A: Play involves executive functioning skills children need in order to navigate the world we live in and support learning new skills. Executive function includes organization, sustained attention, time management, emotion control, goal completion, problem solving, and negotiation skills just to name a few.
These functions occur frequently when children engage in activities of play such as building a make-believe community with blocks, playing a board game, creating a pillow fort to conquer and navigating a maze outdoors. I’ve enjoyed observing children play for hours and hours, and even when a problem arises, children rarely need an adult to step in to solve it. Those executive functioning skills usually guide children to form their own solutions or negotiate a compromise. This is what parents and teachers want and the more these skills help solve problems arising out of play, the more effective the child is able to transfer the skills to other areas of life like learning.
For example, when a pillow fort collapses several times in the process of building, the child has to start again with patience and emotion control, then problem solve how to redesign. Next the child may have to work cooperatively to rebuild and possibly negotiate assistance from a sibling or grandparent. Now these very same skills are needed when tackling a tough math problem: controlling emotions to not get frustrated, being patient and work cooperatively with a teacher or helper to problem solve and find the solution. If you want your child to learn more effectively, encourage play.