Learning Disabilities and ADHD Articles

5 Fun Ways to Help Develop Your Child's Planning Skills

Filed under:
Executive Functions
Written by:
Jessica Mix, Psychology Intern, B.A., MEd. SACP Student
Oct. 13, 2021

Do you notice your child struggling to follow through on future tasks? Are they proving to have a difficult time prioritizing or reaching their goals? They are likely struggling with identifying the necessary steps to achieve a certain outcome, which is the executive functioning skill we all know as planning. Planning is an essential yet often overlooked skill in our everyday lives. Planning is a future-oriented skill that helps us as individuals accomplish goals. It is extremely important in even the most minor tasks, such as brushing our teeth or putting our shoes on.

Planning may seem like a skill that comes effortlessly to many. It is actually a complex and advanced executive functioning skill that involves three other foundational executive functioning skills: working memory, cognitive flexibility and, inhibitory control (i.e., self-control). Planning consists of building the roadmap to reach the goal. It also includes deciding what is important to focus on and what is not. For children who struggle with any one or all of these areas, planning can become extremely tricky. The child may find it difficult to know where to begin or what steps to take, and in what order. Sticking to a plan or coming up with a new plan if their original plan is interrupted can also prove to be incredibly difficult. A child with planning challenges may avoid tasks where they cannot identify appropriate steps to meet the end goal. Or, they may get upset if something disturbs their plan.

Some children with attention and learning difficulties struggle with their executive functioning skills that may include their ability to plan. Having problems with planning can greatly affect significant aspects of a child's life, given its importance in our everyday lives. Children and adolescents who struggle with planning skills may demonstrate trouble academically (i.e., identifying steps to write an essay or execute a math problem). These difficulties may also impede their social development if they struggle to make plans with friends. By contrast, strong planning skills increase the likelihood of occupational success later in the child's life.

Fun Ways to Promote a Child's Planning Ability

While it may seem daunting at first, there are many fun ways to set up the planning stage of a task with your child. The suggestions outlined below are just a few of the fun ways you can teach or reinforce planning skills with your child at home.

1. Family Calendar:

Help your child learn to take responsibility for future events in a fun and engaging way by having a family calendar in the home. Allow the child to personalize the calendar with doodles, stickers and writing down their events themselves. If they are too young to write themselves, sit down and write the events out with them. These events could include extra-curricular playdates, sleepovers, deadlines, birthdays, etc.

Here's a great resource: Printable Goals Planner from Understood.org

2. Checklists & Graphic Organizers:

Have various checklists around the house for the child to help assist them in activities or routines they may struggle with (i.e., morning routine, doing laundry, etc.). Graphic organizers are another wonderful tool to help promote children's plans. It provides a creative way for the child to identify the steps needed to achieve the desired outcome or reach a goal. Graphic organizers can help the child navigate tasks required both in the classroom and at home more easily. With Halloween around the corner, you can even create a checklist with your child to help them prepare for carving pumpkins or creating a step-by-step Halloween craft (or even their costume!). 

Here's a fun example for inspiration (don't be afraid to get creative!).

3. Baking or cooking with your child:

Baking or cooking with your child is a fun way to improve planning skills. The recipe ingredients and instructions act as a natural "checklist" or "graphic organizer" that helps you achieve the end goal. To simplify this for younger kids, create a checklist that includes the steps necessary to be successful in cooking and baking (i.e., turn the oven on, gather ingredients, mix ingredients, place on pan, put in over, set timer, etc.). Visual checklists that use pictures instead of words for younger children can also be incredibly useful!

4. Board & Card Games:

Board and card games that require some strategy can be an excellent way of promoting planning skills in your child. With these, they have to identify the steps that will help them achieve their goal of winning. If the planning ability does not come naturally to them at first, turn the experience into a teaching opportunity. Educate them on identifying the steps necessary to win. Then, continue to play the game regularly. Over time, with repeated experiences, the child should be able to identify what steps they should take on their own. For younger children, the board game "Trouble" or the card game "Uno" are great games to play to promote planning skills. For older children, board games like "Monopoly" or "Life" would be great resources as well. 

Here are some resources for board games that will help promote planning skills in your child: 8 Fun Games That Can Improve Your Child’s Executive Functioning Skills

5. Have your child plan an event:

Have your child plan an event with your assistance. Your child will learn how to take on future responsibilities and the steps required to keep those around them entertained. Maybe the child can plan a family outing. Have the child decide what activities the family will do together and how the family will get from "point A" to "point B". Your child could also plan a sleepover with their friends and decide what activities the friend group will do and how they will get set up.

There are many ways to improve your child's planning skills. Get creative and work with your child to make these strategies as fun as possible by involving their interests! For example, if your child loves cars, work together to create a planning chart/checklist that has a Hot Wheels theme. If your child loves animals, help them plan a family outing to a petting zoo. You can use your child's interests as positive reinforcement or a reward when they achieve a goal through planning. You can also incorporate your child's interests into the activities listed above to help develop their planning skills to keep them interested and engaged.

You can read more about how to help your child with planning here: Why Kids with Executive Functioning Issues Have Trouble with Planning

More general information about supporting your child's EF can be found here at Smart But Scattered Kids.