Organization Handouts

organization handouts

Occupational therapists work with clients on executive functioning skills that impact functioning in daily tasks, or daily occupations. Sometimes organization handouts are needed to help to educate the team of a child struggling with organizational skills. In this post, you’ll find resources as well as free organization information to use helping individuals with organization.

Free organization handouts for helping students stay organized

Organization challenges can look like a lot of different things. In the classroom, it can look like lost homework, messy backpacks, and a disaster of a desk. You can read all about our organization information here on the website. There, you will find strategies, resources, and tools to support organizational skills.

Try these other organization strategies here on the site, too:

Organization Handouts

Studies show that individuals with a small or underdeveloped frontal lobe of the brain tend to have difficulties with organization, poor memory, emotional reactions, and they tend to become overwhelmed by simple tasks. These individuals will have trouble keeping themselves organized in tasks.

These free handouts are printable tools to identify specific needs. You’ll find information describing how these areas are connected, what organization challenges can look like, and tips to help. You’ll also find classroom sensory motor activities that can help with organizing sensory input in the classroom environment.

Free Organization Handouts

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    Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

    The Impulse Control Journal…a printable resource for helping kids strategize executive functioning skill development. When saying “calm down” just isn’t enough…

    When a child is easily “triggered” and seems to melt down at any sign of loud noises or excitement…

    When you need help or a starting point to teach kids self-regulation strategies…

    When you are struggling to motivate or redirect a child without causing a meltdown…

    When you’re struggling to help kids explore their emotions, develop self-regulation and coping skills, manage and reflect on their emotions, identify their emotions, and more as they grow…

    Grab the Impulse Control Journal to build organizational strategies, planning, prioritization, habits, and mindset in kids.

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

    What are Executive Functioning Skills?

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

    What are executive functioning skills

    What are executive FUNCTIONING Skills?

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

    One aspect to delivering strategies and tools to support executive function development can be through a coaching model. In fact, executive function coaching is a powerful tool to support individuals in specific needs.

    Development of executive functioning skills

    When do executive functioning skills develop?

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

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

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

    How can executive functioning skills improve?

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

    What are executive functioning skills

    Emotional regulation as an area of executive functioning:

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

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

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

    Initiation and executive functioning skills:

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

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

    Shifting as an executive function:

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

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

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

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

    Inhibition and executive functioning:

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

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

    Working memory as an executive function:

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

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

    Planning/organizing for executive functioning success:

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

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

    Organization of materials and executive functioning:

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

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

    Executive functioning skills in kids

    Monitoring for executive functioning success:

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

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

    More Executive Functioning Skills Resources:

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

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

    Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

    Flower Snacks

    flower snacks

    These flower snacks are fun and super easy to create with kids and build fine motor skills in the kitchen. If you are looking for creating ways to add healthy snacks into a child’s diet, these flower themed snacks are just that. Whether kids help in the kitchen for fun or for the benefits of building executive functioning skills or fine motor development, there are many reasons to make these flower healthy treats! This is just one of the many cooking with kids recipes here on the website.

    Add these cooking with kids activities to your Spring occupational therapy toolbox.

    Flower snacks that are healthy snacks for kids

    Flower Snacks

    The flower snacks you see below are creative ways to add fun healthy foods for kids. But, even better, kids can help to make these treats. When kids make these snacks, they are building many skills.

    Getting kids involved in the kitchen helps to develop fine motor skills like eye-hand coordination, dexterity, and motor planning. All of these skills are refined through dicing, chopping, scooping, and pouring.

    Cooking with kids also is a powerhouse task for developing executive functioning skills. Following recipes, direction following, impulse control, planning, prioritization, and working memory are all skills that are developed through meal preparation and recipe following.

    Here are more cooking with kids recipes to get kids active in the kitchen to develop skills.

    Flower snacks for cute healthy foods for kids

    Let’s get started with those flower snacks…

    6 healthy flower snacks:

    Beet slices flower snack– Use a flower shaped cookie cutter to cut beet slices (or other soft fruit/veggies: pineapple, apples, thin potatoes…
    Mandarin orange flower– Peel an orange and open one end.  Add celery for a stem.
    Orange with flair–  Add a grape tomato to the center of your orange to add a little color.  Other fruits could also be arranged into a flower shape: apple, pear, and banana slices would work.
    Dried cranberry mini flowers– Arrange cranberries (or raisins) into petal shapes.  Add chickpeas for a center to each flower.
    Tulip cucumbers– Cut a jagged line into cucumber slices.  Add a piece of the peel for stems for each flower.
    Flower art–  Get the kids involved in this one!  Provide carrots, broccoli, red peppers, grape tomatoes and create a flower design as a family.  Enjoy!

    Cute flower snack ideas for kids!  Kids can help make these flower themed healthy treats.

    Make today special with a little bit of healthy flower fun!  While you’re at it, make a few flower crafts: 

    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

    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

    Exercise and Mood: Why Does my Child Need to Exercise?

    Exercise and mood in kids

    Years of research and personal experience can tell us that adults tend to function better with regular exercise. Exercise helps us sleep better, reduce our stress, and manage our weight2. But what about our kids – how do they benefit from exercise? Today we are going to dive deep into the research and see why and how our kids should exercise to better their mood. Let’s look at the link between exercise and mood, and establishing healthy habits that lead to function and independence in kids.

    Related: Emotional Regulation and Executive Functioning Skills.

    Exercise and mood in children. Kids benefit from exercise to help with tantrums, behaviors, and confidence.

    Exercise and Mood: Managing TEMPER TANTRUMS

    If your child is having issues with emotional regulation, it may come out as a temper tantrum. You know the feeling of having no control over your emotions; being taken on a ride of sadness, aggression, and pounds of heavy frustration. Most adults have had enough practice honing their emotional regulation skills to keep them from screaming in the middle of the grocery store after a long day. Children, however, are still working on developing emotional regulation skills, and because of that, their overall mood can suffer.

    Also related is the mood of those around us, or co-regulation. This is another aspect of mood that we don’t always first think of as it relates to our behavior and actions.

    According to research new and old, exercise can help a child better regulate their mood9. Next time your child is screaming in the middle of Target, think to yourself – have they gotten enough physical activity recently? I have found that 30 mins of exercise in the morning can help even out moods for the whole day. Plus, you are bound to get a good nap time out of them if they have gotten enough physical activity – double whammy for everyone’s mood!

    Tips for Exercise and Mood

    Try these tips for encouraging exercise to reduce tantrums in toddlers:

    • Instead of pushing your toddler in a scroller on neighborhood walks, encourage them to walk next to you for a while.
    • Use classic movement songs to incorporate movement into their day – our favorites are “Animal Action” By Greg and Steve, “Jim Along Josie” By Pete Seeger, and “Pet Parade” by Hoyt Axton.
    • If screen time is a part of your routine, use videos like Cosmic Kids Yoga  to make the screen time more valuable.


    Research shows that regular exercise in youth can treat anxiety and depression in the short term and long-term 3,4. Some studies suggest that high-intensity exercises, that will increase cardiorespiratory activity, improve mood more than low-impact exercises, like yoga5.

    While there is lots of evidence to support that exercise can improve mood in both adults and children, some of the research points to other affects that exercise programs can have on children. For example, when children are enrolled in sports or other physical activity programs, they are also socially active and get attention from adults, which may also positively impact their mood7.

    Whatever way you look at it, exercise is likely to improve their mood and guard against anxiety and depression.

    Exercise for self-CONFIDENCE

    One way that exercise improves mood is through raising self-esteem – physical activity gives you a confidence boost! Research shows that all kinds of physical activity contribute to a rise in self-esteem5.

    Self-esteem is so important in all the occupations that children have, particularly in school. Academic and social success are partially dependent on self-esteem and self-worth, and both contribute to a positive mood.

    “Psychological and behavioural problems in children and adolescents are common, and improving self‐esteem may help to prevent the development of such problems” (Ekeland et al., 2004).

    Exercise and positive BEHAVIORS

    In one study, researchers found that teachers reported an increase in wanted behaviors for children enrolled in both high and low-intensity exercise programs5. The theory here is that when a child’s physical activity needs are met, they are better able to regulate their emotions, attention, and behaviors9.

    This comes with the awesome effects that exercise has for executive functioning, which controls many cognitive abilities6. With this increase in desirable behaviors, they will be more likely to develop positive relationships with their peers, teachers, and family members8.

    “Exercise…is highly relevant in preadolescent children… given the importance of well-developed executive functions for daily life functioning” (Verburgh et al., 2014). 

    Exercise has been shown to increase self-esteem, cognition and academic success, and decrease depression and anxiety in children3. Not to mention the obvious health factors associated with physical activity like heart and respiratory function. All said, exercise is integral to the overall health and wellness of our children.


    After all that exercise talk, we have to offer some great ideas to add to your list! Most important to any exercise routine – you have to do what you love! Find what your kids like and encourage them to try new activities.

    Another key strategy to encourage exercise in kids is to model healthy habits as the child’s parent. When parents model healthy choices, fitness, and regular exercise, kids see that and are more likely to follow suit with their own healthy choices.

    One way that adults can model healthy choices is through exercising in the home. When kids see adults exercising, they have that positive interaction with physical activity.

    Having a treadmill in the home is one sure-fire way to encourage movement, exercise, and healthy habits that are integrated into the day-to-day. With  Horizon Fitness treadmills and fitness equipment, you get the availablity of cardio equiptment right in the home. It’s there as a visable option for adding movement and regular cardio exercise on a daily or weekly basis.

    Plus, parents of children can benefit from the fitness programs for quick and effective workouts that fit into the busy family’s schedule. Horizon offers a number of entertainment apps and streaming options, including Bluetooth speakers,  live or on-demand fitness apps, and other streaming fitness opportunities. All of these extras are designed to promote improved physical exercise and meaningful motivation.

    Click here to join me in using Horizon Fitness equipment as a tool to ensure healthy families.


    1. Ekeland, E., Heian, F., Hagen, K. B., Abbott, J. M. & Nordheim, L. (2004). Exercise to improve self‐esteem in children and young people. Cochrane Libary of Systematic Reviews.

    2. Oaten, M. & Cheng, K. (2010). Longitudinal gains in self‐regulation from regular physical exercise. The British Journal of Health Psychology,11(4).

    3. Ortega, F. B., Ruiz, J. R., Castillo, M. J. & Sjöström, M. (2008). Physical fitness in childhood and adolescence: a powerful marker of health. International Journal of Obesity, 32, 1–11.

    4. Pascoe, M. C. & Parker, A. G. (2018). Physical activity and exercise as a universal depression prevention in young people: A narrative review. Early Intervention in Psychiatry, 13(4).

    5. Telles, S., Singh, N., Bhardwaj, A. D., Kumar, A. & Balkrishna, A. (2013). Effect of yoga or physical exercise on physical, cognitive and emotional measures in children: a randomized controlled trial. Child and Adolescent Psychiatry and Mental Health,7(37).

    6. Verburgh, L., Königs, M., Scherder, E. J. A., & Oosterlaan, J. (2014). Physical exercise and executive functions in preadolescent children, adolescents and young adults: a meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine,48, 973-979.

    7. Williams, C. F., Bustamante, E. E., Waller, J. L. & Davis, C. L. (2019). Exercise effects on quality of life, mood, and self-worth in overweight children: the SMART randomized controlled trial. Translational Behavioral Medicine,9(3), 451–459.

    8. Xue, Y., Yang, Y. & Huang, T. (2019). Effects of chronic exercise interventions on executive function among children and adolescents: A systematic review with meta-analysis. British Journal of Sports Medicine,53, 1397-1404. doi:10.1136/bjsports-2017-097600

    9. Zhang, Y., Fu, R., Sun, L., Gong, Y., & Tang, D. (2019). How does exercise improve implicit emotion regulation ability: Preliminary evidence of mind-body exercise intervention combined with aerobic jogging and mindfulness-based yoga. Frontiers in Psychology,10. doi: 10.3389/fpsyg.2019.01888

    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.

    Exercise and Mood Resources for Kids

    You’ll love these resources designed to help kids get moving, exercising, and building skills, and kids won’t even realize they are “exercising”!

    Designed to use fun themes, these heavy work activity cards add proprioceptive input to help kids become more aware of their body’s position in space.

    Heavy work input allows kids to gain more awareness of motor planning skills, coordination, AND strengthening in fun and creative ways.

    Incorporate the themed exercise cards into learning themes or play.

    Grab your set of heavy work exercise cards, now.

    Includes themes:

    1. Trucks Heavy Work Activities
    2. Insects Heavy Work Activities
    3. Sea Animals Heavy Work Activities
    4. Farm Animals Heavy Work Activities
    5. Jungle Animals Heavy Work Activities
    6. Woodland Animals Heavy Work Activities
    7. Superheroes Heavy Work Activities
    8. Sports Heavy Work Activities
    9. Monsters Heavy Work Activities
    10. Summer Heavy Work Activities
    11. Butterfly Life Cycle Heavy Work Activities
    heavy work activity card example

    Critical Thinking Skills

    Critical thinking is a big term that encompasses many skills including executive functioning, thinking, doing, and regulation.

    Critical thinking is intentional thinking that is involved in the process of completing tasks. In this post, we will dissect critical thinking. This essential executive functioning skill helps us accomplish complex tasks. Let’s talk critical thinking for kids!

    Critical thinking is a big term that encompasses many skills including executive functioning, thinking, doing, and regulation.

    What is Critical Thinking

    Let’s start with executive function. Executive function encompasses the critical thinking skills of planning, organizing, prioritization, time management, working memory, attention, and other skills. Critical thinking is similar and requires the use of executive functioning. Critical thinking includes observing and analyzing, self-reflection, interpretation of available information, evaluation and inference (based on working memory), problem solving (metacognition), and decision making.

    Within the aspects of critically thinking are many thinking and doing processes that allow us to follow through with the completion of tasks.

    We’ve discussed previously that executive function does not fully mature until adulthood. It is important to recognize that fact because many times, we expect kids and teenagers to exhibit maturity in their decision-making and meta cognition.

    Critical thinking or strategic thinking? Which is it?

    Strategic Thinking and Critical Thinking

    Strategic thinking may be commonly known as a business term that describes savvy business decisions to lead a business to success. But, there are similarities between the strategic planning of a business and critical thinking involved in executive functioning tasks. In business, strategic thinking involves using a business plan as well as past successes and failures in order to reach business goals. Strategic thinking requires initiation, planning, prioritization, observation, and self-assessment.

    Similarly, critical thinking in order to self-analyze, create goals, initiate tasks, and plan out a task follows along with the same process.

    Critical thinking for kids is essential to accomplish tasks and learn. Here is how to help kids build these brain skills.

    Critical thinking for kids

    Critically analyzing given information so we can strategize a plan and follow through with that plan based on what we know sounds a lot like executive functioning, right? We know that executive functioning doesn’t fully develop until early adulthood. But, we ask a lot of our kids when it comes to integrating critical thinking/executive functioning/regulation.

    These skills, together, allow us to integrate the areas of strategic thinking that we need to accomplish tasks:

    -Regulate emotions and behaviors

    -Pay attention during tasks

    -Complete tasks with an awareness of working memory

    -Initiate tasks when it can be hard to decide on the best “first step”

    -Transition between tasks

    Some of our kids really struggle with this process on a daily basis! Critical thinking in kids can be a real struggle, but we can help by breaking things down into bite-sized steps.

    Critical thinking skills involves integration of thinking, doing, and regulation to analyze and make decisions.

    Critical Thinking Broken Down

    When it comes to accomplishing a task, there are two parts that we need to separate. The first is the thinking of the task. The second is the actual doing of the task.

    We’ll break down all of the specific pieces of critical thinking by dissecting the task of writing a book report.

    Say you know a child who has a book report to write and it’s due on Monday. They’ve known about this project for some time and have read the book (mainly in class), but haven’t actually done any of the actual book report work. They have this weekend to get it completely finished to turn in on Monday morning, while going through the routine of a typical weekend: activities, events, chores, relaxation/down time…(sound like a familiar situation, parents?)

    Let’s pull apart the process of knowing there is a book report due on Monday to the completion of that assignment. Talk about executive functioning skills and critical thinking, right??

    Think of it this way: When a child has a book report to do, they know they need to do it. It’s been talked about in the classroom for a few days. The assignment might be in the back of their mind. So, when the child has the weekend to complete the book report, they know they need to start thinking about actually sitting down to do it. But, what about the Friday night time with friends? And the Saturday morning sleep-in time? And the baseball practice Saturday afternoon? And the family party that’s planed for Saturday evening? And, and, and? We are all well aware of exactly HOW FAST a weekend can slip away from us in the blink of an eye. There is a lot going on during a typical weekend! So pulling out time to actually break away from the “fun” and initiate a book report?? It’s not easy. It takes some skills: planning, prioritization, and task initiation. Then, they need to consider other things they have on their schedule during that weekend so they can plan ahead. (More Planning Skills)

    Next, They need to plan out what they are going to write about. (Planning Skills)

    They need to gather all of the materials they need to complete the task, like pencils, paper, and the book. (Organization Skills)

    They need to recall important facts from the book and pull out that information. They need to recall how they’ve written a book report in the past or the assignments they’ve done in preparation for this project that will help them. They need to gather their thoughts to know where to even begin on this report and start thinking about a topic or a viewpoint they are taking with this report. (Working Memory)

    Finally, they need to think about how they can use those facts and prior experiences to write statements that make sense in their book report. They need to think about what they’ve written in if they might need more information. They need to be self-reflective in their writing. (Metacognition Skills)

    All of those tasks involved thinking about actually writing the book report. It didn’t involve the writing portion and accomplishing the task to fruition.

    The next part of accomplishing the task of writing a book report involves the “doing”.

    The child needs to regulate behaviors and emotions so they can stay on task without having an attitude or tantrum. They need to inhibit the desire to refuse to write the book report because they would rather check their phone or go play video games. (Response Inhibition)

    They need to start the process of writing the report by sitting down and getting started on the book report and not get angry or upset by the task at hand. (Emotional Control)

    They need to maintain attention during the entire task. (Sustained Attention)

    There is a need to be flexible, as well. The student needs to adjust to other tasks that need accomplished during that weekend, and be flexible in their thinking and task completion. (Flexibility)

    Finally, they need to actually complete the report to completion while retaining focused on their goal of getting that book report done so it can be turned in on Monday morning. (Goal Oriented Activity)

    These critical thinking examples and tips will help kids build critical thinking skills to learn and develop.

    Critical Thinking Examples

    It’s a lot to process, right? That project, when broken down, has some major skill building lessons within the assignment. Here are those specific skills again:

    The thinking skills:

    • Planning
    • Organization
    • Time Management
    • Working Memory
    • Metacognition

    The doing skills:

    • Response Inhibition
    • Emotional Control
    • Sustained Attention
    • Task Initiation
    • Flexibility
    • Goal-directed Activity
    How to develop critical thinking in kids and teens using real strategies that work.

    How to improve critical thinking

    So, how can we take a major project like a book report and make it an assignment that helps kids build each of these critical thinking skills? By breaking down that assignment into bite sized pieces and working on each area!

    Critical thinking activities for kids and teenagers to help with executive functioning needed for multi-step tasks like completing a book report.

    Kids with executive functioning skill challenges really struggle with critical thinking. And vice versa. Here are some ways to help teach kids impulse control for improved attention, self-regulation, and learning so they can do hard things:

    • Goal tracker
    • Reduce clutter
    • Make goals
    • Break big tasks or projects into smaller steps
    • Make a schedule (picture-based or list)
    • Social stories
    • Act out situations beforehand
    • Count to three before answering/responding
    • Self-rewards
    • Self-talk
    • Reduce time to complete tasks
    • Increase time to complete tasks
    • Think through and predict social interactions before going into a situation
    • Control buddy
    • Ask for help
    • Habit tracker
    • Use a strategy checklist
    • Carry a goal list
    • Positive thought notebook

    All of these strategies are built and monitored in our resource, The Impulse Control Journal.

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

     Read more about The Impulse Control Journal HERE.  There are so many strategies to address attention in kids and activities that can help address attention needs. One tactic that can be a big help is analyzing precursors to behaviors related to attention and addressing underlying needs. 

    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

    Self Awareness Activities Slide Deck

    Use this free self awareness activity slide deck in occupational therapy teletherapy

    Helping kids become more more self aware is a skill that can help with emotional regulation, goals, executive functioning skills, goal achievement, and so much more. Today, I’ve got self-awareness activities for kids in the form of a free Google slide deck. This is a powerful social emotional development tool for kids. Use these awareness activities to help kids become more aware of how they feel, the things they are good at, personal goals, interests, and positive traits. You’ll find the animal themed activities below. First, let’s discuss awareness for kids.

    Self awareness activities for kids

    Self awareness for kids

    For kids and adults alike, self-awareness is a means to become more aware of how they are behaving and thinking. Using that awareness of self and applying the ability to self-monitoring through strategies can help with improved behavioral outcomes. When we respond to situations, most of us have a monitoring system or the ability to monitor how we feel, think, and act so that we can respond appropriately. Self monitoring leads to behavioral responses and functioning so we are able to complete tasks in a given situaion.

    Being aware of one’s needs, goals, emotional state, thoughts, behaviors, and responses can help within a situation. Awareness offers an opportunity for the need for self-care and self-advocacy.

    Self awareness is a metacognitive skill needed for higher level thinking

    All of our life experiences, including functioning in day-to-day tasks, learning, and social participation requires self-reflection or an awareness of self. Without self awareness, learning, participation, following rules, social interactions, lawfulness, and all aspects of occupational performance may be threatened.

    Self-awareness is a skill that allows for emotional regulation and behavioral regulaiton. For some, these are extremely difficult. When awareness of one’s preferences, tendencies, emotions, reactions, one can begin to understand their needs. Having a sensory diet in place as part of a sensory lifestyle is just one tool to address sensory needs. Using coping strategies to help with regulation needs can be a life-changer. Using stress reduction tools to address anxiety or anger can be powerful in adapting. There are tools to address specific needs of all kinds. One of the first steps in identifying needs is the understanding of self-awareness.

    For more information on integrating a sensory diet into a sensory lifestyle, try the Sensory Lifestyle Handbook, a comprehensive resource in integrating functional sensory diet based on individual interests in a motivating manner.

    Understand how self awareness skills develop in kids

    Development of self awareness

    For children, the ability to self-monitor and be aware of their thoughts, skills, abilities, interests, emotions, and behaviors, these skills may be challenges.g It takes practice and experience for a child to have the ability to self-reflect. Research tells us that self-awareness begins to develop in childhood, but involves metacognition, or interospection. Metacognition is a skill that is acquired later in childhood, in the adolescent years.

    One study of metcognition has found that the skill develops at a functional level for basic metacognitive skills around age 13 to 14. More generalized or advanced metacognition develops around age 15. This study also determined that between the age of 12 and 15 years teenagers develop in qualitiy of metacognitive skills, however this development varies between individuals. Aspects of higher level cognition skills such as those commonly discussed when covering executive functioning skills impact self-reflection: orientation, planning, evaluation, and elaboration. Like other aspects of executive functioning, self-awareness and reflection (metacognition) develops until at least the age of 22.

    Another aspect of executive functioning, working memory, is a skill that impacts metacognition and self-reflection. Younger teens have been observed to have a lower level metacognitive skills that are applied to single situations or limited transfer of skill. Older teens, as metacognition develops, are capable of transfer of metacognition across environments. This higher-level inference involves conscious formulation of abstractions in one situation that allows for making a connection to another situation.

    Self awareness examples and self reflection strategies for kids

    Self awareness examples

    In the self awareness slide deck you’ll find below, there are several main areas covered. These are essential pieces of the self reflection and self monitoring puzzle.

    Identification of positive traits- Knowing what they are good at. The slide deck prompts kids to identify 5 things they are good at. This exercise is a booster in self-esteem and can be a starting point for addressing goals.

    self awareness activities include self reflection

    Compliments- Learning to identify what others are good at and telling them is an important skill. Authentic compliments identify positive traits in others. Noticing these details about others builds an awareness of oneself as well as others.

    Emotions- The first step of emotional development is identifying emotions. We can see by the faces someone makes how they are feeling. Putting a label to that emotion is a strong skill.

    Emotional self-awareness- Moving on, kids can describe how they are feeling at any given moment. They can identify how they might feel in a situation. Then, they can identify coping tools and put words into their feelings and emotions.

    Self awareness is an important part of social emotional skill development.

    Growth mindset- This skill is powerful in self-awareness and metacognition. Using a growth mindset allows room for development in your internal belief system. You have room to learn and develop as a person and understand that there is room for improvement regarding behaviors or actions. This mindset, when it comes to self awareness, limits self-judgement and hopelessness.

    Self awareness activities include a growth mindset

    Interests- Identifying interests is a first-step in self-awareness. Our Sensory Lifestyle Handbook covers interests and motivation in great detail. The research tells us that interests impact motivation and goal achievement. Looking deeper into oneself to identify interests is a great first step.

    Goals- Goals don’t need to be all about behaviors and actions. A beginning step can be identifying goals that others might have and the steps it takes to get there. A simple goal achievement path builds skills in planning, prioritization, organization, and other executive functioning skills.

    self awareness activities address goals

    Setting goals- A higher level task of setting goals covers self-reflection as well as those items covered in goal achievement. Kids can be guided to set goals that are important, achievable, satisfying, and motivating. Then, identifying milestones and the steps to get there can make it easier to achieve, making them motivating and a self-confidence booster.

    Self awareness activities

    Setting one’s own goals- Setting goals can be helpful for kids as they learn to work toward a meaningful goal. This process helps them learn focus, planning, prioritization, self-esteem and goal achievement. Setting goals and identifying goals impact self awareness. Part of goal setting includes getting super clear on what’s important to a child. Kids can examine their process and identity actions they’ve taken toward those goals. They can identify what’s working and what hasn’t worked. They can create a plan for moving forward. All parts of this process improves self-awareness through self-reflection.

    Provide opportunities for kids to self-reflect- Ask questions based on concrete acquisition of knowledge and open up conversations such as, “Before, I thought… Now, I think…”

    Role playing (role reversal)- Kids can sometimes “see” how their actions or reactions impact themselves and others when the situation is acted out. Coping tools or strategies can be used in the role play as a practice run.

    Zone of regulation activities- Using Zones of regulation activities to address self-awareness is an effective strategy for many children. The Zones program was developed to help kids learn a greater internal awareness while using self-regulatory behaviors and emotional adaptive skills for functional use.

    Keep a journal- Keeping a record of small wins, mini goals, struggles, efforts, and day-to-day progression can be so powerful for kids (and adults!) The Impulse Control Journal is a comprehensive resource that can be printed off and used over and over again as a journal for addressing and building executive functioning skills, including the essential component of self awareness.

    Goal Attainment Scaling- This AOTA article shares examples of how goal attainment scaling can be used to measure changes in individual behaviors using a self-rating scale for specific actions in response to goals. This self-awareness strategy offers a means for the child and their therapist to track progress on goals to help accomplish individual goals and accomplish a specific aspect of functioning, or occupation.

    Self-cuing- Using self cuing is a tool to help recall instructions, coping strategies, tactics, or even a visual prompt that delivers a step-by-step directive in a situation. Visual prompts can be as simple as a list, or a social story that is visible or accessible during a situation. These visual reminders can be a building block for self-awareness and reinforcement of strategies that have been determined to work for an individual.

    Video modeling- Making a video recording of a child within a treatment session can be another way to help the individual see how they are responding in a situation. They can then watch their actions, behaviors, and choices as well as use of coping tools or modulation strategies within a situation. The video should be reviewed with the child and discussed what they did well and what might work better next time.

    This free self awareness activity slide deck is great for kids to develop self reflection skills with an animal theme

    Self-Awareness Slides

    These self awareness slides use an animal theme to help kids become more aware of them self through self-reflection. The slides work through the aspects of self awareness that we outlined above. Beginning skills are covered and kids can work on each area in a fun and creative way.

    Enter your email into the form below and you can access this free therapy slide deck to help kids build self awareness skills.

    Self awareness activities include emotional regulation aspects

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      Foster L. and Lueger, K. (2014). Model Behavior: Helping Adolescents With Autism Through Goal Attainment Scaling and Video Self-Modeling. OT Practice 19(2), 79.

      Kindergarten Readiness and Executive Functioning Skills

      Kindergarten readiness and developing executive functioning skills in kindergarten

      Many parents of preschoolers have questions about preparing for kindergarten. There are kindergarten checklists and loads of resources online designed to address kindergarten readiness. One area that parents might miss when getting ready for kindergarten is the concept of executive functioning skills.

      Executive functioning skills develop from very early in childhood! These skills can easily be developed through fun, age-appropriate play. Sound familiar? Combining learning and play in kindergarten is essential to build skills with an age appropriate awareness and at developmental levels. This is the exact way that children should be preparing for kindergarten!

      Kindergarten readiness and developing executive functioning skills in kindergarten

      Kindergarten Readiness

      There is immense amount of pressure for children to be ready for the academic demands of
      school, even from kindergarten. From the moment they walk in the door, most kindergartners
      are pushed to be “little sponges” of the academic content to meet standards. However, most of us
      recognize that this may not be the most appropriate approach to take. Finding engaging executive functioning activities can be tricky. The ideas here should be a great start to add to your kindergarten lesson plans or use in kindergarten preparations.

      However, there are more child-friendly things that parents can do to help their children get ready
      for kindergarten. Provide children with opportunities to be independent! Teach them the steps to
      wash their hands (initiation, working memory, shifting, monitoring), how to blow their nose
      (initiation, working memory, and monitoring), and letter recognition (working memory). Teach
      them how to follow directions (impulse control, working memory, and shifting).


      Working on some kindergarten prep through play can involved executive functioning skills at the same time. Start here to understand exactly what executive functioning skills entail, but when it comes to kindergarten aged children, here are some of the executive functioning skills that can be addressed through play as well as tasks that will help them prepare for kindergarten:

      Kindergarten lesson plans can include these reading and writing activities that build executive functioning skills

      HandWriting in Kindergarten

      Amazon affiliate links are included below.

      Be sure to start by reading our resource on name writing for kindergarten to support the handwriting and fine motor skills needed in kindergarten, as this is a new skill for many 5 year-olds that are picking up a pencil for the first time. (Or preschool students that were rushed into pre-writing tasks.

      There are many ways to integrate reading and writing preparation into play. Have your child match uppercase and lowercase letters in games or at the store. This encourages working memory (what letter they need to look for). Games like Zingo are great for teaching sight words in a fun way while also requiring a child to use their impulse control, shifting, and working memory.

      More reading and writing for kindergarten:

      Alphabet Discovery Bottle

      Magnetic Letter Handwriting Game

      Name Soup Writing Your Name 

      Fizzy Dough Letters 

      Handwriting Cookie Cutters

      Kindergarten lesson plans can include these math activities to develop executive functioning skills to prepare for kindergarten

      Math, Science, and Executive Functioning

      Early math and science skills can be fun and easy to integrate into play! If the weather is
      conducive, try hopscotch, saying the numbers out loud as you jump! For mental flexibility,
      change the rules of how they go through the series: hop on one foot, jump on two feet, switch
      feet, and so on. For older children or those who know their evens and odds, have them only jump
      on the odds or only on evens.

      For science, create simple science experiments, like vinegar and baking soda volcanos! This
      requires initiation, monitoring, impulse control, shifting, and planning/organizing.

      More kindergarten math activities to build executive function:

      Caterpillar Math Craft 

      Math with Checkers 

      Cardboard Tangrams 

      Play Dough Math 

      Counting Nature 

      Play and Executive Functioning

      Play is critical, but with the push to be ready for academics, play is getting pushed to the side
      However, without play, children suffer. They lack the ability to find joy in learning.

      Outdoor play provides the opportunity for children to develop their executive functioning while
      participating in child-led adventures! Taking a bike ride or a walk around the community, or
      even playing basketball in a driveway, requires a child to demonstrate strong impulse control and
      monitoring skills for safety. Red light, green light is also a great opportunity to work on impulse

      Outdoor play also encourages children to take risks while being aware of their surroundings.
      Whether determining if cars are coming, stranger danger, or appropriate clothing to wear outside,
      this is an incredible opportunity to encourage executive functioning development!

      Can’t play outside? Build a fort! Planning/organizing, initiation, shifting, time management, and
      working memory are critical for this.

      Kindergarten play ideas to build executive function

      Teaching Spatial Concepts 

      Bugs and Beans Sensory Play 

      Outdoor Small World Play 

      Painting Toys in the Water Table 

      Sticks and Stones Simple Sensory Play

      Use these executive functioning games in kindergarten lesson plans and to prepare for kindergarten

      Games and Activities to build executive functioning skills in kindergarten

      Some family-friendly games include Outfoxed (initiation, working memory, monitoring,
      planning/organizing, and impulse control) and Sneaky Snacky Squirrel Game.

      For less structured activities, think about making something in the kitchen, like baked goods. Making slime with a slime kit is another engaging way to build executive functioning skills.

      For a less structured executive functioning activity, try making a bracelet from a bracelet kit that involves patterns or low-level direction-following.

      For kindergarten readiness, focus on fun! This is a time of extensive growth, including in the
      area of executive functioning.

      For more executive functioning activities, grab this Executive Functioning Activity Guide. It’s full of strategies to address common executive functioning areas that impact working memory, attention, impulse control, organization, and more.

      executive functioning skills activity guide The OT Toolbox

      Engaging Executive Functioning Activities

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

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

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

      Executive Functioning ActivitiesThat Work

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

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

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

      Related, using a model of delivery that works for the individual is important. For some, executive function coaching is a way to support specific needs through a coaching model.

      Cooking for Executive Functioning Skill Development

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

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

      Crafts and Projects for Executive Functioning Skill Development

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

      Executive Functioning and Gross Motor Activities

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

      Executive Functioning and Daily Routines

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

      Executive Functioning and Technology

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

      It’s all about executive FUNctioning!

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

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

      Impulse Control Journal the OT Toolbox

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

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

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

       How to Teach Kids Impulse Control

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      Easy Ways to Improve Impulse Control