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Learning through play will boost your child’s executive function development

Learning through play

Play-based learning simply refers to learning through play. Play time is an important part of a child’s early development. As well as providing them with a source of entertainment, playing helps our children to develop their executive function skills including goal directed persistence, response inhibition, cognitive flexibility and emotional control. 

Whether it’s indoors or outdoors, different environments help children to explore and discover the world around them. It is in these environments that they develop new skills and ideas, get creative, take risks and solve problems. 

These early childhood games are crucial to laying the foundations for education through their lives. Something as easy as building blocks (e.g. Lego) allow children to discover maths and science skills, such as learning shapes, counting,problem solving whilst developing strong executive function skills!

Indoor or outdoor play – Which is best?

First of all, we want to make sure our children are having fun, giving them the motivation to complete the task at hand and learn whilst doing it. Goal directed persistence, task initiation and sustained attention are just a few of the key executive function skills here!

Outdoor environments are what’s needed to fulfil children’s basic needs for adventure, freedom, risk-taking and just being kids! There are so many benefits to playing outdoors, especially when the sun is shining:

  1. It’s a great chance for exercise, and an even better chance to tire them out for bedtime!
  2. The exposure to bright light enhances health and mental performance
  3. A breath of fresh air results in reduced stress levels, putting them in a great mood and also improving concentration

Allowing our children to be children and using a big open space to run, jump, climb, swing, race and make a big mess is what childhood is all about!

Now, indoor playtime doesn’t just mean sitting in front of a tv screen or computer, it can be anything from arts and crafts, board games, puzzles or even video games! As much as we would like our children to get outside to play as much as possible, indoor play is a great alternative for those rainy days.

In fact, research1 shows that playing indoors encourages critical thinking and creativity. Each indoor playtime activity comes with benefits:

  • Arts and crafts & storytelling – allows them to be creative and inventive whilst developing their planning and prioritsation and goal directed persistence executive function skills
  • Board games and puzzles – encourages them to problem solve and use their organisation, time-management and cognitive flexibility executive function skills
  • Video games – again are great for problem solvin! Research shows they increase performance in perceptual and cognitive ability whilst using their response inhibition and metacognition executive function skills.

Basically, there is no best form of playtime when it comes to the environment children are in. As long as they get the right balance of indoor and outdoor play, they’ll be on their way to developing their executive function skills which will help them through all stages of life! And any children with executive function challenges, such as problems with organising, handling their emotions, staying focussed – we have the support to help them face these challenges.

What support is available for my child?

We all face challenges in day to day life, but when it comes to children and young people; executive function challenges may make it difficult for them to learn how to manage their daily lives. These children are often labelled as being lazy and unorganised, leading them to having difficulty in doing the ‘basic things’ in life. 

Problems with planning and organisation, task initiation, time-management etc can have significant impact both academically and behaviourally. 

At Connections in Mind, we have developed a play-based programme called ‘Executive Function Adventures’ which takes young children on an adventure in learning about executive functions. Developed using the latest academic research in play-based learning and executive functions, Executive Function Adventures  combines one-to-one sessions with an experienced executive function coach with our Connected Minds Parent course to support you in helping your child develop strong executive function skills at home. We also offer 1:1 parent coaching alongside our Connected Minds Parent course. 

During the 10 session programme, your child will be introduced to these skills through play so that they can later transfer these skills to real life scenarios. 

If this is something that is of interest to you, follow the below link for more information to book in for a free insight session.

1Dr. Rachel E. White – The Power of Play. A research summary on play and learning.

By Lily Hewitt- Jones, Connections in Mind

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