A: Emily Jupiter wrote an excellent article in the ASHA Leader magazine (1) on this topic. Here are some of her suggestions along with a few of my own:
Play games like Red Light/Green Light, Freeze Dance, and Simon Says. These help inhibitory control, working memory, self-monitoring, and cognitive flexibility.
Practice yoga and Turtle Breathing. These help children learn how it feels to be calm.
Planning adventures and excursions. Planning helps children learn about planning and setting priorities. It also helps them with inhibitory control, working memory, self-monitoring and cognitive flexibility.
For school-aged children:
Plan a party or get-together. Brainstorming helps with cognitive flexibility. Then the planning help with organization, working memory, and inhibitory control. Self-monitoring will be important as you review the plan as the even gets closer – how are we doing?
Play games like Rush Hour, Uno, Rat-a-tat-Cat. Mazes and “Rush Hour”. These help with planning, inhibitory control, working memory, cognitive flexibility, and self-monitoring.
Make sure whatever you do it’s fun.
Jupiter, E. (2017). Put the Fun Into Executive-Function Skills Practice This Summer. ASHA Leader.
Cooking and following recipes is a great way to work on self-regulation. There’s need to use all executive functions – planning and organization involved, inhibitory control, working memory, self-monitoring and cognitive flexibility. It’s also fun to eat what you make.
Here are some FREE internet resources that can help making cooking successful:
Your Special Chef – beautifully organized showing the foods and tools you’ll need to make the food. This is followed by photos with short step-by-step instructions. Some reading is required but the photos are fairly self-explanatory.
Visual recipes – this site presents recipes in a fairly traditional recipe format but with photos to support the written text. Reading is required. There are a lot of interesting and delicious-looking recipes.
There were a few other books that had good ratings but they didn’t show sample recipes. That made it really difficult to determine how useful the books might be.
Keep your eyes open for kids’ recipe books on sale tables. There are often some good bargains there. Look for books that are well-organized, show photos of ingredients and of step-by-step instructions, and use not too many printed words.
Here are a few apps I found that are intended to teach calming mindfulness to children. I tried each one out and gave my evaluation of each. Try them out for yourself.
My criteria for apps include:
they have to be free. That gives you a chance to try them out before you decide to ‘buy’ into them.
they can’t be too chatty. If they go on and on it’s just plain annoying. I find myself glazing over and can just imagine what it’ll do to our children.
they use regular language. A number of the apps use concepts and images that are just too complicated – they cloud important issues.
Description: guided meditation for beginners, as well as intermediate and advanced users. Sessions are available in lengths of 3, 5, 10, 15, 20 or 25 minutes. Age range: 4 years and up Format: iOS and Android Cost: free (some features) Evaluation: instructions are a little chatty and not well suited to young children and/or children who have language processing difficulties. With proper adult guidance, it could be useful.
Description: offers meditation, guided visualization and affirmations for children and teens. Age range: 2 years to 18 Format: iOS Cost: free (some features) Evaluation: nice feature allows you to add and then control the volume of background sounds; peaceful (not gimmicky) meditations that would be suitable for children from 8 years and up
Headspace: Guided Meditation and Mindfulness
Description: offers guided meditation, Age range: 4 years of age and up Format: iOS Cost: free Evaluation: a little chatty about all sorts of things other than breathing which may complicate things for kids with autism
**Stop, Breathe, and Think Kids
Description: offers children a fun and easy way to identify and process their emotions. From counting breaths to friendly wishes or frog jumps, each activity brings fun rewards to keep them engaged. Here’s an overview. Age range: 5 to 10 years of age Format: iOS Cost: free Evaluation: each lesson is based on what you indicate to be your mood at that moment; nice simple language and concrete way to lead breathing (tracing fingers up and down to breathe in and out), guided meditation is quite sweet where you express gratitude to everyone involved in bringing raisins to you plus mindful eating of the raisin **From my sampling, I’d give this one a good thumbs-up
Description: teaches mindfulness meditation Age range: 7 years of age up Format: iOS Cost: free Evaluation: doesn’t really seem suited to children, uses concepts that wouldn’t be appreciated by most children
Super Stretch Yoga
Description: teach basic yoga moves and breathing to children Age range: 4 years of age up Format: iOS Cost: free Evaluation: effectively uses animated animals and videos of children doing the different moves. I just wish it wasn’t so fast-paced.
Description: Mix and listen to over 52 different relaxing sounds with background sound support — this app can be used while using other apps. Have a look at a brief overview Age range: 2 years of age up Format: iOS and Android Cost: free Evaluation: able to build interesting combinations of calming sounds that can relax and centre your child’s mind. ** I’ve played with this quite a bit and find it relaxing
I recommend using action songs of all sorts to teach self-regulation.
Learning to stop, start and change movements to music and songs is a lot of fun. Not only that, it’s a great way for them to learn how to manage their behavior, thinking and emotions. Bonus! That also leads to greater success in school.
All of this from playing Simon Says? Well, not completely but action songs are a fun way to start. When you play Simon Says (here are step-by-step instructions), children have to pay attention, listen carefully for the words “Simon says” before doing the action. Add in distractions and excitement and you have a great way to firm up your self-regulation skills.
Change how slowly or how quickly you sing each song or play each game. Change your voice to loud or soft or your ‘everyday voice’. Clap, stomp, jump or move quickly, softly, hard … any variation that helps children control their bodies. I’ve had a lot of fun when I asked the children to decide how they want to vary each song or chorus. Give them a chance to be leader and see if your self-regulation skills are up to snuff.
Any songs and games where you have to start and stop (that is regulate your attention and body) are excellent ways to work on self-regulation. Just make sure to stop while it’s still fun.
Here are some resources to help you get started:
For preschoolers and early elementary-age (Primary through Year 2) children