Executive functioning skills are important for learners at all ages. Sometimes people hear the term and assume it’s only for older kids, but I’m here to dispel that myth! Even our youngest of learners should learn and practice stills for paying attention, using self-control, getting organized, using flexible thinking, and more. Simply put, improved executive functioning skills helps our students become better learners across the board. When kids can focus for longer in class, they can absorb more of the lesson. When they improve their ability to use self-control, they can make better choices with friends. When kids can get organized more efficiently, they can make better use of their time. Those are really just a few examples.
Why Use Play Activities? While I am a huge fun of structured lessons to teach these skills, I’m also always looking for new, fun, and more interactive ways to help learners, too. Not too long ago, I wrote another post about games to teach executive functioning skills. Of course, not everyone has access or time to play Blurt or Pictionary at a moment’s notice. For that reason, I created a set of Executive Functioning Games & Play Activities. Just print the cards, put them on a ring, and play any time you have a few extra minutes. I’ve even included a script to read to your learners, in an effort to make it entirely no-prep! Best of all, kids will LOVE playing these games and activities while they learn the critical skills they need.
When Can Play Activities Be Used? Really, anytime that works for you is a great time to practice these skills! Use them as a brain break between academic work or transitions to help kids move and interact with one another. Play them during break time. You can even start your morning or finish your day with a fun play activity. Since they are fun, kids will see them more as a game and less as “work”.
Here are some executive functioning skills you can teach and practice with play activities:
Freeze. This is a fun brain break activity you can do anytime to practice self-control. Play music and let students move around, dance, and wiggle their bodies. After a minute or two, yell out, “Freeze!” At this time, all students should freeze in place, even with the music still playing! This can be a challenge at first. The goal is to work on self-control enough so we can keep our bodies still when we need to. After a few seconds, yell out, “Melt!” and allow students to move again. You can play this for as long as you’d like!
Musical Chairs. Kids can practice their skills for task initiation and attention while playing musical chairs. Set up just enough chairs in a row so that there is one or two fewer than the number of students you have. Play music and let students walk around the chairs. As soon as you shut off the music, students will have to work quickly to find an empty chair. Those who don’t move quickly enough will be out!
Guard Duty. This is one of my favorite play activities because kids love acting like guards, not realizing they are actually improving their hallway behavior and learning skills for self-control. Let students know they will be acting as guards outside a palace. They have to show they are serious by standing tall and marching in line. You can also let students know that guards never react if someone tries to make them laugh or get their attention when they are on duty. You can practice by having one leader march around the room, with the rest of the students following. This is also a great game you can play while transitioning from class to class.
Simon Says. Most students already know this game, so that makes the directions pretty simple! It’s important to highlight that students will be using their attention skills to really listen what the leader says so they can do the right thing. Give different students chances to be the leader. This is a perfect brain break that can last 2 minutes or 20 minutes, depending on how long you have and what you want your students to do.
Role Play. In this game, kids will practice their skills for flexibility by acting out a scenario with a partner. You really can use any scenario you want: working at a bakery, going to a baseball game, being a teacher and a student, and so on. You can choose the role plays or let students pick. The only rules are that students must stay in character and continue to role play for the time. That means students are practicing being flexible and making up a scenario as they go along. Kids love this one because they really get a chance to use their imagination and have fun!
Keep the Story Going. This is such a fun game to practicing flexibility and attention! Start off a story any way you want with just one sentence. You might say, “It was a cold dark night,” or “The rocket was ready to blast off.” Really, it can be anything. Keep the story going by passing it off to another player. Each time, one person must add just one sentence to the story to keep it going. Kids practice attention by focusing on listening to the story as it goes, and they practice flexibility skills by going with the flow and making sure the story makes sense. Kids love making silly and fun stories with this game!
If you love these activities, check out my Executive Functioning Games & Play Activities to help you target these skills in such a fun way! They include over 30 unique and interactive games and play activities that your students will want to play again and again.