or the tasks that occupy one’s time) as a therapeutic tool to improve independence, functioning, safety, and meaning in one’s life. The use of motivating interests play a strong role in building essential executive functioning skills, too!

Use your child’s interests to improve executive functioning that carries over to less preferred activities (like school, homework, and even chores).

Whatever your child’s leisure interests, there is likely an easy way to integrate executive functioning growth opportunities!

sports to work on executive functioning skills

Do you have a budding athlete in your family?

  • Have them set up a tournament for your family or neighborhood: create the brackets (requires planning and organizing, working memory, and initiation)
  • Winning/losing (requires emotional regulation and impulse control)
  • Create the court or field (planning and organizing, organization of materials)

Art to work on executive functioning skills

How about your budding artist? There are so many fun summer-themed crafts for all ages!

  • Have your child think flexibly about different materials they can use, especially if you do not have all of the items needed to make a certain masterpiece!
  • Plan projects
  • Set a completion date and write out steps with small goals that need to be achieved before the next step can be accomplished
  • Use a large project such as a mural, pottery, or painting garden planters to expand executive functioning development over weeks or months

Reading to work on executive functioning skills

Have a bookworm?

  • A summer book club could be fun! They could create a plan for each club meeting, including creating the invitations and agenda, working on their skills of initiation, time management, planning and organizing, and working memory.
  • Mark off on a calendar when library books need to be returned
  • Schedule time daily for reading and make it relaxing: a book picnic in the yard, taking books to the park, or reading under twinkle lights can be fun and interesting, and all need to be planned out with thinking ahead.

Chores to Improve Executive Functioning Skills

Summer is a great time to start integrating family chores without the pressure of starting a new routine in the middle of a school year. Activities like cooking and recycling are approachable for many ages.

Cooking to work on executive Function

Find a recipe that works for your family’s ages, needs, and foods. Then, to work on executive function, try some of these tips:

If cooking is something that you would like to try with kids, be sure to pick out a recipe that is motivating to the child. Here are tons of cooking with kids recipe ideas.

  1. Break up the recipe into the planning stages, the executing stages, and the eating stages!
  2. With each step of the recipe (including preparation and clean-up), assign different family members different jobs, like making the list (while giving them 3 steps to remember and write down for a working memory challenge).
  3. Work on planning and prioritization by estimating when each step will need to start for more complex recipes (time management).
  4. Think about the items and recipe ingredients that are needed as well as steps of the process, including smaller tasks like emptying the sink or dishwasher after you finish cooking (organization of materials).

Recycling to work on executive function

Take the opportunity to teach your children about recycling. Here are tips to use recycling as an opportunity to build specific executive functions:

  1. Can they identify what items should go in the garbage versus the recycling (working memory)?
  2. Can they initiate and show impulse control in this task, such as taking the extra steps to the recycling bin, rather than just throwing that can in the garbage?
  3. Use a calendar to mark off the day when recycling materials should be collected and the bin taken to the curb or recycling center.
  4. Use a list to identify materials that can be recycled.

Summer Learning and Executive Functioning Skills

While neither a strong academic focus nor a lack of academic focus tends to be the best for any child, there are ways to integrate academics into the more relaxed environment of summer activities.

Have some sidewalk chalk? Work on sight words (both from previous grade and the soon-to-be grade), letter formation, math problems, you name it!

If slime is still a trend in your house, find a good recipe and have your child use their executive functioning skills to complete and reflect on the creation. What went well? What did they struggle with or would they change?

Make a ninja or obstacle course! This takes incredible amounts of executive functioning skills: initiation, shifting, impulse control (“No, Johnny, it probably would not be best to put that plank on top of the playground as a launchpad.”), emotional control/failure tolerance, time management, working memory, planning and organizing, and organization of materials.

Have fun this summer, stay safe, and keep the growth going!

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.

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.

What are Executive Functioning Skills?

Executive functioning skills are an important component of skilled occupational therapy intervention, but they can be confusing to some. What are executive functioning skills? Executive functioning skills go beyond the basics like working memory and impulse control. In fact, there is not necessarily one agreed-upon definition for executive functioning! Ready to learn more? Keep reading!

What are executive functioning skills

What are executive FUNCTIONING Skills?

Executive functioning (EF) skills are diverse. Typically, EF consists of skills including the ability to manage emotions, initiate activities within a timely manner, shift attention from topics or activities, control impulses and urges, retain information for use during functional activities, develop plans and formulate systems to perform a desired task, prevent missing materials, and being mindful of how our own behavior impacts others.

Development of executive functioning skills

When do executive functioning skills develop?

Executive functioning skills take a long time to develop! As a result, different ages demonstrate different challenges when facing EF deficits.

While a child in late elementary school may seem successful with their ability to manage classroom materials, turn in homework assignments on time, and engage in age-appropriate behaviors, the same child may demonstrate significant challenges upon the transition to middle school. For example, now they have to return to their locker between classes to exchange books, which is not just a simple stop-and-go activity.

There are distractions, the desire to engage in social interactions, a time crunch to make it to the next class on time, the need to remember what class is next and what materials they need, and not to mention needing to remember the sequence for their combination lock! This all happens before they even make it into their next classroom or head home for the day.

How can executive functioning skills improve?

Thanks to the brain’s neuroplasticity, EF skills have potential for improvement! Many daily activities require diverse EF skills, making them a fantastic opportunity to integrate effective strategies.

What are executive functioning skills

Emotional regulation as an area of executive functioning:

Emotional regulation is one of the first areas of executive functioning that many parents want to improve, since it can add significant stress to family life. Self-reflection is one way to improve emotional regulation. However, it’s important that this takes place after the big feelings pass, since learning takes place when bodies and minds are “just right.”

This can easily be added to family routines. One way to encourage self-reflection is to have each family member share a positive and negative from the day when seated for dinner.

This also allows for family members to support each other (“Good luck on your test today, Jacob, you studied very hard!”) and provides opportunities for continued conversation (“You mentioned having an argument with your friend at lunch today. Is there anything I can do to help?”). It can also normalize the big feelings we all experience!

Initiation and executive functioning skills:

We’ve all struggled with initiation at some point in our lives; we need to complete items on an ever-growing to-do list, but just don’t know where to start! Kids experience this, too.

For children who are competitive, make a contest out of completing tasks. See who can complete their to-do list the fastest, but with the best quality, too! Teaching children and teens how to become more independent with initiation can be fun and successful.

Shifting as an executive function:

Shifting is often combined with attention, since shifting requires the individual to determine what is important and focus on that, rather than what they might have been doing or thinking before.

Take, for example, a student who was writing a paper on a Shakespearean play for their English class. They’ve now finished the assignment and have moved on to a worksheet on the quadratic formula. Their mind needs to completely turn “off” Shakespeare and turn “on” the quadratic formula.

Luckily, there are many activities for attention. One fun way is to build an obstacle course. Each time the child completes the course, change one of the rules!

For example, the second time, they can only touch primary colors or can only hop on one foot in between obstacles. They will not only need to remember what the new rule is, but they will have to shift away from the old rules!

Inhibition and executive functioning:

Inhibition is often referred to as impulse control. It can be an exhausting component of executive functioning, as it can lead to significant safety concerns.

One way to improve impulse control with younger children is through the game “Red Light, Green Light.” Many children (even early teenagers) enjoy playing versions of “Floor is Lava,” avoiding certain materials as they attempt to navigate a room. This can also be a great way to work on working memory!

Working memory as an executive function:

Working memory can be a significant challenge for many individuals. Working memory requires us to retain learned information and use it during daily activities.

There are many ways to support working memory development and deficits. There are many task-management apps available, even for things like medication management. For activities to improve working memory, try playing games like Magic Labyrinth, Melissa and Doug’s Sandwich Stacking Game, or making a recipe!

Planning/organizing for executive functioning success:

Planning for projects and organizing ideas is stressful! It can be helpful to go through large assignments one at a time. Break the assignment into manageable pieces, including what materials are needed for that step and when that step needs to be completed.

The good news is that these skills can experience definite improvements with practice. Check out this link for more information and strategies on prioritization and planning skill development.

Organization of materials and executive functioning:

Messy rooms with laundry covering the floor, desks and lockers overflowing with paper, expandable folders filled to the brim with assignments—these are the signs of a disorganized student! Organization is often the first thing to go when a person feels stressed or overwhelmed, as it can be time-consuming.

To support a child’s organization skills development, try making checklists for their locker or desk. As they place each item into their backpack, they can check a box to make sure they have everything they need before they go! Or, use labels to clearly define where belongings go in a closet or on a bookshelf.

Executive functioning skills in kids

Monitoring for executive functioning success:

Monitoring is important since we all interactive with others on a daily basis! Monitoring is the acknowledgement that we behave in certain ways and that these behaviors can affect other people.

Self-reflection (mentioned above) can be a good way to promote monitoring. An individual can process through what they think went well, what they struggled with, and how they think others felt during these events. Behavior charts can also be helpful by clearly listing out what the expectation is and whether the individual demonstrated that skill area. Ultimately, the goal is to encourage self-monitoring as much as possible, rather than adults monitoring the child. The possibilities for monitoring strategies  are diverse and it’s possible to find something that works for each person.

More Executive Functioning Skills Resources:

  • Free Executive Function Mini-Course- Wondering about what are executive functioning skills? This Executive Functioning Skills Course is a FREE, 5-day email course that will help you understand executive functioning and all that is included in the set of mental skills.
  • This collection of executive functioning skills resources outline many aspects of higher cognitive skills through various EF skill areas.
  • Getting organized can be a start to addressing several executive functioning skill areas. Here is a collection of organization strategies, tips, and tools.
What are executive functioning skills? This resource on attention, organization, planning, and other executive functions helps kids develop skills needed for learning.

For resources, tools, and printable activities to improve and strengthen the development of executive functioning skills, check out The Impulse Control Journal.

Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

Free Spring Memory Game

Spring memory game

Today, I’ve got a spring memory game that you can access for free. Fire up the printer because this printable game is a fun way to work on visual perceptual skills with kids. The bugs, butterflies, rain clouds, and other Spring images will keep the kiddos building visual memory, visual attention, and visual discrimination skills so they can learn and grow through play. And, check out our Spring visual perception activities for more fun.

Spring memory game for kids is a free printable

Benefits of playing Memory GameS

Memory games are such a great way to help kids develop visual perceptual skills they use in reading, writing, and math. For another printable game, check out this Goodnight Moon memory game activity.

Memory games boost skills in a lot of different ways:

Visual discrimination- determining the difference between images uses visual discrimination skills. This translates to letter and number identification, reading sight words, and reading fluency and comprehension.

Visual attention- Memory games require a lot of attention to keep those eyes on the game pieces. This ability to visually attend during game play then transfers over to attention during writing and reading tasks.

Visual memory- a little different than actual memory of concepts and ideas, visual memory is the picture that the mind’s eye captures during situations or events. Visual memory allows us to file away information and recall it for future use, based on what we’ve seen. Visual memory plays a role in executive functioning skills and working memory.

Executive functioning skills- speaking of executive functioning, visual skills have a large role in attention, focus, planning ahead, and other EF tasks. Read more about games to support and develop executive functioning skills, including the game of memory.

Visual figure-ground– This visual perceptual skill allows us to pull out important information from a busy background. When playing memory, you need to see a specific image in a background of many other game cards. This skill can be developed in non-traditional game play. Turn all of the game cards over so the images are face up. Can you find the matches quickly when they are all showing? What if we turn on a timer? Can you beat the clock to find all of the matches? Visual figure ground skills play a role in reading fluency and comprehension.

There are other skills that the game of memory develops as well: Skills like focus, attention, concentration, attention span, thinking skills, problem solving, self-confidence…these are just some of the ways that Memory assists with child development!

Free Spring Memory Game

In the printable, there are 12 different Spring images, so 24 total cards. You can adjust the number of cards to meet the needs of each child. Use it to play traditional memory, or adjust the activity with different memory and visual perception activities:

  • Play “what’s missing”
  • Match the cards on a dry erase board with a marker or string, like we did here.
  • Print them off, slide them into a page protector sheet and use them over and over again with a dry erase marker.
  • Work on pencil control and color in the images with colored pencils
  • Practice handwriting and write the names of the images.

I’m adding this free printable to this week’s Spring occupational therapy activities. If you are looking for fun and easy ways to help kids develop skills in their therapy goals, or for ways to support child development in the home or classroom, be sure to check out the seasonal activity ideas.

So? Want to print off this Spring game and add it to your therapy toolbox to help kids (and adults) play and build brain skills? Enter your email into the form below and you’ll receive the printable game pieces.

The images on the Memory Game are similar and match a lot of the icons and graphics used in our NEW Spring Fine Motor Kit. Read more about this resource below.

Free Spring Memory Game

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    Spring Fine Motor Kit

    Score Fine Motor Tools and resources and help kids build the skills they need to thrive!

    Developing hand strength, dexterity, dexterity, precision skills, and eye-hand coordination skills that kids need for holding and writing with a pencil, coloring, and manipulating small objects in every day task doesn’t need to be difficult. The Spring Fine Motor Kit includes 100 pages of fine motor activities, worksheets, crafts, and more:

    Spring fine motor kit set of printable fine motor skills worksheets for kids.
    • Lacing cards
    • Sensory bin cards
    • Hole punch activities
    • Pencil control worksheets
    • Play dough mats
    • Write the Room cards
    • Modified paper
    • Sticker activities
    • MUCH MORE

    Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

    Spring Fine Motor Kit
    Spring Fine Motor Kit: TONS of resources and tools to build stronger hands.

    Grab your copy of the Spring Fine Motor Kit and build coordination, strength, and endurance in fun and creative activities. Click here to add this resource set to your therapy toolbox.

    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.

    Vision Problems or Attention

    Vision problems or attention issues

    Visual deficits and occupational therapy interventions go hand in hand. And, the connection between vision problems or attention issues impacts children when it comes to ADD and ADHD. In fact, the connection between visual deficits and attention is especially a factor in OT treatment. Trouble paying attention, difficulty with reading, finishing work on time and staying on task can be signs of both attention issues or a vision issue. So, how do you tell the difference, and what do you do about it? Knowing if a visual impairment is present can mean the difference between accommodating for vision difficulties and a different diagnosis, such as attention deficit disorder. 

    Vision problems or attention issues

    Vision or Attention Deficit Disorder

    Children with vision deficits work twice as hard, and use more “brain” power to make their eyes work correctly as compared to peers without vision deficits. 

    Children with vision deficits may also experience fatigue more quickly, have frequent headaches, or blurry vision.

    When they begin to experience the above symptoms, it is easier for the child to look away, leading them to appear to be “staring off into space” or lose focus. These behaviors are often mistaken for ADD in the classroom setting. Vision deficits that may be behind these symptoms and actions include: 

    • Poor tracking 
    • Poor teaming
    • Poor convergence and divergence
    • Eye muscle imbalances 

    All of these issues can impact learning.

    Vision and Social Skills

    Like kids with ADD, kids with vision deficits often appear to have poor social skills. Behaviors include a lack of response to their name, missing social cues or facial expressions, and not attending to others in the room. 

    This apparent “lack” of social skills is also related to how hard they are working on using their eyes. When this happens, the level of executive function left for other tasks significantly decreases. 

    This may also make the child appear “scatter brained” or disorganized. 

    Attention Deficit Disorder Symptoms

    Vision concerns outside of acuity are FREQUENTLY missed due to limited vision screening protocols and the desire to quickly remediate behavior.

     In addition to limited vision screening, vision deficits are not widely recognized as a potential reason for distracted or inattentive behavior. 

    Attention issues and vision Problems

    If you have concerns, or concerns have been brought to your attention, regarding your child and ADD, rule out vision deficits first. A trip to a developmental ophthalmologist may help better explain your child’s behavior concerns and provide them the help they truly need.

    WHAT IF YOU SUSPECT VISION PROBLEMS?

    Now what?  When vision problems are suspected after a screening by the OT, it is best practice to refer the family to a developmental optometrist.

    A developmental optometrist will complete a full evaluation and determine the need for corrective lenses, vision therapy or a home program to address vision concerns.

    As occupational therapists, it is imperative that we rule out vision problems before treating handwriting or delays in visual motor integration, to ensure the best possible trajectory of development and success for the child.

    OCCUPATIONAL THERAPY VISION SCREENING TOOL

    Occupational Therapists screen for visual problems in order to determine how they may impact functional tasks. Our newest Visual Screening Tool is a useful resource or identifying visual impairments. Visual screening can occur in the classroom setting, in inpatient settings, in outpatient therapy, and in early intervention or home care.

    This visual screening tool was created by an occupational therapist and provides information on visual terms, frequently asked questions regarding visual problems, a variety of visual screening techniques, and other tools that therapists will find valuable in visual screenings.

    This is a digital file. Upon purchase, you will be able to print the 10 page file and print off to use over and over again in vision screenings and in educating therapists, teachers, parents, and other child advocates or caregivers.

    Click here to read more about the Visual Screening Tool 

    Visual screening tool for vision problems in kids