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.

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 sensitivities, 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

    DIY Flexible Seating Ideas

    For those of you looking for flexible seating ideas for the classroom, we’ve got some to share! But, one of the most common concerns about setting up flexible classroom seating arrangements is the price! Finding inexpensive seating options that meet the needs of kids can be difficult. In place of pricy alternative seating ideas, why not try the frugal version and make a few DIY flexible seating ideas? Here are some ideas for adding sensory seating to the classroom with do-it-yourself versions of seating options to arrange a classroom for success!

    These DIY flexible seating ideas are alternative seating for the classroom like bean bags, cushions, therapy balls to help kids with sensory needs.

    DIY Flexible Seating Ideas

    Add some of these seating strategies to a classroom sensory diet, to meet sensory needs, or to help with self-regulation or attention issues. These classroom seating options can meet the needs of a single student or a group of students. From wobble seats, to therapy balls, to using a futon in the classroom, flexible seating looks like a lot of different things! The alternative seating options below are a do-it-yourself version.

    Tire Seat- You may have seen DIY tire seats shown on Pinterest. Be sure to check out our Pinterest page of flexible seating options for some ideas and more options! One easy DIY tire seat tutorial is listed on A Life That We Built, which shows how to construct a tire seat as a seating idea for kids. This looks easy enough!

    Use circle dots or carpet squares as a flexible seating option in classrooms.

    Circle Dots- Kids can really benefit from floor time! The versatility of moving colorful dots around the room as a seating option is perfect for the classroom that covers many needs. While these carpet dots are available commercially, what if you could frugally create your own version? Here’s the how-to:

    1. Grab a set of colorful felt sheets.
    2. Using a black marker, trace a dinner plate on each sheet of felt.
    3. Use your sharpest scissors and get to cutting.
    4. Done! Use those carpet dots to encourage movement, set up visual cues for seating, sort students into groups by colors, create in-classroom obstacle courses, and use as a visual seating spot for learning of all kinds!

    Partially Deflated Beach Ball– Yes, a beach ball! We shared how and why this DIY seating option works in a past blog post. Using a beach ball as a cheap seating option is a great way to encourage the proprioceptive and vestibular input kids need.

    Therapy Ball- A flexible seating option doesn’t need to be specified as a seat. Just like using a partially deflated beach ball described above, try adding more or less air to exercise balls aka a stability ball, yoga ball, or balance ball.

    Chair or Couch Made from a Wooden Pallet– Use a couple of discarded pallets to create a small chair or bench. One tutorial is available on Funky Junk Interiors. This would make a nice reading space in a classroom or home.

    DIY flexible seating can be a way to modify the classroom with inexpensive seating options.

    Milk Crate with Cushion- Use a milk crate, fabric, and foam to create a no-sew milk crate seat. These can be adjusted for students by adding softer or thicker foam, inflatable cushions, or other options. Really Good Teachers shares how to make no-sew milk crates easily and without pulling out the sewing machine!

    Pillow Pile on Shag Carpet– Keep your eyes peeled for a sale on area rugs and especially for a shag carpet that’s on sale. A small cozy reading corner can be made using a shag rug and a pile of pillows. The shag seems to be a great fidget for some kids, too. Here is one option for a reasonable price.

    Window Seat with Storage- Curling up with a book and some comfortable pillows sounds like a fun way to spend a little free reading time. Use a cube storage bench with pillows to create a flexible seating idea for the classroom or home. Store books or other materials in the cubes.

    Cozy Corner Tent with Pillows- A calm-down space or cozy corner can be a part of the classroom’s flexible seating options or used as an area to meet specific sensory needs within the classroom. Some ideas for creating a cozy corner can include a teepee or tent, cardboard box, or even a fort structure with a sheet roof.

    Use these DIY flexible seating ideas in the classroom.

    Lounge Cushions- Make your own lounge cushions by recycling old couch cushions or sewing up a sleeping bag. You can often times find cushions available on Facebook marketplace.

    Carpet Scrap Placed Upside Down on Linoleum– This is a quick seating option that can help kids with the wiggles while providing a means of vestibular input The ability to scootch and slide the carpet square can be a movement break for some kids. Keep the carpet square “parked” in a designated spot when it’s needed and the child can keep their hands and feet still. This alternative seating option is a nice one for helping kids with personal space, too.

    Use a yoga mat with markings as a flexible seating idea that can help kids pay attention in the classroom.

    Yoga Mat– A yoga mat can be purchased fairly inexpensively and can be a nice way to provide movement in the classroom, both as a movement break, or even as a space to lounge while reading or completing group work. Yoga mats can be rolled up and stored in a closet or locker and pulled out for group yoga activities. While this isn’t a DIY seating idea specifically, you could use painter’s tape or electrical tape to create markings on the yoga mat for specific seating ideas to help with body awareness or marked spaces to sit and work.

    Cardboard Box– Alternative seating strategies don’t need to be expensive! Use a large cardboard box either as a quiet space for reading or chilling, or as a seating option. Kids can get into a cozy box and read or complete a specific task. The walls of a cardboard box can muffle some distracting noises and can be a space to create or calm down. Add a string of Christmas lights for a sensory tunnel space or cave like we did in an old blog post.

    Laundry Basket- Another inexpensive seating option, a laundry basket offers a cozy and small space for kids to calm down and focus on a task such as reading.

    Soft Tent- There are so many options for play tents out there. Grab one or tow and make it a calm down space in the classroom that offers a quiet place to read, complete an assignment, or regroup. Kids can complete written assignments by using a small stool or lap tray to write on in the cozy sensory tent. They could also just chill and read in quiet by lounging on a bean bag or some pillows. Search pop-up kids indoor tent on Amazon to find lots of options.

    Yoga blocks make a great DIY alternative seating option for the classroom.

    Foam Blocks- Yoga blocks can be used for so many different positioning needs. Use them to prop up feet to provide a foot rest for fidgeting or to get kids into a better posture for writing. The input through the feet can help kids with proprioceptive input that aligns their body for a better upright posture. Foam blocks could be used to prop up a clipboard to create a DIY slant board option, too. There are options on Amazon, but these can be found at discount stores like Five Below, too. To make a DIY version, use an old phone book with duct tape to create a sturdy block. Or, cut hard foam from packing materials and cover with tape.

    Lowered Table and Kneeling- One nice option about some tables and desks is that they can be lowered with the help of the custodial staff at schools. The lower legs can be removed and placed into a cut tennis ball to creates a half-sized desk or table, Kids can then sit or kneel to work at the table surface, while getting some really great proprioceptive input in through their knees and legs.

    Standing Table Surface- Other tables can be raised to create a standing surface. Kids can then stand to work in small groups or to complete short assignments. A pub-style table is a great surface as a standing table. This one is very nice for one or two students to work on a task.

    This portable swivel seat rests right on the chair seat and offers sensory input while learning.

    Swivel Seat- This is an alternative seating idea that provides much-needed sensory input for some kids. Think of a Lazy Susan and the spinning/rotation benefits that can occur. A swivel seat pad can provide that spinning or rotating vestibular input on any chair surface or even the floor. Kids can rotate their lower body to turn back and forth in their seats. I love this swivel seat option.

    Flexible seating tips

    What are your favorite DIY flexible seating ideas? Would any of these alternative seating ideas work in your classroom or home? Let me know in the comments below!