Drawing Mind Maps

drawing mind maps

You’ve probably heard of mind maps as a tool for planning, prioritization, task completion, and other executive functioning skills, but have you heard of drawing mind maps? Drawing a mind map is such a fun way to put goals down onto paper and actually accomplishing them. All of this can be done through drawing, doodling, and sketching a drawing mind map!

Drawing mind map

Drawing Mind Maps

A drawing mind map is a visual diagram used to visually organize information into a picture outline format. By drawing representation of ideas, projects, tasks, drawing mind map users can see the whole picture and individual steps to achieve a main goal.

Much like mind maps in general, a drawing mind map is typically created for a single goal, project, assignment, or even business.

A drawing mind map is a picture of ideas, doodles to clarify, and visual representation of steps to offer support and structure around a single concept. When drawing, doodling, and writing out steps to a large project, we can see the overarching idea or concept in the center of the page, with connecting steps drawn out from that center idea.

You may have used a mindmap in the past by writing out lists, mapping out details, and putting thoughts down on paper.

A mind map is an awesome visual tool that can help kids (and therapists) in many ways:

  • identify and clarify ideas
  • pinpoint a starting point- Using task initiation skills
  • define short term and long term goals
  • identify steps of a project or task
  • visualize completion (SO important for mindset)
  • Get started on a big project or task
  • Drawing out goal to completion
  • Identifying steps of a task
  • Using foresight to predict problems or potential issues
  • Brainstorming activities
  • Prioritization tool– identify steps and put them into order
  • Goal setting
  • Using “self talk” through drawing
  • Planning a story
  • Graphic organizer
  • Organize thoughts and ideas
  • Writing a paragraph

The real reason beyond these is when people start out with a project, they are not SMART about it.  People are very smart, just not about the way they start projects or set goals. A drawing a mind map can help with incorporating smart goals into actually creating a plan to accomplish goals.

Drawing Mind Maps for Students

Our students create projects similar to the way we set goals. When our learners start a project, it can often feel overwhelming, unclear, and discouraging. 

Without proper strategies, learners tend to stare at a blank page, write in circles, give up, or forget half of what is supposed to go into the plan. 

Graphic organizers, or project planners, are an excellent way to draw a mind map, start a project, prioritize work, and brainstorm activities.

For flexible learning styles, there are three types of project plans highlighted here. 

Some learners will benefit from a large open space to write words, draw pictures, and sketch notes, while others will need more defined space such as the web of circles or note card designs.

Whichever design works for the learners current level, is the starting point. Moving to a more sophisticated design will happen as learners become more advanced.

How to use a Drawing Mind Map

First, you can definitely use this drawing mind map as a visual project planner. But what other ways can you use this tool to support development and target skills like executive functioning skills?

I used a drawing mind map to write my book when I was working on it. It seemed overwhelming, and without a clear goal I might not have met my personal timeline. 

I was able to write my project planner into a list with bullet points, however if I were to use this project planner, I would have put the title in the center or larger area, and add the chapters in all of the web spaces or smaller areas.

To use a drawing mind map with kids, you can simply:

  1. Print out the mind map printable below (or head to The OT Toolbox Member’s Club to grab your copy)
  2. Ask the student to think of one goal, one project, or one thing they would like to accomplish.
  3. Ask the student to use a pencil, crayon, markers, or pens to complete the drawing prompts and writing prompts on the mindmap.
  4. Write or draw a goal or concept in the center of the page.
  5. Then add doodles, drawings, representations, words, phrases, etc. to indicate various steps or parts of the larger project or goal in branches from the center image.

The nice thing about drawing as a planning tool is that you can add steps in a braindump fashion. There’s no need to think out the project in sequential order. Simply get the main idea down on the center of the page and then add the steps from there.

Break out the project into different tasks that need to be done.

One tip for those that need to really focus on the brain dump strategy is to just get it all down on paper and then go back and add numbers to order the tasks in a sequence that makes sense.

You can use this tool to support executive functioning skills, AND address other areas in therapy sessions, including the ones listed below.

After a drawing mind map is done, you can use other tools to help with the task competition, or actually achieving each step of the process:

These items are available for free on our site or also available inside The OT Toolbox Member’s Club under executive functioning tools.

Develop Skills with Drawing Mind Maps  

This activity moves beyond creating a vision, a goal, or a project.  It meets many objectives such as:

  • Handwriting – letter formation, sizing, spacing, line placement, directionality, spelling
  • Fine motor – grasping pattern, wrist stability, intrinsic hand muscle development
  • Bilateral coordination – hand dominance, using “helper hand”, crossing midline
  • Proprioception – pressure on paper, grip on pencil
  • Strength – shoulder, elbow, wrist, hand, core, head control
  • Visual perception – scanning, figure ground, line placement, crossing midline, visual closure, seeing parts to whole
  • Executive function – following directions, attention, focus, sequencing, organization, planning, and task completion
  • Social function – working together in a group, problem solving, sharing materials and space, turn taking, frustration tolerance, task avoidance, talking about the activity,

Use Drawing Mind Maps for different skill levels

How do I grade this activity?

When I use the word “grade,” I mean make it easier or harder, not give it a letter grade or score it.

  • Laminate the page for using markers and wipes. This can be useful for reusability and saving resources
  • Different colored paper may make it more or less challenging for your learner
  • Enlarging the font may be necessary to beginning handwriting students who need bigger space to write.
  • Make lines in the boxes to create better boundaries for handwriting. Learners tend to fill whatever size space they are given, often lacking the necessary space to fit all of the words in one box.
  • Project this page onto a smart board for students to come to the board and write in big letters or collaborate.
  • Lower level learners can dictate their words to their helper to get the ideas onto the paper
  • Beginning learners can draw figures instead of writing thoughts
  • More or less prompting may be needed to grade the activity to make it easier or harder.

The OT Toolbox has a great graphic organizer tool called The Project Plan, to assist learners map out those daunting projects so they can have success instead of failing or becoming discouraged!

Teach your learners to become more organized and less frustrated by using planners to set goals or start projects.

Free mind map exercises worksheets

Want to get started with using a drawing braindump with kids? We have new mind map exercises worksheets to get you started! Simply enter your email address into the form below.

OT Toolbox Member’s Club members can access this printable mindmap exercises worksheets inside the club on our Executive Function toolbox. Be sure to log in and then head to the main dashboard. Then click on the EF toolbox to get your copy.

Free Drawing Mindmap Exercises Worksheets

    We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

    Colleen Beck, OTR/L is an occupational therapist with 20+ years experience, graduating from the University of Pittsburgh in 2000. Colleen created The OT Toolbox to inspire therapists, teachers, and parents with easy and fun tools to help children thrive. As the creator, author, and owner of the website and its social media channels, Colleen strives to empower those serving kids of all levels and needs. Want to collaborate? Send an email to contact@theottoolbox.com.

    Executive Function Coaching

    executive function coaching

    In this blog we are covering what you need to know about executive function coaching, and how to use an executive functioning coach to best support cognitive skill needs. Whether as an adult with executive function, or a teen or child struggling with development of specific executive functioning skills, coach strategies can be a tool in the toolbox!

    Executive function coaching

    executive function coaching

    Often when we think of ADHD (Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder), a high-energy young boy “bouncing off the walls” is what comes to mind. While some cases present that way, it is far from the whole picture.

    What many individuals with specific cognitive skill challenges are experiencing, including that energetic little boy, is called Executive Function Disorder (EFD).

    Those with EFD characteristics experience difficulties managing activities in their daily life and can benefit significantly from an ADHD executive function coach.   

    HOW CAN AN Executive Function COACH HELP?

    Specifically for attention and focusing considerations, an executive function coach is going to determine how specific challenges related to a diagnoses impacts this individual’s life.

    Coaching executive functioning skills might include:

    • Coming up with executive functioning skill accommodations
    • Supporting complex tasks like organizing, decision-making, and handling stress
    • Promoting development of skills such as attention to detail, working memory, and time management
    • Providing tools to support organization, focus, and reducing distractions
    • Streamlining functional tasks by creating “cheat sheets”, lists, and visual prompts
    • Offering supports such as apps
    • Helping to reduce clutter to limit distractions
    • Coming up with schedules and plans for functional performance in the home, work, school, or community
    • Helping clients create a plan for the day or week
    • Offering tools for emotional support
    • Providing resources on study skills
    • Support the client to break down tasks into steps

    By being very specific about what is happening in the brain and how that is impacting their life, a coach can recommend tailored accommodations for their clients. 

    An executive function coach recommends great treatment options by being evidence-based. This means that anything they recommend for treatment should be backed by expert knowledge.

    Supporting specific diagnoses with an executive Function Coach

    The thing about our brain is that we need it to do every task, both big and small!

    So, when things like staying on task, doing what you say you will do, meeting deadlines, and essentially functioning…is difficult, we can look at these tasks and see that there are cognitive skills that are needed to accomplish each task.

    When you break it down, executive functions refer to the skills of the brain which allow us to manage ourselves…to get things done. These skills include areas like planning, prioritization, working memory, attention, focus, task complettion, etc.

    However, executive function also refers to the processing of information in our brain and using that information. As a result we see areas such as managing our emotions, behavioral response, managing distractions, self-fixing to recognize when we are off track so wo can recover and accomplish a task at hand.

    These skills allow us to do everyday activities from making a bowl of cereal in the morning to eating the meal, to cleaning up the bowl.

    Without executive functioning skills, we end up hungry, living in a messy house, and in unsafe conditions. This is just a simplified example, but you can see how staying focused, problem solving, task completion, and using what we know (working memory) allows us to live as a functioning individuals.

    One route to determining how it impacts their life is to fully understand their specific diagnosis. A diagnosis such as ADHD will have certain features that impact executive functioning skills and will differ from a diagnosis such as Down Syndrome which also has features that impact executive functioning. Each diagnosis will present differently, but an executive function coach can support these areas.

    Likewise, executive functioning difficulties can present without a diagnosis in place. A coach will support the features of the challenges the individual has, which impact functional performance: school tasks, work tasks, daily life tasks, etc.

    Let’s break down how a specific aspects of a diagnosis can be addressed with an executive function coach, based on an example diagnosis of Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

    There are three subtypes of ADHD, as characterized by the DSM-5:

     1. Predominantly Inattentive

     2. Predominantly Hyperactive-Impulsive

     3. Combined Inattentive and Hyperactive-Impulsive 

    A good executive function coach is an expert in ADHD and will be able to understand which subtype their client has, and how it can affect their daily activities and relationships.

    Luckily for practitioners, the subject of ADHD has been of high interest to researchers and funding sources, so there is a good amount of evidence to support claims.

    This evidence is sourced from high-quality research articles, information from trusted organizations, and experiences from experts in the field. The best coaches provide for their clients by continuing to adapt as new information becomes available. 

    What does an Executive Function Coach Do?

    Getting specific, executive functioning coaching may support individuals with accommodations, tools, and practice.

    A coach will work with a client on developing and using skills to meet executive functioning needs.

    Let’s discuss what an accommodation is, and why they are so often used for those receiving executive function coaching services:

    There are two main pathways to intervention in therapy: changing the person to better the person OR changing the situation to better the person. Accommodations are used when the situation is being changed. 

    Executive Function coaching strategies include:

    • Environmental Accommodations 
      • Adjusting the environment to increase attention and comfort. This may include different lighting scenarios, auditory adjustments (i.e. noise cancelling headphones, music for attention, limited sound distractions), flexible seating options, or location. 
    • Tools as Accommodations
      • Memory and organizational tools such as post-it notes, color-coded items, visual ordering, graphic organizers, etc. (and a coach to initiate and educate on the use these tools)
      • Timers, alarms, and schedules to reduce the symptom of time-blindness 
      • Supports for visual noise
      • Specific apps for functioning and task completion. Here are occupational therapy apps that may work.
    • Adjustments to School/Work Requirements
      • Extra time or a separate location for tests, quizzes or other focused work
      • Flexible work deadlines
      • Movement breaks or “brain breaks
      • Additional processing time and/or multiple opportunities to learn a task 

    Additionally, an ADHD coach will work with their client to find what works for them in various settings, including: 

    • Attention-specific tools and practices based on what type of inattention is currently inhibited may be trialed for best outcomes. 
    • A Impulse control journal may be educated on and practiced with to reduce impulsive behaviors that are associated with some types of ADHD. 
    • Frequency and types of breaks to promote efficiency and reduce common ADHD burnout. 

    Executive functioning practice and trial- an EF coach will work with a client on trialing various strategies to see what works and what doesn’t. This can include things such as:

    • Practicing use of timers, schedules, checklists, etc.
    • Playing executive function games to develop skills.
    • Trialing use of Alexa apps to support specific needs in timers, alerts, etc.

    WHEN SHOULD I GET An Executive Function COACH?

    Executive functions develop beginning in infancy and continue to develop well into adulthood.

    Through that development, the symptoms of executive function disorder appear in different ways throughout one’s life. As we grow, our brains become more and more capable of completing complex tasks like organizing, decision-making, and handling stress.

    Experts in the field of ADHD believe the same is true for those with executive function disorder – that the brain will continue to naturally develop skills over time, slowly making up for the deficit in functioning. 

    With that in mind, it’s easy to recommend executive function coaching at any age where the individual is symptomatic. However, as with most therapy, the earlier, the better. The sooner that an individual can learn about themselves, their needs, and what accommodations are helpful for them, the better the long-term outcomes. 

    As an executive function coach, much is identifying and analyzing problems, identifying solutions, choosing the best supports, selecting a plan of action, and implementing a solution. Then, look at the next problem or see how the solution did or did not work. This sounds a lot like OT, right??

    Problem solving steps

    occupational therapy as an executive function coach

    You’ve probably noticed throughout this blog post that the many ways that executive function coaching supports daily tasks, performance of functional skills, and environmental considerations. These are all aspects of occupational therapy, making OTs perfect coaches for executive functioning needs!

    Sydney Thorson, OTR/L, is a new occupational therapist working in school-based therapy. Her
    background is in Human Development and Family Studies, and she is passionate about
    providing individualized and meaningful treatment for each child and their family. Sydney is also
    a children’s author and illustrator and is always working on new and exciting projects.

    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.

    The Power of Yet

    The power of yet

    Do you focus on the “power of yet” when helping kids with developing a growth mindset? A subtle mindset shift can do great things when it comes to shifting perspectives. Here, we’re covering what the power of yet means and how to help kids use this strategy in every day tasks with a printable power of yet worksheet.

    The Power of Yet activities

    The power of yet

    When we make a decision to learn new things, we are fostering the power of yet.

    When we struggle at a task but persist and keep trying, we are putting the power of yet to work.

    When we look forward to doing something, we exercise hope and optimism.

    All of these examples describe the power of yet!

    The power of yet starts with a growth mindset. A growth mindset is “the understanding that abilities and understanding can be developed” (Mindset Works, n.d.).

    Those with a growth mindset believe that they can get smarter, stronger, and more talented through putting in time and effort.

    According to Susan Jerrell, founder of Time out for Teachers,

    The power of yet teaches students:

    • they can learn
    • learning takes time and effort
    • results come from hard work
    • giving up isn’t an option 

    the power of yet carol dweck

    This way of thinking became popular through the work of Carol Dweck in her book (Amazon affiliate link) Mindset.  She teaches about the “power of yet.”

    This mindset shifts the focus away from all the things one can not do, to what one can not do YET.  As therapists, the population we serve is acutely aware of all the things they can not do.  It is easy to get bogged down by shortcomings and endless goal setting. This can be discouraging, and lead to shutdown or failure.

    When developing this growth mindset and encouraging the power of yet, be mindful of the four traps to success

    • People don’t set clear goals (and don’t break down goals to achieve them)
    • They feel discouraged
    • They feel overwhelmed
    • They are not ready to change

    Ask yourself, is my learner ready to change?  Is this a goal I want for them, or they want for themselves?  This might also be a good question to ask of the parents.  Are THEY ready for change? 

    Is it worth all your time and effort to teach your learner to fold laundry, if the parents are just going to do it themselves?  Should you problem solve and set endless goals to get your learner out of their parent’s bed, if the parents are really not ready for this change?

    Young people may not care about change, or the work entailed in growing may not seem worth all of the effort.  In this case, you will need to get creative if this change is important to their growth. 

    Shoe tying is a great example.  This is an important skill, however try telling that to a six year old who just loves his Crocs!  In this case, some creative goal setting, and a great incentive at the end might help nudge them along. 

    Power of Yet Activities

    Goal setting IS important, however it is crucial to go about it the right way, or this too will end in failure. The OT Toolbox has some great posts about Goal Setting and Goal Ladders

    Check out this cute video from Sesame Street with Janelle Monae singing about this “power of yet”.  This is a great tool to share with young learners about embracing change, and being able to learn new things.   

    Courtney Ackerman of Psychology Today gives the following tips to teaching the power of yet:

    • Work on your own growth mindset first. It is difficult to teach the power of yet 
    • Go beyond the “mindset jargon” and inspirational quotes to really focus on what the power of yet means
    • Praise properly, focusing on their efforts rather than shortcomings or natural talent
    • Embrace the word “yet;” use the word “yet” with children to give them a sense they can make a change
    • Take advantage of mistakes children make; be ready to praise them for their efforts but also point out any issues in their approach and brainstorm better ways to handle the situation with them
    • Let kids fail; another vital part of growth in children is to let them fail instead of showing them how to do everything or saving them from making mistakes. This is part of growth mindset mistakes.

    Free Power of yet worksheet

    Today’s free printable worksheet teaches learners to embrace what already makes them awesome, along with recognizing the power of yet.  I am not able to ride a unicycle YET.  I can not speak fluent Spanish YET.  I am awesome at riding a two wheeled bike, and can speak moderate Spanish.  

    Harness the power of yet, set attainable goals, embrace skills along with shortcomings.  Use the power of yet printable to brainstorm goals, focus on awesomeness, and develop a plan for growth. From a treatment planning objective, this task goes beyond just introspection and planning for the future.

    Use this letter to future self printable as a tool to support goal development and planning for the future and development tool to achieve goals that have not yet been achieved.

    Think of the other skills that can be addressed during this activity:

    • Social/Executive Function – Following directions, turn taking, task completion, orienting to details, neatness, multi-tasking, attending to task, and impulse control
    • Handwriting- Letter formation – correctly forming the letters top to bottom.
    • Letter sizing – correctly fitting the letters into the provided space. Spacing, line placement, directionality, and spelling are also addressed
    • Fine motor skills- strengthening, hand development, and grasping pattern
    • Scissor skills- Cutting on the line ( if you choose to add this step), within half inch of lines, in the direction of lines
    • Bilateral coordination – remembering to use their “helper hand” to hold the paper while writing.  Using one hand for a dominant hand instead of switching back and forth is encouraged once a child is in grade school or demonstrates a significant strength in one or the other.
    • Strength – core strength, shoulder and wrist stability, head control, balance, and hand strength are all needed for upright sitting posture and writing tasks.
    • Social function – working together in a group, problem solving, sharing materials and space, turn taking, talking about the activity

    How do I grade this Power of Yet activity?

    When I use the word “grade,” I mean make it easier or harder, not give it a letter grade or score it.

    • Lowest level learners can dictate what they would like written
    • Middle level learners can write one or two words about their awesomeness and goals
    • Higher level learners can write an idea about their goals, then create a goal ladder, checklist, or graphic organizer.  This turns into a multilevel activity to use during many sessions.  
    • Talk about the the power of yet, growth mindset, setting goals, and introspection/self reflection
    • Project this page onto a smart board to work as a group
    • More or less prompting may be needed to grade the activity to make it easier or harder.
    • Make lines within the larger boxes to provide borders and boundaries to write in. Many learners struggle to write legibly in a large box

    Growth mindset is interesting in that some people feel they are flawed and will forever need work, while others believe they are perfect just the way they are. Try and find that balance between the self defeated attitude and the “I am perfect” belief. We all have room to grow and new things to learn. 

    A therapist I worked with for many years did not say, “practice makes perfect” as things are never perfect.  Instead she would say, “practice makes better.”  

    This resource is also available inside the Member’s Club.

    Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

    This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

    Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

    Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

    Join the Member’s Club today!

    Free Power of Yet Activity

      We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

      NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and inclusion. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

      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.

      Breaking Down Goals

      breaking down goals

      Making and keeping goals is hard, but breaking down goals into bite sized, smaller steps can be key to achieving a larger objective. According to an article in Psychology Today, 80% of people’s New Year’s resolutions fail by February!  The author goes on to give her thoughts and theories as to why they fail in this articleBreaking down goals into measurable chunks will increase your chances of success.

      Breaking down goals

      breaking down a smart goal into steps

      So often, we have good intentions when it comes to setting goals for ourselves. But there are many reasons why goals fail, and setting huge, audacious goals can be part of that reason. But for the most part, we can pinpoint four reasons goals fail.

      Four traps to goal success: 

      • People don’t set clear goals
      • They feel discouraged
      • They feel overwhelmed
      • They are not ready to change

      Do any of these reasons sound familiar?

      It makes sense! But, the real reason goals fail, beyond these four things, is when people are drawing a mind map, creating a plan, or a goal, they are not SMART about it. We might make a goal that is lofty, unrealistic, and it’s not specific enough to know where to begin. Let’s take a look at these components to a good goal…

      Start by understanding the concept of SMART goals. People are very smart, just not about the way they start projects or set goals. 

      SMART is an acronym for;

      • 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?  
      • T: timebound – Do you have a set timeframe for this goal to be measured?

      First decide if the goals are SMART.  Are the goals specific and measurable, or too general?  Are they actually attainable and relevant? 

      Once you have a goal in mind (that can be further broken down), you can move on and actually break down the goals and get started on that first step.

      goal oriented mindset

      If you or your learners are working on a goal oriented mindset, breaking down goals is a terrific method to improve the likelihood of success.  Featured in this post are a specific tool for breaking down goals into measurable chunks. This printable resource supports individuals in using a goal oriented mindset to accomplish tasks they set out to achieve.

      In this activity, learners can break down goals to make them more attainable.

      Once the larger goal is set, use the goal-oriented mindset strips to break them down.

      Decide on the overall goal- At the top write the overall goal: I will clean my room.  Make this more specific by adding time frames, steps, ways to measure success, and possibly a reward at the end.  A better goal might be worded; I will clean my room, to be inspected every Sunday, and check off at least 8/1o items on the list each week.  *Striving for 100% all the time might lead to failure.

      Break the goal down into steps- Help your learner decide what the steps might be to achieving this goal. Write each of these steps on the first strip, then staple the second strip on top.  Each time a part of the goal is accomplished, your learner will snip off the next piece of paper to reveal another chunk of their goal.

      Some of the steps to cleaning a bedroom might be:

      1. Put all dirty laundry in the basket
      2. Take all plates, cups, and other dishes out of room
      3. Put trash in the bin, then empty bin
      4. Put clean laundry away
      5. Put toys in their boxes or back on the shelves
      6. Change sheets
      7. Vacuum
      8. REWARD!

      Each one of these tasks is measurable.  Make them attainable by changing and tweaking as needed.  Having a list like this makes this overwhelming chore seem more doable. If not, you may end up with a kid like mine, who would just lie in the middle of the mess and cry.

      Check out this post on writing a goal ladder for another method to achieving goals.

      A BIT OF INTROSPECTION BEFORE GETTING STARTED

      Before trying to “break down goals” into steps, think about a goal you have recently set for yourself. It could be one that was a great success, or went down in a ball of flames.

      Now look back and determine if your goal was SMART.  Did it have all the pieces it needed, or was it flawed from the start? 

      Then recheck and see if you fell into one of the four traps:

      • People don’t set clear goals
      • They feel discouraged
      • They feel overwhelmed
      • They are not ready to change

      A goal was set for me last year to keep the dog off of the bed and couch.  It was a miserable failure.  Why? I was (and still am not) not ready to change. While the goal was clear, it was not attainable.  

      Once you have spent a little time on introspection, it is time to share your wisdom and skills with your learner.  If you are not able to set and achieve goals, it will be harder to help others to be successful. This goal oriented mindset will not be impossible to teach if you are not great at meeting your own goals, as we are often able to teach others to do what we can not do ourselves.

      If this idea of breaking down goals into chunks makes sense, these goal-oriented mindset strips are a great jumping off point to getting organized and working on executive function. How about learning to make and follow checklists?

      Our learners know they need to change and grow, but may get stuck in the first step of figuring out what goals to set.  Change may seem overwhelming, they are not aware of what they need to learn, or can not think past this current moment to imagine a goal. 

      Adult goals seem to revolve around the following:

      • Lose weight
      • Learn to cook, fish, surf, snowboard, etc
      • Eat less, or eat healthier
      • Exercise more
      • Worry less, or decrease stress
      • Save more money
      • Have a better body image

      What are some good goals for your younger learners?

      • Join a team
      • Clean their room
      • Write neater
      • Read more
      • Make a new friend
      • Learn a new skill (shoe tying, bike riding, shoot a basket)
      • Eat more vegetables
      • Watch less television
      • Play less video games

      Of course these goals would need to be SMART in order to lead to success. Help your learners break down their goals with these mindset strips along with other strategies to develop a goal oriented mindset.

      Setting and working on goals is part of executive functioning skills. The OT Toolbox is full of posts on EF.  Just type Executive functioning in the search box, or check out this executive function course to get started.

      Other resources for kids on breaking down goals include:

      As for my goal of not having the dog on the bed or couch, I have written that one off, and decided to focus on something more attainable. 

      Free Activity for Breaking Down Goals

      Above, we shared how to use this printable resource that helps users to break down their goals into bite sized pieces. You can get a copy of that goal breaking activity here. Simply enter your email address into the form below to access this file. Print off the tool and get started with creating goals and breaking them down!

      This item is also available inside our OT Toolbox Member’s Club.

      Want to add this resource to your therapy toolbox so you can help kids thrive? Enter your email into the form below to access this printable tool.

      This resource is just one of the many tools available in The OT Toolbox Member’s Club. Each month, members get instant access to downloadable activities, handouts, worksheets, and printable tools to support development. Members can log into their dashboard and access all of our free downloads in one place. Plus, you’ll find exclusive materials and premium level materials.

      Level 1 members gain instant access to all of the downloads available on the site, without enter your email each time PLUS exclusive new resources each month.

      Level 2 members get access to all of our downloads, exclusive new resources each month, PLUS additional, premium content each month: therapy kits, screening tools, games, therapy packets, and much more. AND, level 2 members get ad-free content across the entire OT Toolbox website.

      Join the Member’s Club today!

      Breaking Down Goals Activity

        We respect your privacy. Unsubscribe at anytime.

        NOTE*The term, “learner” is used throughout this post for readability and consistency. This information is relevant for students, patients, clients, preschoolers, kids/children of all ages and stages or whomever could benefit from these resources. The term “they” is used instead of he/she to be inclusive.

        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 Tests

        Executive Function tests

        There are many executive function tests out there, but which are the best when it comes to assessing executive functioning skills? Many times, parents and educators ask about testing children for executive functioning skills. Today, we’re discussing how an executive dysfunction test can provide the information needed to support students. Each test covers a range of cognitive skills as part of an executive functioning assessment. Let’s get started!

        Executive function tests by age

        Executive Function Tests

        These executive functioning assessment tools can be used as part of a formal assessment, or used in part as an informal executive function assessment of critical thinking skills. These testing tools can also be included in a full OT assessment.

        Assessment tools analyze dysfunction in various EF areas:

        When determining a child’s need for skilled occupational therapy services, it is important to collect data through an occupational profile, formal and informal assessment tools, observation, and client/caregiver interview. However, there are a lot of different executive functioning assessment tools available, so it can be hard to determine the best one for you!

        Related, check out this blog post on executive function coaching as a way to support individuals through a coaching model.

        Executive function tests for therapists, including formal and informal executive functioning assessments.

        Executive Dysfunction Test

        There are a multitude of different executive functioning assessment tools that vary in their applicable ages, administration type (questionnaire vs. participation-based), and standardization. Each has its own strengths and weaknesses, but check out a few favorites to see if one might fit your needs!

        The following executive dysfunction tests cover various areas. We’re covering these assessments:

        • Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA)
        • The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT)
        • Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning- 2nd Edition (BREIF-2)
        • Informal Executive Function Tests

        Other assessments for analyzing executive functioning skills (these are not covered in detail here) include:

        • Trail Making Test (TMT) Form B;
        • [2] Verbal Fluency Test (VFT) – F, A and S;
        • [3] VFT Animals category;
        • [4] Clock Drawing Test (CDT);
        • [5] Digits Forward and Backward subtests (WAIS-R or WAIS-III);
        • [6] Stroop Test; and
        • [7] Wisconsin Card Sorting Test (WCST)

        The Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA)

        The Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment (CKTA) is a fantastic non-standardized assessment of executive functioning skills.

        • The CKTA is geared toward children ages 8-12.

        Let’s dissect this particular executive functioning test.

        The CKTA asks children to make play dough from a recipe with both words and pictures. The CKTA itself is free, though you do need to make a kit of materials out of common household items. Children are rated based on the level of assistance they require, rather than their quality of performance.

        Prior to starting the activity, the child is asked to respond to a few questions, including predicting how much help they will need to perform the activity. The child also responds to questions after participating, including their perceived level of assistance and performance, as well as how they could have done better. This is a great opportunity to develop self-reflection!

        Try this executive function assessment using kitchen tasks: Children’s Kitchen Task Assessment.

        The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT)

        The Executive Function Performance Test (EFPT) is another non-standardized assessment of executive functioning skills.

        • The EFPT does not have a specified age range, though with the nature of the tasks, it is best suited for use with ages 14 and up.

        During the EFPT, participants are asked to cook stovetop oatmeal, make a phone call, take a pretend medication, and pay pretend bills. Much like the CKTA, the participant is rated on their level of assistance and the participant also completes self-reflection components. Executive functioning skills become even more critical as a child grows up—executive functioning is critical in adulthood!

        Try this executive function test, the Executive Function Performance Test.

        Behavior Rating Inventory of Executive Functioning- 2nd Edition (BREIF-2)

        The BRIEF-2 is a standardized, questionnaire-based executive functioning assessment.

        • There are multiple options for the BRIEF-2: teacher report, parent report, and self-report (ages 11+). The general BRIEF-2 is for ages 5-18, though preschool and adult versions are available for an additional cost.

        In completing the BRIEF-2, raters are asked to respond to statements relating to a wide variety of executive functioning skills. In order to increase validity, there are 3 subscales to determine any responses that would decrease validity: infrequency, inconsistency, and negativity.

        To view or purchase: BRIEF-2.

        Informal Executive Function Tests

        There are several nontraditional and informal assessment methods for testing executive function skills.

        • An informal executive function test can be used for any age. You’ll need an age-appropriate activity that is meaningful and motivating.

        Executive functioning is important for nearly every task we complete each day. As a result, it can have an enormous impact on a child’s ability to participate in age-appropriate activities. However, these skills can also be easily assessed through many everyday activities!

        Daily tasks such as self-care routines, learning tasks, chores, kitchen tasks, games, or problem-solving tasks, consider these aspects of executive function listed below. These are informal executive performance tests in a very functional strategy, taking into consideration the environment in which the task actually is performed.

        • Forming ideas to do an action (planning)
        • Starting an action (task initiation)
        • Using organization of tools and materials
        • Maintaining an action until the step is finished and knowing when a step is done (task completion, processing speed, impulse control, attention)
        • Switching behaviors or strategies to do the next step needed (prioritization, foresight)
        • Regulating, controlling, and adjusting body actions to deal with changes and new information along the way (working memory, strategizing)
        • Planning a tactic down the road to deal with a new issue or new direction (planning, cognitive flexibility)
        • Holding details in the working memory (working memory)
        • Controlling emotions (self-monitoring, emotional control, emotional regulation)
        • Thinking abstractly (problem solving, persistence, shift)
        • Knowing when the whole task is finished, stopping that task, and moving onto a different task or activity (hindsight)

        Some simple tasks to assess these skills can be cooking a simple recipe, completing a chore, making a daily “to-do” list, preparing for a party or event, or other tasks that require several steps and a process of planning out tasks.

        Executive Dysfunction Tests in Everyday Tasks

        The thing about using a non-standardized assessment of executive functioning abilities is that this is where you may see some of the functional performance factors. These are the aspects of daily tasks that look like “struggle”. Some of these skills are very obvious and others are more inconspicuous.

        These areas of executive dysfunction are tested and observed in everyday tasks:

        • Distraction levels
        • Keeping track of materials
        • Emotional control
        • Response inhibition
        • Sustained attention
        • Task initiation
        • Flexibility in task
        • Rational thinking
        • Future considerations (Use this letter to future self as an activity idea)
        • Flexibility
        • Mindfulness– Ability to manage and be aware of internal thoughts, feelings, emotions
        • Interoception – including ability to manage mood (to reduce intrusive thoughts), ability to manage fatigue (knowing how to pace oneself and take regular breaks), and ability to manage physical comfort and needs (pain, hunger, thirst)

        When in doubt, select an activity and see if you can assess multiple executive functioning skills within the activity! Whether an obstacle course, board game, or a craft, there are so many options to gather “real-time” data on how these skills are impacting a child!  

        Informal executive dysfunction tests can be anything that is multi-step and a functional, meaningful part of one’s day. Some ideas include:

        • Cooking a recipe
        • Folding clothes/towels
        • Sorting objects
        • Starting homework (including getting materials from the backpack and returning them when complete)
        • Making plans in a planner
        • Making an appointment (doctors visit, dentist, etc.)
        • Watering plants
        • Dusting
        • Shopping
        • Managing bills

        Things to look at include ability to stay on task, managing all of the needed materials, planning out and following through with a task to completion. Take note of things such as:

        • How much help or assistance is needed?
        • Do visual prompts help?
        • Do verbal cues help?
        • Are one-step directions needed or can you move to two-step directions?
        • Can several steps be accomplished while thinking of other information?
        • How long can information be held (working memory)?

        Executive Function Activities

        Looking for applicable resources to informally test executive functioning skills as well as incorporate executive function activities into daily tasks? The Impulse Control Journal is your printable guide to working through tasks, multi-step activities, and daily issues that impact executive function. Not only does it address impulse control, the journal is a resource in organization, establishing habits and mindset, working through goals, and getting things accomplished.

        Click here to access the Impulse Control Journal.

        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.

        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.) All of this can be considered when addressing needs using a specific sensory diet for adults that center on the areas of needs for the individual struggling with executive functioning skills.

        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, executive function 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
        • Write a letter to future self as a strategy to visualize a future you would like to achieve
        • 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.