3 Easy Games for Improving Executive Function

family playing executive function games

With winter break in full swing and your children home all day, it’s easy for both kids and parents to become a little stir crazy. Whether you’re home all day for the holidays or traveling, winter break is the perfect time to play games together as a family and target some executive function skills in the process. The three main areas of executive function skills are working memory, impulse control, and flexible thinking. These three areas are prevalent in every part of a child’s everyday life, whether it is getting dressed, sitting through school, or playing with friends. Here are a few fun and easy activities that you can play with your child that help build these executive function skills!

executive function suitcase game

Working Memory 

This is the ability to maintain information in your mind while also performing a task. It involves using past experiences and applying them to current or future situations. 

Activity: Suitcase Game

As a group, decide on a vacation that you are going to pack an imaginary suitcase for, such as a trip to the beach, hiking in the mountains, going skiing, etc. The group then goes around and states what they will be packing, but before they do so, they must repeat everything each group member before them decided to pack, and in that order. This challenges kids to pay attention throughout the task and also challenges their working memory to remember each item that is stated throughout the game. 

executive function item mismatch game

Flexible Thinking

This is the ability to change strategies or plans when conditions change.

Activity: Item Switch Up

Brainstorm different ways to use household items in unconventional ways. For example, spoons could be hung on strings to make a wind chime, a kitchen pot could be turned into a drum, a flashlight could be used to make shadow puppets, etc. Pick one item at a time and try to brainstorm as a group how many different ways it could be used!

executive function statue game

Impulse Control:

This is the ability to think before doing something—to resist the urge to say or do something. 

Activity: Statue

One player stands on one side of the room while the remaining players stand on the other. The player at the front of the room turns their back to the other players. The players begin silently moving toward the player with their back turned. This player can then turn around, but when the player turns around, each of the moving players must freeze in a statue position and hold it until the player at the front turns around again.  Anyone caught moving is out of the game. Try making up fun backstories about the game, like being the nightwatchmen in a museum full of statues.

The most important aspect for all of these games is to have fun. If you feel that your child is struggling with executive function skills, please reach out to us for a consultation and free screening!

Written by Jennifer Graham, MOT, OTR/L

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