Spring Activities for Executive Functioning

Spring activities for executive functioning

Here, we’re covering spring activities for executive functioning skills. Executive functioning has recently become a bit of a buzzword. There’s good reason: parents, teachers, and therapists are more aware of the developmental processes that impacts learning, social emotional skills, functional tasks, safety, and even handwriting. Buzz like a bee, spring into executive functioning, and learn more about this concept and how you can integrate it into your Spring occupational therapy activities!

spring executive function activities

Spring activities for Executive Functioning

Other seasonal occupational therapy activities can be integrated with these sensory ideas. Include aspects of these Spring OT ideas to create a well-rounded lesson plan this time of year:

For a more exhaustive set of strategies, activities, and ideas, be sure to grab the Spring Fine Motor Kit (PLUS bonus kit which covers everything you need for Spring Break) that is on sale now for just $10. You’ll be loaded up on all kinds of tools that will last all season long.

Spring is such a great time of the year. Flowers blooming, the smell of freshly fallen rain, and increasingly temperate weather for those of us who live in snowy winter areas! This is an opportunity to enjoy some more play outdoors. The start of Spring also can mean a time to develop new goals in the way of executive functioning.

Play is incredibly important for development, especially in the area of executive functioning. Take the opportunity to encourage more complex play in your dialogue with a child. This article discusses the value of open-ended play for executive functioning development.

Interested in learning more about executive functioning? Check out this list of books about executive function.

For a fun way to get kids involved in creating goals and targeting specific executive functions, grab the Impulse Control Journal, a printable pages to document working memory, prioritization, planning, and other executive functioning skills.

Outdoor Spring Activities for Executive Functioning

Going into the outdoors is an amazing spring-time opportunity for executive functioning growth. Simple games like hide and seek encourage children to utilize working memory (remembering where they already looked when in the role of seeker), prediction (where a challenging hiding spot might be), and self-monitoring and impulse control (not giving away hiding spots).

Spring Nature Walk- A sensory nature walk for the family incorporates all aspects of sensory processing but also offers opportunities for building executive functioning experiences in the ways of attention, focus, impulse control, working memory, planning, prioritization. All of these skills can be addressed through conversation, hands-on play, movement, and experiencing the outdoors.

Outdoor Springtime Play- Other activities like hopscotch also present an opportunity to utilize working memory (try increasing the challenge by requiring that they only jump on the odds!) initiation.

Encourage opportunities for open-ended play, such as pretend play using items found during a scavenger hunt. Speaking of, scavenger hunts are a great way to encourage the use of executive functioning skills outdoors! Working memory, planning and organizing, impulse control, initiation, self and task-monitoring, and so on.

Outdoor play is always encouraged, but it gets a lot easier in spring without the need to bundle up in cold climates! There are so many ways to work on executive functioning skills outdoors, so get outside and play!

Spring Indoor Activities for Executive Functioning

Weather sometimes becomes an obstacle to playing outdoors in spring. However, there are many ways to integrate executive functioning into indoor play on rainy days.

Play Memory– This free Spring memory game is a great way to work on executive functioning skills- task completion, planning, working memory, attention, organization, and more. Just print off the free memory game and go!

Scavenger Hunts- Sure, scavenger hunts can be more challenging outdoors, but try making one indoors! You could even require that all of the items start with a certain letter of the alphabet or be a certain color to make it more difficult!

Board games- Board games are another great way to work on executive functioning skills. Some favorites include Outfoxed, cribbage, Ticket to Ride, and Magic Labyrinth.

Cook Spring recipes- Cooking can be another fun activity for executive functioning skills when stuck indoors! Find a recipe that the whole family can make. Split up the components into age-appropriate “jobs” for everyone.

If cooking sparks the interest of a child or teen, try these Spring flower themed recipes and snacks. You can incorporate the benefits of healthy heating with executive functioning skills in the kitchen.

Spring Cleaning- Spring cleaning, anyone? While kids may not love cleaning, it can certainly be helpful for families and a good life skill to learn! Something like cleaning a bedroom is a great age-appropriate task for many kids: taking the items off of the floor and putting them in their respective locations, staying on task, and deciding what “clean” looks like and when to be done!

Spring Chores- Incorporating chores into the daily to-do list might require a chore list or a screen-time list with required tasks before fun activities are done. Try this free screen-time list to monitory chores as part of daily activities.

Whether outdoors or indoors, spring into executive functioning!

Engaging Ways to Improve Executive Functioning Skills

In a previous post , we talked about the use of strategy games as a method to improve executive functioning (EF) skills. While this is a great tool that children and teens can participate in both in and out of the clinic, there are many other everyday activities to promote EF skill development! Here are some more engaging ways to improve executive functioning skills.

Executive functioning skills are an important client factor contributing to successful participation in daily occupations. EF is currently a buzzword, but it isn’t a new idea. Check out a few ways that you can help children and teens develop their EF skills!

Cooking for Executive Functioning Skill Development

Cooking is a great way to work on executive functioning with a treat at the end! Cooking requires many executive functioning skills. Kids need to use impulse control to complete one step at a time and pace themselves, avoid ingesting raw ingredients or eating all of their hard work, as well as prevent injury with sharp or hot tools. They also need to use working memory to recall what ingredients they need after looking at a recipe, as well as recalling the quantity of that ingredient.

Crafts and Projects for Executive Functioning Skill Development

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

Executive Functioning and Gross Motor Activities

Gross motor and executive functioning activities can go hand in hand. Almost any activity can be adapted to integrate gross motor play! In a large room, a child could look at a list of items, then race to the other side of the room on their scooter to find an object, just like “I Spy” books and games!

Many kids love to make obstacle courses, allowing for the development of initiation (getting started on building, instead of making grand plans and running out of time to make the course), impulse control (try changing the rules on them halfway through! “No touching red pieces!”), and metacognition (have them evaluate what went well, what did not go as well, and what they would change).

Executive Functioning and Daily Routines

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

Try a few of these activity ideas to integrate executive functioning skill development in an enjoyable, approachable way! Most of all, have fun!

More Spring Resources for therapy

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.

Play Dough Recipe Without Cream of Tartar

playdough without cream of tartar

If you’ve been following this site over the years, you’ve seen many of our play dough recipes, one of them being this play dough recipe without cream of tartar. This easy play dough recipe is one that kids can help to make, and to use in occupational therapy interventions. Read more on how play dough benefits child development, and making the play dough is half of the fun!

Use this homemade play dough without cream of tartar to work on fine motor skills, executive function, cognitive development, and more.

Homemade Play Dough without cream of tartar

Homemade play dough is a childhood staple. When kids are part of the playdough making process, they are active in the kitchen and can incorporate many executive functioning tasks as well as other skill-building.

But most homemade play dough recipes include cream of tartar as an ingredient. However, purchasing this ingredient is just expensive, and there really aren’t many common uses for cream of tartar except in the playdough recipes.

So, we decided to do some experimentation and come up with a play dough recipe that omits cream of tartar.

Our recipe uses a common ingredent that is inexpensive, but also can be used in other kitchen recipes. So, when you purchase this ingredient, you can use it for other recipes as well, making the purchase a good buying decision.

So? What is our substitute for cream of tartar in homemade playdough?

Lemon juice!

Lemon juice makes a great substitute for cream of tartar in homemade play dough recipes because it’s an easy to find ingredient in most stores and you can use it in so many other recipes. Plus, the lemon juice adds pliability to the play dough just like cream of tartar does.

why is play dough good for child development

Over the years, we’ve used many ingredients to make play dough as a sensory tool. These are all wonderful ways to incorporate various sensory input through sensory play.

One of our most popular playdough recipes is our crayon play dough recipe. But other homemade dough recipes you’ll love include:

All of these various doughs offer sensory experiences through play, using different scents and textures. We’ve strived to create sensory tools through easily accessible and inexpensive materials, mainly using ingredients that are on hand in the kitchen.

When sensory and fine motor play is easily accessible, kids develop skills!

And, playdough is a great tool for developing math skills, too.

Making homemade play dough is a great occupational therapy activity for the clinic, school-based session, or a home recommendation to carryover skills in a family time activity.

Play dough and hand strength

Play dough is a fantastic easy and inexpensive tool to work on hand strength and pinch strength. We previously covered over 30 ways to improve fine motor skills with play dough.

These are great ways to use playdough can be used as a warm up activity or to incorporate palm strengthening exercises into therapy through play.

Another aspect of homemade playdough and fine motor skills includes the mixing and kneading aspects. Pouring, scooping, stirring, and kneading are all very functional tasks that

Whether you are developing fine motor skills, addressing cognitive skills like direction following, or incorporating sensory play into occupational therapy interventions, a simple homemade play dough is the way to go. Play dough has many benefits and there are many ways to use a simple dough recipe into therapy.

Playing with playdough improves fine motor skills such as:

  • Pinch strength
  • Eye-hand coordination
  • Intrinsic muscle strengthening
  • Separation of the sides of the hand
  • Pincer grasp
  • Opposition
  • Tripod grasp
  • Wrist extension
  • Bilateral coordination

All of this occurs through play!

Try these fine motor activities using play dough:

  1. This homemade play dough recipe is great for easy play dough activities like our play dough snakes.
  2. Match colored paper clips with play dough. This is a great pincer grasp, tripod grasp, and separation of the sides of the hand activity.
  3. Improve thumb opposition and address a thumb wrap pencil grasp using play dough and beads in this thumb IP joint activity.
  4. Explore all of the fine motor play dough activities.
ice cream play dough mat

Grab our free play dough mats available here on the website (or log into your Member’s Club dashboard to grab these in an instant download).

play dough and cognitive development

Play dough can be a great cognitive skill tool, too.

Play dough is a multi-step task. It involves following a recipe, following directions, planning, prioritization, impulse control, working memory, and other executive functioning skills.

Play dough is a great way to develop executive functioning skills while cooking.

Kids can work on safety skills while working in the kitchen to prepare this recipe. There is the heat of the play dough after cooking, and stove safety to consider.

Some users would benefit from using a stove to make the playdough and others may benefit by using an electric skillet in place of the stove.

So, let’s get to the recipe making with our play dough recipe (without cream of tartar)!

Playdough without cream of tartar

To make this playdough without cream of tartar, first gather your ingredients, cooking items, and get started.

You’ll need just a few ingredients:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 and 1/4 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • 3 Tbsp lemon juice
  • food coloring

How to make playdough without cream of tartar:

Mix the flour and salt in a bowl, using a fork to stir. Add the water, oil, and lemon juice and stir until the dough pulls together. Move the wet playdough lump to a sauce pan and cook over low heat for 3-4 minutes until the dough forms. 

Plop the dough onto a clean surface and knead for a few minutes. 

Separate into portions and add food coloring.  Knead the dough to mix the food coloring. If you are making just one color of play dough, you can add the food coloring to the dough before cooking.

Many times, we want a variety of play dough colors, though, so mixing the food coloring in after the dough has been cooked is one way to get several colors of play dough.

Remember that the dough will be very hot to the touch after cooking. Use a dishtowel to mix the baggie so the color is absorbed throughout the dough.

Keep in covered containers/sealed plastic bags.  Dough does not need to be refrigerated.  

Playdough with cream of tartar

If you do have a jar of cream of tartar, use this play dough recipe:

  • 3 cups flour
  • 1 and 1/2 cup salt
  • 3 and 1/4 cup water
  • 3 Tbsp oil
  • 2 Tbsp cream of tartar
  • food coloring

The same cooking process listed above can be used to make this dough recipe, using cream of tartar instead of lemon juice.

How to get Vivid Colors in Homemade PlayDough

Want the secret to really bold and vivid colors?  Use (Amazon affiliate link) Wilton’s gel food coloring.  I have a bunch of these that I use for my cookies, and Big Sister had fun picking out the colors she wanted to mix up.  

  A lot of times, you can find these color sets on clearance (plus add coupons) for a Great discount!

Little Guy had SO MUCH FUN playing with little straw pieces in the red play dough.   What a great

Fine Motor Activity for a three year old

This easy safe play dough recipe is great for toddlers and preschoolers, but also younger if closely watching young children.

We used the play dough recipe above, and some cut straw pieces to create a toddler-friendly play dough activity that builds fine motor skills.

Cut the straws into pieces. You can get preschoolers involved with this part of the activity for a scissor skills task.

 Then, show your toddler how to poke the straws into the play dough.

He played with this one for a long time…hiding the straw bits in the dough, poking circles, bending the bendable part of the straw… So much fun!   

Playdough Play Mats

Use this easy playdough recipe (without cream of tartar) with our playdough mats to add play dough as a handwriting warm-up and then incorporate handwriting skills!

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.

Adults With Executive Function Disorder

Resources for adults with executive function disorder

Here, you will find tools and information for adults with executive function disorder and executive functioning issues that impact day to day tasks in adulthood. For adults, executive functioning skills are a part of everything we do. They impact the way we pay attention, focus, plan, and prioritize. Here, you’ll find strategies that can impact executive functioning needs so that organization, impulse control, planning, time management, and other executive functioning skills are improved and regulated in daily life tasks.

Adults with Executive Function Disorder

Now you might be thinking, “Executive function disorder?! I don’t have a disorder!” And that is probably the case in most instances for those reading this article. However, there are many of us who struggle on a day to day basis with things like getting started on chores or problems (task initiation), staying focused (attention), losing things constantly (organization), getting out of the house on time on a regular basis (task completion), and a variety of other challenges that impact our lives and generally stress us out. These are not the components that define a disorder, but they are executive functioning challenges that impact day to day life. It’s my hope that this resource offers tools to make the overall wellbeing better, and to offer tools for adults with executive function challenges easier!

Let’s break down executive functioning skills in adults and take a look at how things like focus, attention, organization impact life skills in adulthood.

My daughter has battled Executive Function Disorder all of her life, but right now, it is really preventing her from moving forward with her life. Things like completing a task, making decisions, time management, and projecting ahead are SO HARD. Is there anything that can help my adult daughter struggling with executive functioning disorder?

Does this sound at all familiar? So often, executive functioning challenges are present in adults but we don’t stop and think, this isn’t how things have to be. In fact, there are everyday challenges that are very difficult for adults with executive functioning needs. Things like organization, planning, and flexible thinking can be a real struggle that impacts family life, work life, personal relationships, and the things we need to do every day.

As kids with these challenges move into adulthood, some areas that we might expect to develop just never seem to change. It’s not uncommon; the fact is that executive functioning skills are a very broad set of skills. Forgetting things, difficulty with inhibiting behaviors or actions, trouble with planning big projects, or staying organized in the daily life of an adult…everyone deals with these challenges at one time or another.

The challenges become a problem when  social, emotional, intellectual, or organizational aspects are disrupted.  A person’s career/job/family life/etc. can be devastated by difficulties with executive functioning skills. 

Difficulties with the higher-level cognitive skills that make up executive function can impact adults by limiting one’s ability to “connect the dots” and can impact other areas of executive functioning as well. 

For the adult with executive function disorder, challenges can present in many different ways. There may be no trouble with impulsivity or attention struggles, however other mental skills can be quite difficulty. Sometimes, seeing the “big picture” is the problem. For others, it’s just making decisions. Still others lack time management and have difficulty with multi-tasking.   

Adults with executive function disorder can struggle with organization, trouble with planning, prioritization, etc.Here are tools and strategies to help the adult with executive function problems.i

Executive Function in Adults

Here’s the thing: There is a lot of information out there for kids who are struggling with these areas. However, for most of us, executive functioning skills are still developing well into the adult years.

Executive function in adults is developmental. In fact, executive function skills don’t typically develop until the early 20s. Development of executive functioning skills occurs up through the college years (and beyond), making that transition from the home setting of high-school into a college dorm very difficult for many. 

So, for some adults who are challenged in these areas, there can be simply a few accommodations or strategies put into place. Simply using a few set of tools designed to address these needs can allow for improved skills like organization and time management which are then carried over to other areas.   

Making changes to executive function in adults can mean looking at the big picture.

Adults need to do adult things, right? Areas of life skills where executive functioning skills impact “getting things done” include:

  • Obtaining a job
  • Maintaining a job
  • Creating personal relationships
  • Maintaining personal relationships
  • Sustaining a clean and safe home
  • Completing large home projects (inside the home and outside the home)
  • Shopping
  • Paying bills
  • Transporting oneself to work, the community
  • Making healthy choices
  • Cooking and cleaning up food
  • Taking medications
  • Contributing to the community
  • Caring for children

When you think about the life changes that happen between high school graduation to accomplishing all of these high-level executive functioning skills, you can see how there is a developmental change that occurs between the ages of 18-25.

Executive Functioning Skill Components

In order to complete high-level thinking and planning tasks, adults require development of several executive functioning areas:

  • Planning
  • Prioritization
  • Attention
  • Organization
  • Task Completion
  • Task Initiation
  • Problem Solving
  • Working Memory
  • Self-control
  • Flexibility
  • Self-awareness

For other adults who may have always struggled with seeing the big picture, planning tasks, or staying focused on a task, this is the typical development for that individual. In other words, some adults may be gaining improvements and strengthening the skills they’ve got, just at a lower level than another adult. In these cases, strategies and tools can make a difference here, too. 

Adults and distractibility 

We are distracted by many things, and that level of distractibility is impacted by advances in screens, stimuli around us, faster lifestyles, more options, and increasing availability of information.

Some good resources to check out on adults and distractibility include:

Below, you will find curated information from around the web that will be instrumental in making an effortful improvement in executive functioning needs. Read through this information and use it as best fits the needs you or an adult with executive functioning challenges might be experiencing.  

Remember that everyone is different in their strengths, weaknesses, needs, interests, and experiences. This information is not intended to treat or address specific needs, but rather, as educational material. Seek professional help when needed.   

Adult Executive Functioning Disorder

The is fact that adult executive functioning impacts everything we do as adults. Take a look at this adult executive functioning skill checklist.

Some of these problem areas for adult executive functioning issues may include:

  • Difficulty making plans
  • Difficulty making decisions
  • Time management
  • Trouble with organization
  • Difficulty keeping important papers organized
  • Trouble prioritizing 
  • Poor emotional control 
  • Difficulty with flexible thinking
  • Trouble thinking “on the spot”
  • Trouble using a schedule
  • Trouble getting out of the house on time
  • Trouble with impulsive buys
  • Difficulty paying bills on time
  • Difficulty with losing keys or important items
  • Trouble following through with plans
  • Trouble picking the most important tasks
  • Trouble doing the important parts of tasks first
  • Trying to do too much at once
  • Constantly running late
  • Difficulty listening to a person talking without thinking of other things
  • Easily frustrated
  • Forget the last step/steps in a multi-step task

It’s easy to see how the list above can look so different for different people, especially when considering aspects such as job requirements, family obligations, outside situations or other issues that may make a difference in the occupational performance of an individual.   

Executive Functioning Skills and Emotions

Executive functioning kills and emotional regulation are closely related. Playing a role in the ability to function and complete day-to-day tasks is the role of the limbic system when it comes to executive functioning skills. Managing emotions, and emotional regulation can greatly impact the adult with executive function challenges.   

These structures and their hormones control functions such as emotions, behavior, motivation, sleep, appetite, olfaction, stress response. In adults, the role of the limbic system impacts household tasks completed, grocery shopping, paying bills, getting to work on time, caring for children and other daily life tasks.

This is really interesting, because you may connect the dots with this list and see that social emotional skills, executive functioning, inner drives, and sensory processing (including the sense of smell and interoception) all centered in one place in the brain! (This is not to say that these are the only places in the brain that operate these functions as well.)

You can see how the role of emotions and regulating daily stressors impacts attention, organization, task initiation, task completion, and problem solving.

Generally speaking, the limbic system is the emotional brain but this piece of the EF puzzle has a huge role for adults who are expected to act…like adults!

Adults with executive function disorder can struggle with organization, trouble with planning, prioritization, etc.Here are tools and strategies to help the adult with executive function problems.i

Tips for adult executive functioning

Some easy to apply tools can impact executive functioning challenges in adults. These strategies include low-tech or high-tech strategies such as:  

  • Use a paper planner or calendar to keep track of obligations
  • Set up a filing system to keep track of and manage mail and important papers
  • Use highlighters and colorful sticky notes to make a visual organization system
  • Use apps to stay organized. Here are some Alexa Skills that can help with executive functioning skills like organization, etc.
  • Set up calendar reminders on a phone or smartwatch
  • Set up automatic payment plans for bills
  • Brainstorm routines and weekly/daily tasks and strategies to make decision-making less stressful and easier
  • Think through and visualize the day or week ahead and predict any challenge that may arise
  • Create routines and calendars for ongoing tasks
  • Create brain dumping lists for big tasks and set goals with specific dates and timelines
  • Use a daily journal to track each day’s events. The Impulse Control Journal can be used by adults as well as kids. The “look” of the journal is not childish, and has many components that can translate to an adult’s needs in promoting organizational, time management, etc. 

Resources for Adults with Executive Function Disorder

Here are some symptoms of executive function disorder in adults. Some of the symptoms include time blindness, self-motivation, and an inability to keep future events in mind. Do these symptoms sound familiar?

One symptom that is mentioned is the regulation of one’s non-verbal working memory, or our inner critic. This is an area that can be detrimental to some, especially when self-conscious of weaknesses that impact life choices or struggles.  Here is one simple strategy for self-talk in kids, but can be morphed into an age-appropriate version for adults. 

If an adult or someone who is trying to help an adult with executive function needs would like to look into testing, here is a self-test that may help with self-awareness of the problems that can easily be addressed through strategies and tools. Use this information to move forward with professional help if necessary. 

Another article that can “bring to light” some of the concerns with executive functioning needs is this article about the day in the life of an adult with EFD. It really highlights the challenge of managing other people’s schedules, the workplace juggling act, and managing relationships.

Time management tools, including simple planners and time management apps can be helpful. Here are more tools for addressing time management and other tools such as motivation, scheduling, prioritization, and other challenges. 

This article discusses ADHD, but a lot of the tips and strategies can carryover to any need with planning ahead.

Finally, remember that many of the executive functioning strategies that are out there and presented in books can be used just as easily and seamlessly by adults. The same strategies that work for keeping track of homework tasks by a child can be used by an adult who needs to manage bills and important papers. 

How to plan and prioritize tasks

The Impulse Control Journal is your guide to addressing the underlying skills that play into trouble with planning and prioritization. 

The journal is an 80 page collection of worksheets and prompts to discover what’s really going on behind executive functioning skills like planning, organization, prioritization, working memory, and of course, impulse control. 

While the guide was developed for students of all ages, this printable workbook is perfect for adults, too. It can help you discover strategies that make a real impact for all of the skills needed to get things done. 

Here’s the thing; Everyone is SO different when it comes to struggles related to executive functioning and everyone’s interests, needs, challenges, strengths, and weaknesses are different too. All of these areas play into the challenges we see on the surface. And, this is where the Impulse Control Journal really hits those strengths, weaknesses, and challenges where it matters…in creating a plan that really works for kids of all ages (and adults, too!)

Check out the Impulse Control Journal, and grab it before the end of February, because you’ll get a bonus packet of Coping Cards while the journal is at it’s lowest price. 

Read more about The Impulse Control Journal HERE
The Impulse Control Journal has been totally revamped to include 79 pages of tools to address the habits, mindset, routines, and strategies to address impulse control in kids.    More about the Impulse Control Journal:

  • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies 
  • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights 
  • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual 
  • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals 
  • Mindset,Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact 
  • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like 
  • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day 
  • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday  
  • Journal pages to help improve new habits  
  • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self confidence
  • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom  
  • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence  
  • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs  

This is a HUGE digital resource that you can print to use over and over again.

 
 
 
 
These tips and strategies to help with executive functioning skills can be used by adults who are challenged with difficulty in planning, prioritization, organization and other cognitive skills.

What does executive function disorder look like in adults?

Things like distraction, time blindness, distractibility, and attention or organization issues can be common in adults with executive function disorder. Here are other signs of EF issues in adults:

  • Time blindness– being unaware of the passing of time (see below for more information)
  • Trouble remembering names
  • Losing or misplacing everyday items such as purse, wallet, keys, phone
  • Difficulty completing multi-step tasks such as laundry
  • Late for appointments consistently
  • Difficulty breaking tasks down into steps
  • Trouble completing tasks that need done daily such as hygiene, grooming, making the bed, etc.
  • Forgetting to pay bills month after month
  • Consistently forgetting to take out the trash on trash day
  • Misplacing items
  • Unable to multitask

Can executive function be improved in adults?

This can be a difficult question to answer because of the multitude of way’s that an executive functioning difficulties present themselves in adults. There are just so many functional tasks that can be broken down into functional participating.

When taking into consideration the skill areas that make up executive functioning skills, addressing the areas of working memory, attention, organization, prioritization, planning, self-motivation, emotional regulation, problem solving, inhibition…there are many areas to work on when it comes to improving executive functioning skills in adults.

This is to say, however, that it is possible to make habit changes, adaptations, and cognitive, behavioral changes that improve the ability to complete tasks. In the ault with executive functioning disorder, working on small steps and through tools such as lists, organizational changes, coaching, apps, or progress planners, it is possible to make positive changes in the tasks that are impacted by executive functioning issues.

Here are some action plans that can be used to improve executive functioning skills in adults:

  • Use lists
  • Work on one task for the day
  • Use colored markers and a planner to organize how time is spent
  • Create a morning, evening, and study routine
  • Have clear goals 
  • Plan ahead for the day by working off an organizer and checklists
  • Use a time management app to reduce distractions
  • Work on saying “no” to to distractions
  • Manage stress using coping strategies, self-regulation, exercise, sleep, nutrition
  • Exercise regularly
  • Develop working memory strategies and mental flexibility
  • Problem solve
  • Work on self-motivation skills
  • Identify strategies to cope and regulate moods better
What is time blindness and how to work on this executive functioning issue in adults.

What is time blindness?

Time blindness refers to the concept of being unaware of time passing.

In most cases, adults and teens (as they develop) are aware of time and have the ability to track its passing. This allows us to move through the morning routine to get out the door on time. It allows us to complete tasks and make it to appointments. It allows us to complete each step of a meal preparation so that dinner is on the table at a reasonable time.

You may recognize time blindness by recognizing that “time got away from you”. We all have felt the impact of time blindness when we say “time flies”.

However, some individuals have a difficult time with time awareness, and “time blindness”.

Time blindness becomes an issue for some individuals when they are consistently late leaving the house for appointment, or when late from returning from a break. Time blindness, when severe, can impact health, social participation, responsibilities, or safety.

Some exaples of time blindness include:

  • Missing appointments
  • Taking too long to get started on a task
  • Taking too long to get ready in the morning
  • Sitting on a phone or device without realizing how much time has passed (This is a BIG one!)
  • Not realizing how much time a task will take to complete (such as meal preparation)
  • Getting “sucked into” a leisure activity such as watching Netflix, playing a game on a device, watching YouTube, or talking with friends

How to Deal with Time Blindness

While time certainly does fly, we can make some simple changes that deal with time blindness that might impact function, safety, and participation in daily tasks and responsibilities.

  1. Use a timer. The timer app on your phone can be used for a simple task or to use during recreational tasks such as watching YouTube videos. When the timer goes off, turn off the videos and move on to what you need to get done.
  2. Keep track of how long things take and write it down in a planner or journal. Refer back to that time tracker when planning a day.
  3. Use a planner with time slots for the day. Mark down appointment times and mark off how much time it takes you to drive to the location, get ready, eat meals. Be sure to add a small cushion time in your time planner for things like gathering a purse, putting on shoes, or gathering your keys and phone.
  4. Use a clock- wear a wrist band so that the time is always on you. There are smart watches available that offer a vibration as a physical notification.
  5. Make the clock app on your phone show up on the screensaver face of your smart phone.
  6. Break a larger task such as laundry or meal prep into smaller tasks.
  7. Create a system. Tasks such as shopping for groceries can fall into the time blindness category. Set up a shopping system and then a putting away the groceries system. Use what works for you.
  8. Use a Pomodoro app to keep track of how long you are working on a particular task. Use the break period, and then get back to the task.

In summary, addressing skill areas such as organizational skills, time-management skills, focus, memory, goal-setting abilities, and general well-being can have a huge impact on adults struggling with executive function challenges.

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.

Free Apps for Occupational Therapy

apps for occupational therapy

Questions about the best apps for occupational therapy come up often. It is possible to address developmental skills through app play. Let’s cover various occupational therapy apps for the iPad or tablet.

Children of today have technology very much integrated into all aspects of their daily lives. Technology is an occupation in and of itself. As occupational therapists, we strive to support functioning and full lives in our clients. Using apps in occupational therapy services serves two purposes: a meaningful and motivating tool to support functional skills by addressing underlying skills, AND as an extrinsic factor impacting function: using a device, filling form fields on apps, scheduling appointments, making calls, and other performance areas. Apps are a part of function because technology is so integrated into daily life.

Let’s look at various areas of development where app use can help support kids, teens, and adults:

Use these apps for occupational therapy to work on specific skills, development, and even functional skill work that is motivating and meaningful to today's kids.

Apps for Occupational Therapy

Normally at this time of year in therapy, it can be hard to keep the kids attention spans on track. Having a free app that builds skills can be one way to stay on track with addressing specific skills.

Here, you will find free apps for occupational therapy that can be used as a supplemental activity or as a quick activity in between other occupational therapy activities. The OT apps for the ipad or tablet can be used in many different ways:

  1. Add them to your line-up of occupational therapy teletherapy activities.
  2. Use the OT apps as a supplemental activity for home recommendations or classroom down-time.
  3. Use the occupational therapy app as a transition activity that continues to develop skills addressed in therapy sessions.
  4. Others may want to use these apps for therapy breaks or as a reward at the end of the session.
  5. Use the apps for occupational therapy homework so that kids are motivated to participate and incentivize OT home programs, fostering the carryover we don’t sometimes see.
  6. Still others may find the occupational therapy apps perfect for home occupational therapy programs or ways to keep kids busy while parents are working from home.

Whatever your need, these educational games and special education supports can be a powerful tool in distance learning and learning at home.

These free apps for occupational therapy build handwriting, executive functioning, visual memory, fine motor skills, and more.

Free Apps for Occupational Therapy

The free apps below are broken down into targeted skill area. I’m adding apps for handwriting and letter formation, visual motor skills, executive functioning skills, and other areas. Some of these apps are IOS apps and others are Android apps.

The apps that are available for Android on Google Play may be accessed through a Google account on a desktop and then accessed through the Google play app or via a Google account on an Apple device. Here is more information on how to access Google Play apps on an Apple device.

I tried to locate only free apps in this resource. There are many great apps for occupational therapy out there, but I wanted to cover all the bases when it comes to OT interventions with free apps that can meet the needs for free!

Another great idea for using free technology in occupational therapy includes using these Alexa skills in occupational therapy.

Free Apps for Visual Motor Skills

The apps listed below are some of the best apps for occupational therapists to use in therapy sessions, and to recommend to parents and teachers, when appropriate. Remember that all kids are different and all have specific needs, so these recommendations may not work for every child or individual.

All About Shapes- This free app is available on IOS and is a shape drawing app. Users can draw and identify shapes.

Vision Tap- This free IOS app is a great one for addressing visual processing and visual efficiency skills. Visual tracking, visual scanning, and oculo-motor skills are challenged with this one!


Broom, Broom- This free IOS app allows children to draw paths for the vehicles in the game to drive on, building eye-hand coordination, motor planning, visual memory, and precision of fine motor skills.

Visual Memory- is a free app available on Google Play. The game is designed to develop visual memory and improve attention. Users can find the image that appears at each level.

Piko’s Blocks- this free IOS app really challenges the visual spatial skills for older kids.

Memory Game- is another free app on Google Play. The game is just like the classic concentration game, helping users to build visual memory skills.

Learning with Wally is an Android app available on Google Play. The visual discrimination app challenges users to discriminate between differences, recognize, and attend to details in visual forms, including pictures, letters, words and sentences.

Sorting and Learning Game 4 Kids- This app is available on Google Play and challenges users to categorize and match themed objects while helping to build visual attention, visual memory, and focus with a concentration on visual perception.

Visual Attention Therapy Life is an app available on Google Play. The free app allows users to address and build visual scanning, visual memory, and visual attention. It also helps rehab professionals to assess for neglect and provide more efficient and effective therapy for attention deficits.


Sensory Baby Toddler Learning- This Google Play app is great for younger kids as they work on cause and effect and develop hand eye coordination skills.


Connecting Dots is Fun- This free IOS app allows users to work on visual perceptual skills such as visual discrimination, form constancy, figure-ground and visual processing skills of tracking and scanning. Users create dot-to-dot activities in the app.

Alphabet Puzzles For Toddlers- This Google Play app helps younger children work on letter identification and letter recognition. The letter learning app is a great app for preschoolers or toddlers. The visual perceptual app allows children to address form constancy, visual discrimination, figure ground, and other visual perceptual skills.

iMazing- In this free IOS app, users can complete maze activities while challenging visual perception and visual motor skills.
Skill Game- This free app is available on Android. The game allows users to draw lines to connect numbers while building eye-hand cordination, precision, motor planning, visual memory, and more.

On the Line- This IOS app is great for working on visual motor skills using a stylus.


Squiggles- This free app is a great one to work on pre-writing skills. Users can draw lines and figures and watch as they become animated.

Use these free handwriting apps to work on letter formation, number formation, letter recognition, and more.

Handwriting Apps

These handwriting apps are occupational therapy tools that support the underlying skills needed for handwriting. Some apps allow kids to “write” letters using a resistance-free surface on the tablet or iPad. This input can be the “just right” level for some kids. Other Handwriting apps listed address other skills. Let’s take a look at how to use these apps in occupational therapy services.

ITrace is a handwriting app that does have a price for the main version, however, there is a free version available with some activities. Users can trace letters, numbers, words, and shapes while working on visual motor skills and letter formation.


Writing Wizard- This app is available on Google Play and allows users to trace letters along a visual guide. There are various fonts available and size can be adjusted for different ages.

Writing Wizard-Cursive- This handwriting app is created by the makers of the regular, print version of Writing Wizard. Users can practice letter formation in cursive.

Start Dot- This app addresses letter formation using visual, auditory, and movement cues. These prompts fade to address accuracy and independence.

Ollie’s Handwriting and Phonics- This free app allows users to trace and copy individual letters and words on the app’s chalkboard wall.

Write ABC – Learn Alphabets Games for Kids- This handwriting app is available on Google Play. The app helps younger children work on letter formation using visual cues for starting points and ending points.

Sand Draw- This free Google Play app provides a sandy beach for kids to practice writing letters, words, or phrases in. Use it to practice spelling words for a fun twist.

Snap Type- While this app has a paid version, the free version also allows users to create digital versions of worksheets. Students can take a picture of their worksheets, or import worksheets from anywhere on their device. They can then use their Android device keyboard to add text to these documents. When complete, students can print, email.

Apps for Fine Motor Skills

These apps for fine motor skill development might not be your go-to fine motor task when it comes to strengthening hands and promoting dexterity. But for the child that struggles with fine motor skills, a tablet or iPad app can be a motivating and meaningful way to address developmental skills.

With an app, it is possible to address functional, fine motor skills:

The fact is that devices are not going away. In fact, our youth are likely to see all aspects of their future lives managed by screen technology. For kids that struggle with dexterity, hand strength, motor planning, and other motor skills, we can help them to be the most functional and independent individuals.

These fine motor apps are just one more strategy in our OT toolbelt.

Dot to dot Game – Connect the dots ABC Kids Games- This free app is great for toddlers, preschoolers, or young children working on precision, dexterity, and fine motor work. the app addresses letter and number formation.

Tiny Roads- This free app allows children to connect objects while working on precision and finger isolation.

Montessori Fine Motor Skills Game School Numbers- This fine motor app helps users work on eye-hand coordination, precision, and finger isolation while working on numbers, letters, and shapes.

Use these free executive functioning apps in occupational therapy sessions to build skills like working memory, attention, and focus.

executive function apps

When addressing attention, distraction, planning, prioritization, time management, and other executive functioning skills, using apps in occupational therapy is a no-brainer. Kids are exposed to the technology of devices every day and the ability to complete daily tasks using devices is just part of advances in our time.

Use these executive function apps in occupational therapy as a support tool: devices to help with challenges like attention, organization, scheduling, and planning. Or, use these executive functioning apps in OT to work on cognitive skills that enable function; Apps are a great way to practice filling out forms, recalling and typing passwords, addressing online distraction, and other functional tasks that kids and adults are faced with every day. App use is an occupation, or task that occupies our daily lives, in a very real way.

CogniFit Brain Fitness- This Google Play app uses memory games, puzzles, reasoning games, educational games, and learning games to train memory, attention, concentration, executive functions, reasoning, planning, mental agility, coordination and many other essential mental skills.

Lumosity: Brain Training- This free executive functioning skills app uses games to exercise memory, attention, speed, flexibility and problem-solving.

Memory Games: Brain Training– This executive functioning skills app uses memory and logic games  to improve memory, attention and concentration. 

Alarmy- This free alarm app allows users to set alarms for attention building, and scheduling.

The Google Tasks app– This free app creates checklists and sub-lists and allows users to add details about the areas that users need need to focus on in order to accomplish tasks. The app helps users to stay on track with due dates and notifications.

The 30/30 app- This free app helps with executive functioning skills such as starting tasks, staying organized, and prioritization in tasks. This app is useful to address procrastination and motivation on bigger tasks or projects.

Forest- This app helps with procrastination, productivity, and motivation.

Study Bunny- This free productivity app helps students pay attention and focus on studying and larger school projects or tasks.

Habitica- This task completion app allows users to track habits, and add gamification to tasks to build motivation and help with productivity.

HabitNow- This free habit tracker app helps users to track habits and build habits to improve productivity and time management. This is a great app for scheduled activities or daily tasks such as chores or morning/evening routines.

Brain N-Back- This working memory app helps to train working memory.

Clockwork Brain Training- This memory training app helps with working memory and concentration through games and puzzles.

Use these free self-regulation apps to help kids identify emotions, and feelings and help with coping tools.

Apps for Emotional regulation

There are apps that can be used as self-regulation tools. There are apps to practice social interactions. There are even apps to check-in on emotional regulation and self-regulation needs. These apps for emotional regulation are a great way to support kids and teens emotional regulation and overall wellbeing needs through the use of a hand-held self-regulation tool.

Breathe, Think, Do with Sesame- This self-regulation app uses a fun Sesame Street monster to help little ones calm down and solve everyday challenges. Available in English and Spanish, the coping tools app helps your child learn Sesame’s “Breathe, Think, Do” strategy for problem-solving.

Trigger Stop: Sensory and Emotional Check-In- This free self-regulation app is available on Google Play so they can identify and communicate sensations and emotions or feelings in the body so they can express them in a healthy way.

Social Navigator –This emotional regulation app is a great social skills app designed to assist children with social and behavioral challenges. Kids can develop essential social interaction skills by taking a look at their behavior in social situations, and this app is a nice way to build confidence in that area.

EmoPaint – Paint your emotions! is a free self-regulation app available for IOS in the Apple Store or Google Play. The paint app allows users to represent emotions or bodily sensations through art, by painting them interactively on the screen.

Moodflow: Self-care made easy!- keeps track of your emotions, moods, thoughts and general well-being with a self-rating system, emotional language, and a system that allows for identification of how coping strategies help with emotional regulation.

Deep Breathing apps- there are many mindfulness and deep breathing apps out there. I even have one right on my watch. With calming visuals, mindfulness apps allow the user to calm down and regulate their emotions so they can function in any situation. Bubble: Breathing Companion is one self-regulation app that encourages emotion regulation through breathing exercises.

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.

How to set a table

Here, we’re covering the life skill of setting a table. When we teach a child how to set the table, the chore itself is one that kids can do on a daily basis. So, if you are looking for an executive functioning skill task that breaks down into steps, AND is helpful, setting the table is a great one!

Table setting as a life skill

Before discussing the “how” to set a table, we need to learn the “why.”  Why do we need to teach kids to set a table?  Life skills are important.  If a child does not have intellectual intelligence but has life skills, they can succeed. Of course there are manners, etiquette, and grace involved in setting a correct table placement, however, learning the basics of what needs to be on the table is most important.

In order to be ready to serve the Queen, one needs to know in which order the spoons and forks are placed (there might be seven or eight pieces), where all of the plates go, which side each type of glass goes on, and where the condiments are placed.  When visiting a five star restaurant, cruising, or eating an elegant dinner, you will encounter this type of place setting.  Serving and eating this way is a great lesson in etiquette to be familiar with.  You never know when you might be invited to dine with the Queen or eat at the Ritz!

In a typical family’s home, setting the table likely involves a child’s chore to set the utensils, plates, bowls, and drinking glasses. Setting a table as a chore is a great way to get kids involved in the family unit to help with dinner preparations.

How to set a table

As an adult you probably do this daily without thinking about it.  You know the basic pieces you need in order to have a meal; glasses, plates, silverware, condiments, and napkins.  Often extra pieces are added such as placemats, bread plates, dessert silverware, and serving dishes.

For a child, the command “set the table” may be daunting and confusing, before a regular schedule is established.  Adults often forget how challenging a new task can be, and become easily frustrated at having to give eighteen reminders during this one task. 

As a result, children become overwhelmed and shut down.  Shut down looks like standing and staring, not doing anything, or refusing to perform the task.  Of course it is easier for the adult to just do the task for the child, however, eventually you will want this child to leave the home or be able to survive outside of its’ walls.

Setting a Table: An Executive Function Task

Setting a table involves organization, working memory, visualization, sequencing, and task chunking.

  • Organization: knowing which pieces need to come first, second, third.
  • Working memory: remembering what parts are needed as the task is happening
  • Visualization: being able to make a mental picture of the meal being prepared in order to get all of the correct pieces
  • Sequencing: being able to bring out pieces in the correct order (placemat before plates)
  • Task chunking: breaking the task down into chunks such as collecting all the silverware at once

The above skills are part of executive function, built in the prefrontal cortex, necessary for success.  Without using executive function; disorganization, inability to complete a task, procrastination, inattention to details, and increased time to finish the task can happen.  

Check out this article and FREE executive functioning skills course: Strategies to Help Combat Executive Function Disorder 

Because the prefrontal cortex does not fully develop until the 20’s or 30’s, most children are going to need some assistance and modifications to complete basic tasks.

How to teach kids to set a table

There are different learning styles: visual, auditory, kinesthetic (learning by doing), and repetition.  Everyone learns differently. Visual picture cards are an excellent way to teach children any skill. 

Table Setting Worksheet

In the resource below, you can download a step-by-step executive function worksheet designed to teach kids to set a table as a chore and life skill task.

The printbale resource also includes table setting visual cards. These Check out the picture cards on OT Tool Box for helping kids set a table.

These picture cards serve as a visual reminder and framework for a task such as setting a table. They can be laminated, colored, and/or Velcro can be added to the cards so they can be moved and placed as needed.

The table setting worksheet resource includes three parts:

  1. A task breakdown worksheet to break down the steps of setting a table
  2. Visual cue cards to help kids with the schedule and parts of setting a table.
  3. A visual schedule where the table setting task cards can be attached, to support with transition and routine building

Have your child look at the picture cards provided and decide what items are needed for their table setting.  Once this is decided, have them put the cards in order of what needs to be done first. 

There is some variability in setting a table correctly, however some items will need to come before others.  Here is an example of an order of operations for picture cards:

  1. Placemat
  2. Large plate, small plate
  3. Silverware – spoon, fork, knife,
  4. Glassware
  5. Napkin
  6. Condiments
  7. Food
  8. Eat

Think about what variables work for your family or each particular student. Not everyone uses a placemat, has a bread plate, serves the food family style in dishes on the table, uses dessert silverware, or puts condiments on the table. 

Some children just need a visual reminder of what to include on the table.  Other children will need a visual picture of what the table should look like when completed.  They need to be able to copy a diagram.

This also can be colored, laminated, or customized to make an exact replica of the type of silverware and place settings a family uses.

The third type of lesson involves breaking down the task into chunks on a goal ladder.

A “setting the table” chore/goal ladder may look like this:

  • Top of Ladder: Dinner time
  • Rungs: set the table, fill water glasses, put food on table, eat

Table setting chore for kids

Once this task has been mastered in all of the broken down pieces, it can be added to the overall chore list.  

Chores are an excellent way to teach:

  • responsibility
  • task sequencing
  • organization
  • life skills
  • time management
  • independence
  • overall executive function

In addition to teaching the above skills, chores are excellent for heavy work in order to organize the sensory system and arousal level.  Heavy work activates the proprioceptive system, which provides calming and organizing for the body. There is a reason the military has their staff do chores, exercise, and heavy work as a daily regimen.  It not only builds necessary life skills, but provides organization and focus of the sensory system.

To learn more about heavy work, check this out:

Daily visual schedule for setting a table and other chores

Check out this article by Colleen Beck of the OT Toolbox for more information on visual schedules:

Life skills: setting a table

Life skills build independence, responsibility, manners, and self-reliance. Teaching or learning a skill, such as setting a table, is not as easy as it might seem.  It involves breaking the task down into chunks or rungs on a ladder, adding visual picture cards as reminders for all the working pieces, sequencing the activity into the correct order, and finally adding it to the daily chore schedule. Activities will need to be graded (made easier or more difficult) depending on the needs of your learner, their skill level, and task mastery.

Use this system to teach any and all life skills tasks!  Dressing, bathing, laundry, cleaning, putting toys away, organizing, or any other task can be taught using picture cards, goal ladder, and visual schedules. 

*The terms, kids/children are used throughout this post for readability, however this information is relevant for students, patients, teens, etc.  The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

Free Table Setting Visual Cards and Worksheet

Set a Table Worksheet and Visual Cards

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    Victoria Wood

    Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

    Free Goal Ladder Worksheet

    In this post, you can get a goal ladder worksheet. But what is a goal ladder? And how can you use a goal ladder in goal setting for kids? Today, you’ll learn about how to use a goal ladder to support goal setting for students, and anyone wanting step-by-step support to achieve goals.

    Free goal ladder worksheet to help with goal setting for children.

    What is a goal ladder? 

    A goal ladder is a tool used to set and achieve goals.  Each rung of the ladder represents a smaller goal that leads to the bigger goal.  By making smaller sub-goals, this is more motivating, less intimidating, and more manageable than one huge overwhelming task.

    This post shares more about using a goal ladder to support kids in achieving personal goals.

    The goal ladder is a visual representation of the task and goal I would like to achieve.  People with good executive function love lists and spreadsheets. This is how they naturally stay organized.   People struggling with their executive functioning skills could benefit from lists in order to stay on top of goals.  

    At the bottom of this post, you’ll find a free goal ladder worksheet. This can be used with kids, teens, and adults to help with goal setting and breaking down a task into manageable chunks. Use the goal ladder along with SMART goals to support goal accomplishment.

    What is a goal?

    A goal is something to achieve or be accomplished.  It is important to set goals in order to find direction.  People with good executive function skills often set and achieve goals as part of their daily routines and habits. 

    Many times people who have difficulty with executive function do not know how to set goals or how to achieve them.  The entire task seems overwhelming, therefore nothing gets done.

    Supporting executive functioning skills, specifically planning, prioritization, task completion is all part of the goal setting process. Try these activities to challenge and support executive functioning skills:

    SMART GOALS FOR KIDS

    The best goals are called SMART goals.  Not only are they really smart in terms of being successful, the acronym SMART is helpful to remember all the necessary parts to a goal.  Each goal should have the following characteristics in order to be successful: 

    • S: specific – did you detail what it is you want to achieve?
    • M: measurable – how are you going to measure success?
    • A: is this goal attainable or too lofty?
    • R: is this goal realistic?  Can you actually swim across the Atlantic in six weeks?
    • T: timebound – Do you have a set timeframe for this goal to be measured?

    How to start brainstorming and writing a goal

    Determine the overall goal: for example, I would like to eat more vegetables.  

    If I leave the goal this simple and vague, how will I know I am eating more vegetables or when I have met this goal?

    Let’s make this a SMART goal to make it more attainable

    • S: specific – I would like to eat 5 more types of vegetables
    • M: measurable –  I will eat ¼ cup of each vegetable one time per week
    • A: attainable – I will not try and eat a whole cup of vegetables
    • R: my doctor says I need vegetables for my overall health
    • T: timebound – I will do this over the course of 4 weeks

    Therefore my large goal might sound like this, “In four weeks I will eat ¼ cup of 5 different vegetables each week to improve my overall health and well being.  

    Because this is a large goal and I really dislike most vegetables, I am going to have to break down this goal into smaller chunks in order to make it manageable and attainable.  This is especially important for children, as they are more receptive to short term objectives with rewards at the end of each objective.

    How to break down tasks to achieve a goal

    Because I do not like vegetables, I am going to need to break this down into smaller pieces to get it going.  If the end goal is to eat five vegetables, maybe I need to start with a list of vegetables I already eat, as well as a list of all of the other options available in my area. 

    Then research ways to cook or serve these vegetables to make them more appealing.  What about a reward system that will motivate me to try these new veggies? 

    I could start with a variety of vegetables each week or just try a couple at a time.  There are many variables in breaking down a goal.

    • Break the larger goal into steps (good for a multi-step task)
    • Break the larger goal into time-based accomplishments (Select a date to accomplish the large goal and work backwards, selecting dates to accomplish each step)
    • Break down the goal into learning processes (first learn about this, then practice. Then learn about another aspect. Then practice.)

    Goal setting for kids

    Why is goal setting so important for children? Kids are easily overwhelmed by tasks in front of them, which often leads to shut down or refusal. By kids setting goals, it gives them direction.

    Adults/teachers/therapists set goals for children as a way to measure progress.  Without goals it is easy to get lost in all that a child can not do.  With a SMART goal in place, it is much easier to track data, discover obstacles, and make necessary changes.

    It is important for people to choose their own goals.  This makes it more meaningful and relevant (The R in SMART). Choosing one’s own goal also helps it to be more motivating.  When children feel in control of some aspect of their lives, they are more likely to succeed.

    Helping kids choose their own goals

    To anyone trying to learn twenty new tasks at once, choosing a goal can be overwhelming. Start by asking the child what they want to accomplish.  This may be too broad of a question, therefore choices may need to be offered. Also ask the parents/caregivers what they would like their child to master. 

    Too often therapists choose and start working on goals that are not meaningful or relevant to the child or their family. As a treating therapist I have spent time spinning my wheels trying to teach students to fold laundry, load the dishwasher, sleep in their own bed, or eat certain foods, goals that were not important to their family. Once I asked the family what goals they wanted their child to achieve, my treatment became much more relevant and focused.

    Make a list of goals and tasks that need to be learned. With the help of the caregivers and children, prioritize which goals are more important than others. Once the goals are selected, use the goal ladder to break it down into measurable chunks, focusing on no more than one to three goals at a time.

    Check out these quotes about goals for more inspiration on goal setting.

    How to use a goal ladder

    A goal ladder can be a powerful visual representation of each step of accomplishing a goal. Kids can use a goal ladder to work on multi-step goals or larger tasks that otherwise seem daunting.

    There are several steps of using a goal ladder to accomplish tasks:

    1. Get Specific on the Goal- One important first step in using a goal ladder is getting specific on the goal. Another important piece to the puzzle is the “buy in” from the child or student. Are they involved in setting up the goal? When kids are involved in the goal setting process, they are more motivated because the goal is meaningful to them.
      • Write down the goal at the top of the goal ladder.
    1. Determine the “why” behind the goal- Help the student or child to determine “why” the goal is meaningful to them. Is it a personal interest? Is the goal for their health or education? Is the goal important because they are learning about something interesting? When personal interests, passions, and talents are incorporated into a goal, it has that “why factor”. When we determine why something is meaningful to us, it has more staying power. That “why” is something that we can return to when the goal process slows. For kids, we can help them see why their goal is important in the bigger picture.
      • Help kids identify their “why”
      • Write this down so you can refer to it in the future.
      • Consider all aspects: wellbeing, social-emotional, development, personal interests, etc.
    2. Break the goal down into smaller steps- The ladder imagery is perfect for a larger goal because it really points out that each step leads toward a bigger goal. There is no way to get to the end result without putting in the work of moving up each step.
      • Start out with the long term goal at the top of the ladder, using the rungs below for the short term objectives and rewards.
      • Write down the steps to achieve the big goal on the goal ladder. Each rung of the ladder is a smaller goal that has it’s own objective.
      • Remember SMART goals along the way!
      • Incorporate rewards for each goal rung.
    3. Brainstorm potential obstacles and be ready for them. Kids can help with this process. What are some reasons that they may not accomplish a step on the goal ladder? What can they do to prevent that obstacle? Or, how can they deal with obstacles as they come. Being prepared for the falls from the ladder will help to set the user up for success.
      • Consider obstacles for each rung on the goal ladder.
      • Be prepared with solutions.

    One of the biggest issues for goal setting with kids is that the goal sometimes fails. You might ask yourself: “I set goals but they fail, why?” Let’s take a look at potential obstacles to goal setting.

    Example of a Goal Ladder

    In our example goal ladder, we’ll continue with the theme of eating more vegetables.

    The top of my ladder might say, In four weeks I will improve my diet to eat ¼ cup of 5 different vegetables to improve my overall health and well being.  

    The subsequent rungs might look like this:

    1. Make a list of the vegetables you currently eat
    2. Make a list of all of the vegetables available in your area
    3. Select 5 vegetables to try during the next 4 weeks
    4. Find 2-3 recipes or ways to serve each vegetable
    5. Try one vegetable the first week, reward yourself with cheesecake if ¼ cup is eaten
    6. Try a second vegetable the next day.  Continue to eat the first vegetable if able.  Reward yourself with a chocolate bar

    Continue the rungs in this fashion until 5 vegetables have been added in 4 weeks.  

    *This goal can be modified to be even more specific.  Maybe I need it to say I will eat 5 different vegetables EACH week, or continue to eat them in my regular diet after trying them during this 4 week trial.

    Goal setting is important and a SMART way to teach skills!

    In the goal ladder worksheet below, you’ll notice some details that impact successful goal accomplishment:

    • A larger goal is identified.
    • There is an end reward identified.
    • The user identifies steps to accomplish the overall larger goal.
    • Each step of the process has it’s own end date and reward.
    • Users can check off each step as they achieve it.
    • They can then re-group and see what the next step on their ladder is so that they climb toward the bigger goal.

    Free goal ladder worksheet!

    Pair this printable goal ladder worksheet with SMART goals for kids, teens, or adults to accomplish those big tasks!

    Free Goal Ladder Worksheet

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      Victoria Wood

      Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.

      Executive Function Activities for Fall

      Fall executive function activities

      In this blog post, you’ll find executive functioning activities for Fall. This time of year is a great time to support executive functioning development. We’ve shared a lot of executive functioning tips and tricks here on the website, so why not use all of the wonder of Fall and work on skills like impulse control, attention, problem solving, task initiation, and more?

      Fall executive function activities for kids

      Fall is such a great time of the year! If you live in a climate like mine, from apple picking to visiting a pumpkin patch to going on a day trip to see the beautiful leaves, it’s a great time of the year to get outdoors! Fall is also a great time of year to work on executive functioning skills.

      Fall Executive Functioning Activities

      Fall can be an exceptionally busy time of the year. Between kids and teens settling into their school routines to fall sports, there is a lot going on. However, there are also many opportunities to work on executive functioning skills during these fun moments! Enjoy these fun, family-friendly opportunities to enjoy the fall weather!

      Apple Picking Executive Function Activity

      Apple picking is a fantastic family activity. Does your local orchard have a map? Have your child or teen read the map and direct the family where to go in order to get to the apples you want to pick. But how does picking apples help with skills like time management, impulse control, problem solving, etc.?

      This helps develop their ability to develop a plan and execute their plan, as well as manage emotional demands, especially if younger family members become frustrated!

      It can take great problem solving to find an apple that is not over-ripe, or under-ripe, that is in reach, and will fit into the bag or basket. How can you break own the task of navigating a busy row to find a tree to pick from? Then, how can you determine which tree to select? Then, can you fill your bag with apples before becoming distracted or giving up? All of these mini-decisions and repetitions in cognitive skills are practice for other tasks requiring executive functioning!

      When you get home, decide on an apple recipe to make as a family! Divide roles among family members based on skill set. Have someone gather the materials (planning and organizing, working memory), read the instructions (initiation, inhibition, working memory), measure (monitoring), and so on!

      Cooking is an engaging executive functioning task that supports development in many areas. To support and promote development of EF skills, try these tips:

      • Break down the task
      • Use a task tracker
      • Write down steps and cross them off as each one is completed
      • Talk it out as a group (including problem solving, what’s next, what I’m doing right now, etc.)
      • Clean up as you complete each step

      Support Executive Functioning Skills at the Pumpkin Patch

      A visit to a local pumpkin patch is bound to be a great day. Have your child or teen make predictions on how much specific pumpkins weigh, plan out the activities you will do (since many pumpkin patches have additional activities), and navigate the narrow rows with those cumbersome wagons! This is certainly an activity that will work up an appetite—check out these pumpkin cupcakes!

      After your trip, plan out how each family member will decorate their jack-o-lantern. Whether with paint or carving, this is a favorite activity for many children that involves skills like planning, inhibition, and initiation.

      Use these tips to support executive functioning skills when pumpkin carving:

      • Draw a picture of your jack-o-lantern before beginning
      • Make a list of the supplies needed
      • Cross off each supply as they are used
      • Use kid-friendly pumpkin carving tools
      • Use gloves if tactile sensory input is an issue
      • Talk it out: talk through problems as you go
      • Use a task tracker to complete each step of the process
      • Discuss possible problems that may arise while carving
      • Break the steps down
      • Take breaks between each step

      Executive Functioning Activities at the Corn Maze

      Another popular fall activity is a trip to a local corn maze. This can be modified based on the corn maze’s difficulty level, as well as whether the location offers a map.

      You could work on things like emotional regulation (because the maze is bound to be frustrating!), planning, time management, initiation, inhibition, and so on! For younger children who might not be quite ready for a corn maze, purchase some corn and create a cool stamp art project!

      Some tips to support EF challenges at the maze:

      • Be sure the maze is age-appropriate
      • Lay out ground rules
      • Go with a partner
      • Use a map if available
      • Use a marker to draw where you’ve gone on the map
      • Be ready with coping strategies for emotional needs

      A final note on Fall Executive Functioning Activities

      These activities show how fun and engaging it can be to work on executive functioning skills! Many of these activities also show how activities can be upgraded and downgraded based on a child’s abilities and needs.

      Studies show that executive functioning skills can be a key predictor of a child’s success, especially at the middle school level. While fall is full of opportunities for fun, perhaps integrating some of these activities will encourage your child to develop their executive functioning skills so that they can be successful in all areas of their life!

      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.

      To-Do List for Kids

      To do list for kids

      In this blog post you’ll discover Strategies to Help Combat Executive Function Disorder including a task completion worksheet, designed as a to-do list for kids. This task tracker worksheet allows kids to keep track of their daily tasks, through development of executive functioning skills like task initiation and task completion.

      Free to-do worksheet for kids to work on task completion and other executive functioning skills.

      To-Do Lists for Kids and Executive Function

      First, let’s cover executive functioning. Does it have to do with how high powered executives function? Not, really, but there may be some meaning behind their title, “executive.” 

      According to the reviewers at Psychology Today, executive function is a mental process to help people, plan and execute their goals. They include attention, working memory, problem solving, task initiation and impulse control. 

      Development of Executive Functioning skills

      About development of executive functioning skills: These functions are believed to be housed in the prefrontal cortex. Because it is right at the front, we know it has to be important, right? Correct. These are the important life skills that one needs to succeed in life. These skills start in infancy but do not fully develop until the 20’s or 30’s! This is the reason your college student is so scattered, impulsive, and needy.

      My own observations lead me to believe the prefrontal cortex is becoming developed later and later in a person’s life. Thirty years ago, these processes were well developed by 18. Now “children” well into their twenties are relying on their parents and teachers for advice, or using maladaptive coping strategies for assistance. 

      How does this relate to the high powered executive? 

      In order to become and thrive as an executive, often at the top of their field, people need to have excellent task management skills, emotional regulation, organization, leadership, and the ability to multitask. Interestingly enough, these are all of the buzzwords included in job descriptions and resumes, because they are the measure of success in a job. 

      Children and adults who struggle with these executive function skills are likely to have difficulty managing their time, starting and finishing tasks, following mult-step directions, and staying organized. The coworker with the messiest office, who is always losing things, is often struggling with executive function. 

      Does this mean people with executive function disorder (EFD) are less intelligent than their counterparts? 

      Not necessarily. While high executive function skills can often be paired with a higher IQ, people with a lower EF learn to cope with their inability to perform these tasks. They use strategies to compensate, and often succeed.

      This sounds a lot like Attention Deficit Disorder (ADD)! It does. Often those diagnosed with ADD have executive function disorder as part of their set of symptoms. They also exhibit additional symptoms such as impulsive behavior, difficulty with emotional regulation, inability to maintain attention even in an optimal environment or with a preferred task. 

      For more information on executive functions and the disorders associated with them, this article in psychology today is informative and thorough in describing EF skills and related challenges.

      How to support Task Completion

      Now that I have identified that half of my caseload has executive function disorder, what strategies can I use to combat this and help develop these skills? 

      Once you identify which of the executive functions are not well developed, each can be worked on individually, or a program of strategies to assist your student with overall executive function is useful. 

      The OT Toolbox has some great free printables to assist with strategies for executive function disorder. 

      Kids To-Do List

      Below, you can access our free Task Completion Checklist. This to-do list for kids breaks down tasks into a list with check boxes. Kids, and the support system they are utilizing (teachers, parents, therapists, caregivers, etc.) can identify and itemize the tasks that the student needs to achieve on a daily or weekly basis.

      The kids to-do list is broken down into a list so that the user can see each step. The printable daily task list is open-ended so that steps can be listed out on each line, or multiple steps can be indicated in a single task.

      For example, when a student needs to gather their backpack to go to school in the morning, there are several steps to that daily chore. The individual steps can be indicated on the to-do list.

      Use the to-do list in a few different ways

      • Add daily tasks
      • Break down complex tasks like getting ready to leave the house in the morning
      • Add tasks that include several steps
      • Include tasks that need to be done several times/day such as turn off the lights when you leave a room

      These can be used as stand alone activities, or part of your student’s strategy notebook. In this notebook several activities and strategies can be collected and placed in plastic sleeves for easy access and reference. 

      This printable to-do list can be used with older individuals as well, from teens on through adults.

      This printable to-do list can also be utilized to support the adult with executive function disorder.

      More Task Completion Strategies

      If your prefrontal cortex is developed, or you have good executive function, you probably already use strategies to stay on top of your game. I can think of ten strategies I use to make sure I don’t forget anything.

      1. Lists on my phone 
      2. Calendars 
      3. Reminder messages on my phone 
      4. Written schedule 
      5. Routines 
      6. Alarms 
      7. Sticky notes 
      8. Asking other people to be accountable to remember their own appointments 
      9. Putting things away in the same place each time 
      10. Staying organized and clean 

      Even though my executive function skills are well developed, stressful situations can destroy even the best skills. Therefore I have many strategies in place so I do not forget important events, where I put things, which students I am seeing, what is on the grocery list, and so forth. 

      This comes naturally to me as I am an organized person. For others, this will be challenging, and needs to be taught. Start to develop these strategies and coping mechanisms while your students are young. 

      There are other resources available on the OT Toolbox, such as the impulse control journal by Colleen Beck. Details about The Impulse Control Journal:

      “This 80 page impulse control journal for kids to keep track of their day 

      • 30 Drawing Journal Pages to reflect and pinpoint individual strategies
      • 28 Journal Lists so kids can write quick checklists regarding strengths, qualities, supports, areas of need, and insights 
      • 8 Journaling worksheets to pinpoint coping skills, feelings, emotions, and strategies that work for the individual 
      • Daily and Weekly tracking sheets for keeping track of tasks and goals
      • Mindset,Vision, and Habit pages for helping kids make an impact
      • Self-evaluation sheets to self-reflect and identify when inhibition is hard and what choices look like
      • Daily tracker pages so your child can keep track of their day
      • Task lists to monitor chores and daily tasks so it gets done everyday
      • Journal pages to help improve new habits 
      • Charts and guides for monitoring impulse control so your child can improve their self-confidence 
      • Strategy journal pages to help kids use self-reflection and self-regulation so they can succeed at home and in the classroom 
      • Goal sheets for setting goals and working to meet those goals while improving persistence 
      • Tools for improving mindset to help kids create a set of coping strategies that work for their needs

      Click here for more information on The Impulse Control Journal to support completion of daily tasks.

      Do not despair! Most children grow up to be functioning adults. They leave the nest (or basement) eventually, and find their way. We can however do our part in teaching these strategies early and consistently, so they fly out of the nest instead of falling head first. 

      Free To Do List for Kids

      Want a copy of this task completion worksheet? Print off this to-do list for kids and support development of executive functioning skills, for any age!

      Free To-Do List for Kids

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        Victoria Wood

        Victoria Wood, OTR/L has been providing Occupational Therapy treatment in pediatrics for more than 25 years. She has practiced in hospital settings (inpatient, outpatient, NICU, PICU), school systems, and outpatient clinics in several states. She has treated hundreds of children with various sensory processing dysfunction in the areas of behavior, gross/fine motor skills, social skills and self-care. Ms. Wood has also been a featured speaker at seminars, webinars, and school staff development training. She is the author of Seeing your Home and Community with Sensory Eyes.