Easy Exercises for Improving Executive Functioning


working memory components

Source: learnnc.org

Living in a digital age, most of us rely heavily on electronics to keep ourselves scheduled and organized. Why? Because the cognitive burden of storing so much information in our heads can be overwhelming. We can thank or blame executive functioning for this- the coordination of our brain’s many components that help us remember, organize, prioritize and problem solve. For many children with executive functioning disorders or struggles, language processing can be a significant challenge. In fact, children with Specific Language Impairment (SLI) often have executive functioning challenges that specifically should be addressed in speech therapy. Just like organizing a drawer, organizing your thoughts can be challenging when memory, impulse control and reasoning are impacted.

child working on cognitive task

Source: learningworksforkids.com

Executive functioning is important to address in speech therapy because it can impact at child’s ability to participate not only in the therapy session but in the classroom, life and conversation. What exactly is executive functioning? These are skills that include all the elements of organizing and carrying out a task fully – like planning, recall and organizing. Barriers to this can include poor time management, distraction, and difficulties with language concepts. A child with this challenge may not finish his or her work on time or have difficulty following or remembering the instructions and may been additional supports. To address these challenges try some executive functioning exercises:

Construction Organizational Supports Together

Children who struggle in this area need help surrounding time management. Together, create tools that allow them to organize multi-part tasks (while of course making it fun). Children can benefit from simple to-do lists, calendars or timers. If the child has access to mobile technology, take advantage of the millions of apps dedicated to making our lives easier and help set up some supports. The app Paperless will help create check lists, while the app Time Timer can show a child how much of an activity is left. Children who are using this technology are likely at a level where teachers and SLPs should encourage them to be independent- ask them to reference or check off items on the list to help them manage accordingly.

child's organized notebook schedule

Source: headupnow.com


Games are always a great way to encourage critical thinking skills, if you pick the right one.  Board games or social games that elicit opportunities for problem solving are good to play and opportunities where adults can provide support in the form of 1.) pre-planning (discuss the elements of the game ahead of time. The pieces, the plan, the goal and how the child will go about doing it) and 2.) talking aloud. Help the child through the problem solving and organizational process by talking aloud and 3.) listening and following direction skills. Great games and activities include:

  • Board games: Clue and Monopoly are classic examples, but also remember simple memory or card games that involve a little strategy and recall of the specific rules.
  • Table games: Try building or construction projects where children must plan out what they’re going to make and the pieces they’ll need to do it. Try the Angry Birds tabletop game for this as well.
  • Pretend play: Grab a plastic shopping cart, your chef hat or be the customer in a pretend game. Food themes lend themselves to a lot of multi-step processes. Remembering and fulfilling fictitious food orders during play restaurant while talking about how to cook an serve a variety of foods could be great fun.
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