EP tools I use with children and young people

Working with children and young people is one of the best parts of being an EP. To reflect the wide range of CYP I work with, I try and use a number of different tools. It can sometimes be hard to pick up new ideas though, given how time poor a lot of EPs are. It’s easy to stick with the tools we know and not have to spend precious time learning a new method. But for me1, expanding my toolkit is one of the ways I keep the work interesting. I’ve always appreciated hearing about the tools other EPs use when working with CYP. There’s so much great stuff out there to try. As such, I thought it would be useful to share the tools I use/have used. Hopefully some take your fancy and you pick them up.

Ice breaker activities

Blob Classroom: if the CYP loves drawing, I usually open with this (especially for primary school students). A fun way to check how they hold a pencil and draw. It’s also great to see their ability to recognise emotions and create stories to explain them. Another benefit is you can use it to see how they view themselves in the classroom (“Which blob best represents you?”) and their views of what it’s like to be in a classroom

Personal Universe (from ‘Draw on your Emotions’): another drawing-based opener. If I think there are difficulties in relationships, this can be a fun way to talk about the people who are close and then use it as a launchpad to think about who is not there.

Rush Hour: I love this and use it every time I do a cognitive assessment (both at the start and between subtests). A fun way to explore their ability to learn rules, use planning/logical reasoning to solve puzzles, and how they respond to mediation. This a more concrete and visually engaging test of non-verbal reasoning. Particularly useful if the CYP has struggled with the non-verbal reasoning subtests in the cognitive assessment as it suggests they can use those skills, but struggle when it’s more abstract.

Uno: I’ve only used this once but it was a good way to open things up. It also showed they could understand and remember rules, as well as identify numbers.

Standardised cognitive assessments

British Ability Scale – Third Edition (BAS-3)/Wechsler Intelligence Scale for Children – Fifth Edition (WISC-5): series of tests exploring verbal knowledge, non-verbal reasoning, and spatial reasoning. Helpful to identify strengths and areas of need in cognitive domains as schools will quite often just say the CYP is struggling in maths/English. I sometimes use the digit span tests in the WISC-5 to explore their working memory. I also often use the word reading test to see how they are at reading decontextualised words (do they sight read, do they segment into phonemes and then blend, etc).

British Picture Vocabulary Scale (BPVS): an exploration of knowledge of word meanings without needing to read the words. This is helpful for when I believe the CYP has better verbal knowledge/understanding than is shown by their reading ability.

A Developmental Neuropsychological Assessment (NEPSY): a wide variety of tests exploring different cognitive domains. I’ve only used it once but it was useful to explore things such as the child’s receptive language for increasingly complex instructions, their ability to identify, remember, and repeat phonemes (in nonsense words), and their auditory attention.

Phonological Assessment Battery (PhAB): a variety of tests to explore different aspects of word processing (phoneme identification, blending, segmenting, etc).

Raven’s Coloured Matrices: a test of reasoning ability (identifying patterns and choosing the correct option) without any processing of language required. Useful for exploring cognitive processing for CYP whose first language isn’t English.

Wechsler Individual Achievement Test – Third Edition (WIAT-3): A wide range of assessments exploring different cognitive skills, such as verbal comprehension, word reading, spelling, etc.

York Assessment of Reading Comprehension (YARC): I use this for the identification of word reading difficulties, a test of the CYP’s phoneme-sound correspondence knowledge, and their ability to understand and answer comprehension questions on a short passage.

Dynamic assessment

16-word memory test: when I want to explore a CYP’s working memory, approach to learning/problem-solving, and response to mediation I like to use this test. Do they develop patterns or ways of approaching the list? Do they take on board the suggested groupings? Or do they just try and brute force remember as many as possible?

Sense of self/self-esteem

A Therapeutic Treasure Deck of Sentence Completion and Feelings Cards: Great way to explore emotions through prompts.

Affirmation and Wellbeing Cards: I bought these recently and I think they are brilliant. A lovely way to see how a child views themselves. I usually ask them to sort them into which cards they think are/are not like them and then explore what they chose.

Bear Cards Feelings: really helpful for seeing how children understand emotions, what facial expressions and body shapes they associate with those emotions. It serves as a great entry point into what makes them feel different emotions as well.

Ideal Self: I’ve used this a lot of times to get a sense of the CYP’s sense of self, what they hope for, and for identifying what’s worked/they think will work to get them closer to their ideal self.

Rating scales: a simple way to see how they view themselves along key dimensions; do they rate themselves highly on certain things but not for others?

Resiliency scales: when I want to explore a CYP’s self-efficacy or emotional reactivity, I sometimes go through this (either the whole thing or just one of the subtests) to see how they judge themselves.

School Wellbeing Risk And Resilience Card Set: especially useful for digging into a child’s views of school. I’ve used these with CYP who are engaging in emotion-based school avoidance (EBSA) to identify what are the risk and protective factors at home and at school.

Tree of Life: really useful for gaining insight into a CYP’s sense of their past, present, and future.

Social interactions

Kinetic Family drawing: useful to see how the CYP views the roles of everyone in the house and who/what is important to them. Can potentially open up lots of discussion about what people are doing or who isn’t there. I’ve never used this psychodynamically and I doubt I will, but it’s still interesting.

Holistic analysis

PIP Developmental Chart: observation-based tool that is useful to see where a young child is developmentally compared to their peers. I did find the scoring slightly confusing the first time I used it though.

Schedule of Growing Skills: my preferred tool for tablulating where a child is developmentally. I like the mix of observation and interaction with the child.

Vineland 3: comprehensive questionnaire examining a wide variety of key areas, including social interactions, self-care, language skills, etc. Time consuming but it does give you a lot of information (and that’s only for a few subtests).

Behaviour Rating Inventory of Executive Function, Second Edition: analysis of emotion regulation, ability to focus, and organisation (among other things) that can be completed by the CYP, the parent, and/or the teacher.


One Page Profile: like many who use twitter, I saw this and thought it would be a good idea. I held off doing it for a while2 but I’m glad I did make one because it’s been well received so far. Great for putting kids at ease. Especially helpful for working with autistic CYP as they can better prepare for our work together.

1 And I’m sure many others as well.

2 For absolutely no good reason.

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