45 Executive Functioning Activities for Kids 5-12

A happy family dancing in a living room, featuring a mother, father, and two children, one boy and one girl, all engaged in playful movement. The room has a cozy, modern decor with a large couch, white brick walls, and house plants. Overlay text states '45 Executive Functioning Activities for Kids 5-12' with a logo for SpecialEdResource.com at the bottom.

If your child has been diagnosed with an executive function disorder, you’re likely looking for ways to support them. Recognizing the challenges is the first step, but finding fun, effective activities to enhance their executive functioning skills is where you can truly make a difference. 

Consider when you: 

  • Plan out your day in the morning
  • Recall an old friend’s face
  • Resist the urge to interrupt someone while they’re speaking
  • Find a different route home when your usual path is blocked

These are all examples of your executive functions at work.

Children with Executive Functioning Disorder (EFD) might see the world differently, making daily tasks like preparing for school or completing assignments seem overwhelming.

However, the good news is that executive functioning skills can be trained and improved, like how a muscle grows stronger with exercise. With the proper guidance and support, your child can overcome these hurdles, learn to manage tasks independently and grow into a confident, capable adult.

This comprehensive guide offers a variety of activities to enhance different aspects of executive functioning in children aged 5-12. Each section targets an essential skill, providing you with practical tools to support your child’s development at home.

Executive Functioning Activities to Enhance Working Memory

Working memory is essentially the mind’s sticky notes—it’s the ability to recall and retain useful information while we’re busy with other tasks. 

Imagine trying to solve a math problem without the ability to hold numbers in your mind or attempting to read without remembering what the beginning of the sentence said. That’s what life can feel like for a child struggling with working memory issues.

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Here are various fun activities you can introduce to your child to help enhance their working memory:

#1 Memory Card Games

Play games like “Memory” or “Concentration” using cards. This helps younger children practice remembering where specific cards are located, enhancing their visual memory skills.


#2 Story Chains

Create a story together where each person adds one sentence, but each new addition must start by repeating the story from the beginning. This encourages children to focus on retaining and recalling details.


#3 Number Sequences

Challenge your child to repeat sequences of numbers. Start with three numbers and gradually increase the sequence as they improve. This exercise boosts numerical memory and helps in pattern recognition.


#4 Grocery List Recall

When shopping, tell your child five items to remember. As you shop, ask them to recall the items. Over time, the number of items increases as their memory strengthens.


#5 Interactive Cooking Activities

Cook simple recipes together where the child needs to remember short lists of ingredients or sequence of steps. This practical application of memory in an engaging context can be very effective without feeling like schoolwork. 

You may also want to check out these additional games and activities to improve memory.

EF Exercises for Improving Flexible Thinking

Cognitive flexibility is like the mind’s ability to switch lanes.

  • Can your child adapt to new or unexpected situations?
  • Or do they struggle to deviate from the original plan?
  • Can they shift their thinking and devise alternative solutions to a problem?

These are functions of cognitive flexibility, another key pillar of executive functioning.

Improving your child’s flexible thinking means helping them learn that a single problem can have multiple solutions and that one situation can be seen from various perspectives.

It gives them the power to adapt, react, and handle whatever life throws their way. Here are some activities to enhance cognitive flexibility:

#6 Role-Playing Different Scenarios

Encourage your child to act out various roles or scenarios, such as pretending to be a teacher, a doctor, or a favorite cartoon character. This helps them think about different perspectives and adapt to new roles.


#7 The Opposite Game

Play a game where your child has to do the opposite of what you say. If you say “walk,” they should run; if you say “laugh,” they should frown. This game encourages quick thinking and flexibility in following instructions.


#8 Brainstorming Alternatives

Present an ordinary object, like a spoon, and ask your child to think of as many uses as possible besides its intended use. This exercise promotes creative thinking and problem-solving from different angles.


#9 Sorting Games

Ask your child to sort a variety of objects, such as: 

  • Buttons
  • Colored blocks
  • Cards 
  • Beads


Use different criteria to sort by color, size, and shape. Changing the sorting rule requires them to adjust their thought process and adapt.


#10 Puzzle Switch

Start a puzzle, but midway through, switch to a different puzzle. This unexpected change forces the child to adapt to a new set of patterns and colors, improving their ability to handle transitions and new challenges.


These similar activities improve cognitive flexibility and make learning adaptive thinking fun and interactive.


Executive Functioning Activities that Help Strengthen Inhibitory Control

Inhibitory control is a bit like the mind’s brake pedal, helping us to resist impulses and refrain from saying or doing the first thing that comes to our mind. It’s a crucial life skill that helps us demonstrate self-control, stay focused on the task, and interact respectfully with others.

If you often notice your child acting impulsively, interrupting others during conversations, or struggling to stay focused, they could benefit from everyday activities that strengthen inhibitory control. 

Here are some exercises that can help:

#11 Red Light, Green Light

Play the classic game “Red Light, Green Light,” where children must stop moving when you say “Red Light” and can only move when you say “Green Light.” This game enhances their impulse control and helps them listen carefully.


#12 Freeze Dance

Play music and have your child dance. When the music stops, they must freeze immediately. This fun activity helps children practice sudden stopping and controlling the urge to move.


#13 The Whisper Game

Challenge your child to speak in whispers for a set period. This will require them to control their normal impulse to use their regular speaking voice, helping them develop better vocal control and awareness.


#14 Wait for the Signal

Before starting a fun activity or eating a favorite snack, have your child wait for a specific signal (like a bell ring or a clap). This practice teaches them to control their impulses to start immediately and wait patiently instead.


#15 Emotion Role-Playing

Give your child scenarios where they might feel excited or upset (like getting a gift or having to share a toy). Practice ways to respond calmly and respectfully, discussing the importance of thinking before reacting.


EF Activities that Help With Organization

For a child with EFD, organizing their thoughts, school bag, or day can feel like climbing a mountain. The fate of a chaotic school bag or a messily done assignment isn’t a reflection of your child’s effort but their struggle to organize their surroundings and tasks.

Organization helps your child to be prepared, manage their time effectively, and complete tasks. It’s a fundamental skill that can be enhanced with time and practice. 

Let’s take a look at a few activities that can help:


#16 Color-Coded Systems

Use color-coded folders, boxes, or sections in their room for different items or subjects, such as blue for math and red for language arts. This visual system helps children learn how to categorize and keep track of their belongings.


#17 Daily To-Do Lists

Encourage your child to make a daily to-do list and check items off as they complete them. This will help them organize their tasks and teach them the satisfaction of completing tasks and following a plan.


#18 Calendar Planning

Have your child use a simple calendar or planner to mark important dates like school assignments due, test dates, or extracurricular activities. This helps them visualize how to plan and prepare for upcoming events.


#19 Clean-Up Time Routine

Establish a daily “clean-up time” where your child cleans their play area, desk, or bedroom. Setting a specific time each day helps incorporate organization into their routine.


#20 Before and After Photos

Encourage your child to take “before” and “after” photos of a space they have organized, like a desk or a bookshelf. This visually shows the benefits of organization and can be a motivating reminder of what they can achieve.


These activities improve organization skills and help instill a sense of responsibility and accomplishment in older children. You may also want to check out these additional tips on organization.  


Executive Functioning Activities That Help With Time Management

Does your child often lose track of time? Is finishing homework or getting ready for school a constant race against the clock? 

Improving time management skills can be a game-changer for children with EFD, helping them become more productive, less stressed, and more in control of their time.

As much as this skill is about keeping track of time, it’s equally about planning, prioritization, and understanding how long tasks can take. 

Let’s explore some activities that can help your child improve their time management skills:

#21 Time Estimation Exercises

Ask your child to estimate how long it will take to complete simple tasks, like doing homework or cleaning their room. 

After they finish, discuss how long it took compared to their estimate. This helps them develop a better sense of time and task duration.


#22 Pomodoro Technique for Kids

Introduce a simplified version of the Pomodoro Technique, where your child works for a set period (like 15 minutes), followed by a short break (5 minutes). This can help them stay focused and manage their time more effectively during tasks.


#23 Weekly Planning Session

Set aside time each week to plan the week ahead with your child. Include schoolwork, activities, and personal time. Use a planner or digital app to make it interactive and fun, teaching them how to allocate time to various activities.

If you are a homeschool family check out these practical homeschool planning tips.

#24 Visual Timers

Use visual timers during activities to help your child see how much time is left for a task. This can be particularly helpful for tasks they find less enjoyable, as it provides a visual countdown to motivate them.


#25 Reward Timed Tasks

Implement a system where your child earns rewards for completing tasks within a set time frame. This could be extra playtime, a small treat, or choosing what to have for dinner. 


These activities are designed to make learning time management skills a practical and rewarding process for children, helping them gain more control over their daily activities and responsibilities.


Executive Functioning Activities that help with Planning & Problem Solving

If you’ve ever cooked a new recipe, planned an event, or even just organized a trip to the grocery store, you’ve used your adaptive planning and problem-solving skills. 

However, for a child with EFD, such planning and problem-solving tasks can be frustrating to navigate.

Activities that enhance planning and problem-solving abilities can help your child anticipate and prepare for tasks, manage their time, and give them the confidence to problem-solve independently. 

Here are a few activities you can try:

#26 Treasure Hunt

Set up a treasure hunt where your child must follow a series of clues to find a hidden object. This activity requires them to think ahead and determine each step to reach their goal, enhancing their planning and problem-solving abilities.


#27 Building Challenges

Use building blocks or LEGO sets to challenge your child to create a specific structure. Provide them with a goal. Then, let them plan and execute the construction, solving any issues that arise during the building process.

For example, have them build a bridge with a certain weight. 


#28 Recipe Creation

Ask your child to help you plan and cook a meal. Let them choose the recipe, list the ingredients needed, and figure out the cooking steps. This activity involves planning the sequence of tasks and adjusting on the fly if something doesn’t go as expected.


#29 “What If?” Scenarios

Pose hypothetical “what if?” scenarios to your child and ask them to devise solutions. For example, “What if we run out of milk? What are our alternatives?” This encourages them to think about solutions and plan for unexpected situations.


#30 Board Games Involving Strategy

Play strategy-based board games like “Risk” or “Settlers of Catan” that require planning and tactical problem-solving. These games help children think critically about their moves and the consequences of their decisions.


These activities are a fun way to build essential skills in planning and problem-solving, giving your child the tools to handle complex situations more effectively.

Here are 25 more problem solving activities for kids.

EF Activities that Help With Attention and Focus

Paying attention isn’t just about listening to a teacher or a parent. It’s also about: 

  • Being able to filter out distractions
  • Focus on what’s important
  • Shift attention when needed
  • Sustain attention over time
  • And doing all at the same time 

It’s complex, and for children with EFD, maintaining attention and focus can often be challenging.

Fortunately, several fun and engaging activities can support your child in improving their attention skills.

#31 Focus Time With Crafts

Engage your child in craft activities that require concentration, such as bead threading, origami, or model building. These tasks require sustained attention and precision, helping to enhance their focus over extended periods.


#32 Listening Games

Play games like “Simon Says” or “I Spy,” where your child must listen carefully and respond based on their hearing. These games improve their ability to focus on auditory information and follow instructions amidst distractions.


#33 Reading and Discussion

Choose a book to read together, and after each chapter, ask your child questions about what happened. This activity improves focus during reading enhances comprehension, and the ability to recall details.


#34 Puzzle Solving

Work on jigsaw puzzles that are appropriate for your child’s age. Puzzles require your child to concentrate on finding the right pieces and fitting them together, which is excellent for developing their attention to detail.


#35 Nature Walks With a Checklist

Go on a nature walk with a checklist of things to find, such as certain types of: 


  • Birds
  • Plants
  • Flowers
  • Rocks 
  • Trees


This encourages your child to stay attentive and focused on the task while filtering out less relevant stimuli.


These activities help improve attention and make the process interactive, providing a fun way for your child to enhance their ability to concentrate.

Check out these additional activities to help kids focus.

Mindfulness Practices that Enhance Focus and Self-regulation

Beyond games and activities, mindfulness practices can be a powerful tool in helping your child improve their focus and self-regulation. These practices foster a heightened awareness of the self and the present moment, reducing stress and increasing focus and attention.

Mindfulness is about paying full attention to the present moment without judgment. Despite how it might sound, this practice can also be incredibly enjoyable for kids. 

Let’s explore some effective mindfulness practices:


#36 Guided Breathing Exercises

Teach your child simple breathing techniques, such as taking deep breaths in through the nose and out through the mouth. Use guided imagery to make it fun, like imagining inflating a balloon or blowing on a dandelion.


#37 Mindful Listening

Play different types of music or nature sounds, and ask your child to close their eyes and focus solely on listening. Encourage them to identify the instruments heard or different birds in the nature sounds, which helps enhance auditory focus.


#38 Yoga for Kids

Introduce your child to simple yoga poses designed for children. Yoga combines physical movement with breathwork and focus, improving physical flexibility and mental concentration.


#39 Body Scan Meditation

Guide your child through a body scan meditation where they focus on each part of the body in turn. This helps increase awareness of physical sensations and fosters a greater sense of presence.


#40 Mindful Coloring

Provide your child with coloring books and let them engage in coloring as a form of mindfulness. The act of coloring can be very meditative and helps focus the mind on the present task.


These mindfulness practices improve focus and self-regulation and provide a calming effect, which can be particularly beneficial for children with EFD. They help children learn to be present and engaged, reducing stress and improving overall mental clarity.

Here are additional emotional regulation activities you may want to check out too.

Physical Exercises to Help With EF

Regular physical activity, while naturally good for a child’s physical health, plays a crucial role in overall cognitive development and the strengthening of EF skills. Physical exercises offer numerous benefits, including enhancing: 

  • Attention
  • Memory
  • Executive control

Here are some physical activities to try: 


#41 Obstacle Courses

Create simple obstacle courses in your backyard or at a park. This can include jumping over cones, crawling under ropes, and balancing on a beam. Navigating an obstacle course requires planning, problem-solving, and physical coordination.


#42 Tag Games

Play various tag games, such as freeze or reverse tag. These games are a great cardiovascular workout and require quick thinking and strategizing, key components of executive functioning.


#43 Ball Sports

Soccer, basketball, or tennis are excellent for developing hand-eye coordination, teamwork, and strategic planning. Your child will also improve focus and the ability to track moving objects, enhancing cognitive flexibility.


#44 Dance Routines

Encourage your child to learn dance routines. Dancing improves physical fitness memory and sequencing skills as they recall dance steps and sequences.


#45 Jump Rope

Jump rope is a simple and effective exercise that improves timing, attention, and fine motor coordination. Challenge your child to reach a certain number of jumps or to try different jumping patterns to mix things up.


These physical activities are fun and stimulating, helping improve executive functioning and boosting overall physical health.


Creating a Supportive Environment at Home

When your child feels supported and loved, they dare to take on any challenge, making all the difference.

Routine and Structure: The Keys to Success

A predictable routine and structure at home can significantly benefit a child with EFD. You can begin by creating a daily schedule with dedicated slots for homework, hobbies, physical activities, and free play. 

A structured and predictable routine helps them understand what to expect, reduces anxiety, and enhances their ability to manage their time and tasks effectively.

Encouraging Independence Through Guided Choices

Promote decision-making skills by offering choices wherever possible. Some ideas include: 

  • Picking out their outfit of the day
  • Choosing their evening snack
  • Which park to visit over the weekend 

This allows them to experience a sense of control and builds their confidence in making decisions. 

The Power of Positive Reinforcement

Positive reinforcement can be a great tool to encourage desired behaviors and habits. Whether it’s a word of praise, a thumbs-up, or a small physical reward, acknowledging their efforts and achievements boosts their motivation and reinforces their efforts to continue improving their executive functioning skills.

Remember, the home environment plays a vital role in the development and daily use of EF skills. An understanding and supportive environment at home enables your child to feel less overwhelmed, more understood, and ultimately, more capable of managing their tasks individually.

Empowering Your Child for the Future

As a parent, it’s sometimes easy to focus on what your child can’t do, especially when faced with challenges. But remember, every time you choose to focus on their ability to learn and grow, you are empowering your child for a brighter future.

Executive functioning skills can be nurtured and improved, just like any other set of skills. Remember, it’s not about rushing the process or demanding instant change.

It’s about journeying with your child through their unique developmental path with love, patience, and understanding.

Seamless integration of these elements into your child’s world can profoundly impact their academic success.

Your child can learn to tackle challenges head-on, manage tasks independently, and grow into a self-assured, competent adult. As long as they know they have your unwavering support, no task will seem too overwhelming. 

Additional Resources

You may want to check out these additional resources for parents: 


We offer one-on-one special education tutoring and Free IEP services that can be done from anywhere you are! Why? Our special education experts conduct their sessions online!

Get started with a free consultation!


A happy family dancing in a living room, featuring a mother, father, and two children, one boy and one girl, all engaged in playful movement. The room has a cozy, modern decor with a large couch, white brick walls, and house plants. Overlay text states '45 Executive Functioning Activities for Kids 5-12' with a logo for SpecialEdResource.com
Does your child have EFD? Support them with some of these fun executive functioning activities for kids ages 5-12.



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Shannah Holt

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