Supporting Executive Functioning in a Play-Based Environment


  • Hannah Newton



Play, Executive Function, Play-Based Learning, Primary School


This project examines how executive function is exercised in a New Zealand primary school. This project aimed to bring together two fields of research: current conceptions of executive functioning and the features of high-quality play-based environments, to uncover the executive functioning skills of children in play and the supports teachers employ in their development.  

To implement the project, consideration was given to creating an environment that demonstrated quality play practices to support the development of executive functioning. The action research design was undertaken in three iterations that included 16 Year 1 and 2 student participants. The first two iterations focused on capturing student behaviours using researcher observations and audio recordings, and the third used third-party observations to capture teacher behaviour. An observational tool developed by Moreno et al., (2017) was adopted to analyse student and teacher behaviours for markers of executive function.

The findings of the project suggested that executive function primarily occurs as conversations outside the play itself as it sets the rules that allow a suspension of reality and push the narrative forward. To maximise executive function in guided play, teachers can use a range of verbal supports to support students' executive functioning and provide many opportunities for children to organise their cognition in self-directed and guided play with an intentional adult. These findings are significant because they support current research trends to place executive functions back into the contexts in which they are embedded (Doebel, 2020). To ground these findings in practice, several classroom-ready resources were created. A reflective questionnaire to support teachers to stocktake their current play practices and shift them towards promoting student executive function. A questioning prompt linked to the items in the observational tool. An executive function checklist to determine strengths and areas of support for executive functioning adapted from Stowell (2018). Future research would focus on how classroom practitioners could use these resources in everyday Year 0–2 classrooms to support teachers wanting to develop executive functioning skills in a play-based environment. 




How to Cite

Newton, H. (2022). Supporting Executive Functioning in a Play-Based Environment. He Rourou, 2(1), 1–23.