How child's play impacts executive function--related behaviors

Appl Neuropsychol Child. 2014;3(3):182-7. doi: 10.1080/21622965.2013.839612.


Executive functions refer to an array of organizing and self-regulating behaviors often associated with maturation of the prefrontal cortex. In fact, young children with rudimentary neurodevelopment of the prefrontal cortex develop ways to inhibit impulses and regulate behavior from a very early age. Can executive functioning be impacted by intervention, practice, or training? What interventions impact development of executive function in childhood, and how can these be studied? Several programs are reviewed that propose to positively impact executive/self-regulation skills. Evidence-based programs are contrasted with popular programs that have little empirical basis but have apparent wide acceptance by educators and families. As self-regulation has critical implications for later school and life success, interventions may well attenuate the negative consequences of attention-deficit hyperactivity disorder, brain injury, and social stressors. Programs with active play components may be more successful in eliciting improved executive function (defined here as self-regulation) because of the importance of motor learning early on and because of the social motivation aspects of learning. Caution is advised in the recommendation of programs where there is little empirical basis to support program claims. Carefully planned outcome studies can help bring the most effective components of programs to the mainstream.

Keywords: TEAMS; Tools of the Mind; executive function; interventions; play; self-regulation.

Publication types

  • Review

MeSH terms

  • Attention Deficit Disorder with Hyperactivity / rehabilitation
  • Autistic Disorder / physiopathology
  • Autistic Disorder / rehabilitation
  • Child
  • Child, Preschool
  • Developmental Disabilities / physiopathology
  • Developmental Disabilities / rehabilitation
  • Evidence-Based Medicine*
  • Executive Function / physiology*
  • Humans
  • Infant
  • Kinesthesis
  • Learning / physiology*
  • Play Therapy / methods*
  • Play and Playthings*
  • Treatment Outcome