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Cognitive games for improving executive functions

DIY: free and easy games to play and be creative with, that can help you and your children to keep an active brain, reduce hyperactivity and get some quality time together. We specifically chose the ones that have been scientifically established and are in use both both assessing cognitive functions and learning disabilities, as well as serve as a way to improve then.


If you are interested in the research behind it, scroll down for references. 


The Trial Making Test

TMT A and B

The Trail Making Test is a neuropsychological test of visual attention and task switching.


The test can provide information about visual search speed, scanning, speed of processing, mental flexibility, as well as executive functioning.[1] 


It is sensitive to detecting cognitive impairment associated with dementia, for example, Alzheimer's disease.[2]


Digit Span Task

Forward and Backward

The Digit Span test is one of the most commonly used measures of immediate verbal recall, attentional capacity, and working memory in neuropsychological research and clinical evaluations.

Digit-span task is used to measure working-memory's number storage capacity. It is also a component of cognitive ability in IQ tests such as the WAIS.


Backward memory span is a more challenging variation which involves recalling items in reverse order. 


Verbal Fluency Test

Phonemic or Semantic

Verbal fluency tasks are often included in neuropsychological assessment, in clinical practice, and in research.


For instance, they have been used to support diagnoses of attention-deficit/hyperactivity disorder (ADHD) and cognitive impairment in persons with neurodegenerative diseases, such as Alzheimer's disease or Parkinson's disease.


In non-clinical groups it is used to measure verbal ability including lexical knowledge and lexical retrieval ability and as a test of executive control ability.


TMT: How is it done?

Both parts of the Trail Making Test consist of 25 circles distributed over a sheet of paper.


  • In Part A, the circles are numbered 1 – 25, and the training person should draw lines to connect the numbers in ascending order.

  • In Part B, the circles include both numbers (1 – 13) and letters (A – L); as in Part A, you should draw lines to connect the circles in an ascending pattern, but with the added task of alternating between the numbers and letters (i.e., 1-A-2-B-3-C, etc.).

  • The training person should be instructed to connect the circles as quickly as possible, without lifting the pen or pencil from the paper.

  • Time the training person as he or she connects the "trail." If the patient makes an error, point it out immediately and allow them to correct it.

  • Errors affect their score only in that the correction of errors is included in the completion time for the task.

  • It is unnecessary to continue the task if the person has not completed both parts after five minutes have elapsed.

Click on the image for paper template of the test

TMT: How can I be creative?

  • ​Print out the letters and the numbers on an A4 paper, set the game on the floor and let your child run between the letters and the numbers. 
  • Use your child's bath or  school letters and numbers shapes and arrange it together on the bath wall or on the wall in his room. Let them set one for you to be tested.
  • Get a fun and simple stop watch or timer that you can follow performance and improvements together with your child.
  • Get your child to write and colour the letters and numbers himself so the preparation for the game is part of the fun.
  • Set the letters and/numbers on different objects in the room. Your child should run between them and touch them in the right order and finish as quickly as possible.
  • Set magnets of letters and numbers on your fridge and let your child mark the line between them with erasable pens.
Match the level to the age of your child and make it harder as he improves
Digit span

Digit span: How is it done?

  • Participants see or hear a sequence of numerical digits and are tasked to recall the sequence correctly, with increasingly longer sequences being tested in each trial.


  • The participant's span is the longest number of sequential digits that can accurately be remembered.


Digit-span tasks can be given forwards or backwards, meaning that once the sequence is presented, the participant is asked to either recall the sequence in normal or reverse order.

  • In a typical test of memory span, a list of random numbers or letters is read out loud or presented on a screen at the rate of one per second.

  • The test begins with two to three numbers, increasing until the person commits errors.

  • Recognizable patterns (for example 2, 4, 6, 8) should be avoided.

  • At the end of a sequence, the person being tested is asked to recall the items in order.

The digit span task challenges and trains auditory memory in children and adults.
Auditory memory involves skills attention, listening, processing, storing and recalling

Digit span: How can I be creative?

  • ​With young children start with few numbers and let them just repeat them forward (in the same order you said them)
  • To teach very young children how the Backward digit span work, use erasable pens and write one number on each of their fingers. ask them to say the number at the right order (thumb to pinkie) and then backwards
  • place magnet numbers' sequence on the fridge, ask them to look at it, say them aloud yourself, and then ask them to look away and repeat the sequence (forward and than backwards - depending on the age of the child)
  • Teach them a very useful memory technique: "imagine the way from the front door to your room and then to your bed. Every time I say a number, place it on one of the objects along your way to your room. When I finish, all you need to do is go back in your mind and walk this way and tell me what numbers you see there that you placed".

Verbal Fluency Test: How is it done?

It typically consists of two tasks: category fluency (sometimes called semantic fluency; Benton, 1968) and letter fluency (sometimes called phonemic fluency; Newcombe, 1969).


  • In the standard versions of the tasks, participants are given 1 min to produce as many unique words as possible within:

    • a semantic category (category fluency: such as: say as many words as you can think of that are fruit, or types of cars, or kitchen objects etc. )

    • or starting with a given letter (letter fluency: such as: how many words you can think of that start with the letter C, excluding names of people or countries).


The participant's score in each task is the number of unique correct words.

VTF: How can I be creative?

  • ​Get a clicker for counting and a stopwatch- both that your child can operate
  • When driving: "look out and tell me in 1 min how many object starting with the letter B (for example) you can see?"
  • When in the bath: how many items that have the colour RED (for example) can you name in 1 min?
  • The rule is that your child has to say the right name of the object they are mentioning. They can't say: this red thing".
  • This game combines verbal fluency, derided attention and eye contact.
  • When sitting in front of each other: how many body features can you see looking at me/at my face?

VTF: more scientific background:

The verbal fluency test is a short test of verbal functioning (e.g., Lezak et al., 2012).


  • Children with Specific Language Impairment or dyslexia, who often have word finding difficulties (e.g., Snowling et al., 1988; Seiger-Gardner and Brooks, 2008; Bragrad et al., 2012), have been shown to have deficits in verbal fluency performance compared to typically developing children (e.g., Cohen et al., 1999; Weckerly et al., 2001).

  • Children with ADHD had lower scores in verbal fluency tasks than typically developing controls (e.g., Mahone et al., 2001; Takács et al., 2013)

  • Damage to frontal brain areas is associated with poor performance in the fluency tasks (e.g., Baldo and Shimamura, 1998; Schwartz and Baldo, 2001).

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