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Play and Executive Function Skills


Make Play Rock!

The Make Play R.O.C.K.™ booklet series gives you practical, research-based strategies for expanding your child’s play skills during everyday play activities. You’ll learn powerful ways to get involved in your child’s play and learn while having fun together.


Play to Learn Preschool

Pretend and sociodramatic play supports executive function development. Children engaged in play can develop the inhibition, symbolic thinking, working memory and cognitive flexibility that are important to executive functioning. Children learn to use self-directed talk to plan, engage and problem solve during dramatic play (Berk and Meyers 2013). A wonderful website with fabulous ideas and resources for dramatic play centers in preschool is a pocketful of preschool. There are many creative examples of centers that include daily community and social themes which can provide support student's situational awareness and planning skills. 


Play PROPELS the Development of Executive Function Skills

Children's play can be scaffolded to develop self-regulation, imagination, problem-solving, and planning skills during make-believe play. The PRoPELS framework supports a child's development of executive function skills through play in early childhood settings and at home (Bodrova & Leong 2007). Executive function development is supported through play when Planning, Roles, Props, Extended time frame, and Language are fostered during role-playing. 


Enhancing and Practicing Executive Function Skills with Children from Infancy to Adolescence

The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University publication contains a multitude of age-appropriate activities to strengthen the various components of executive function including working memory, inhibitory control, cognitive flexibility, and more. Activities are appropriate for supporting executive function and self-regulation skills for children ages 6 months through adolescence.


Support Children's Executive Function in Play

This article explores the role of drawing in young children's thinking and learning (Sonter and Jones, 2018). Drawing can be utilized to scaffold children's thinking and planning make-believe play scenarios. Children are encouraged to draw sketches of how they envision their role in a play center. A focus on including "Design Centers" where students can draw their intended creations for various art projects also facilitate the development of planning skills. It is a precursor to our strategy of being a 'future sketcher' where students learn to pre-experience themselves carrying out a future based task or assignment. 


Dramatic Play Center Ideas

An exhaustive list of ideas for dramtic play centers that can support executive functioning development. Play centers that incorporate all the elements of the PROPELS framework support Situational Awareness skills. Students engage in experiential learning as they plan, process and anticipate features of many situations in their communities, different social events and seasonal activities.  Also, check out these dramatic play center printables. For a comprehensive list of play based materials, roles and the language of play, take a look at this publication!


Playworks: Ideas for Recess and Imaginary Play

How to shape play environments to support children in being active while developing valuable social, emotional, self-regulation, and executive function skills. This website provides many fun activities and games that support play, social and physical development!

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