Role of Play on Cognitive Development

Written by michael e carpenter
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Role of Play on Cognitive Development
Play also develops language and social skills in children. (Pixland/Pixland/Getty Images)

Cognitive development is defined as "thinking, problem solving, concept understanding, information processing and overall intelligence," according to the National Fragile X Foundation. The role of play in building these skills is developed through interaction with other children using and developing ideas and concepts through pretend. Cognitive skills developed through play help the student achieve more in the classroom across the curriculum.

Problem Solving

Play can help develop problem solving skills in children. These skills are vital to children as they progress through school and into adulthood. In small children these skills can be seen in arranging blocks in particular patterns or building towers. Older children may utilise tools around them to get answers about the world, such as using a measuring stick to determine which of their playmates is tallest.

Mental Planning

Children use pretend play to expand their imaginations. The more props the child has at his/her disposal the more realistic the play becomes. For example, if students imagine being physicians, children use items that may be used by nurses and doctors. Children may get a table for the "patient" to lie down on, put on gowns and masks, find play syringes and other materials that enhance their pretend play. The mental planning imvolved with making the pretend play as real as possible is a form of cognitive development.

Self Regulation

Play requires children to use self regulation techniques. The child must delay gratification and wait their turn to play a role. Preschool students develop private speech as a means to help regulate their behaviours. As the child grows older this private speech becomes internal thought, which then guides self monitoring and regulation.


Children playing together can recognise errors that occur between them. For example, if children are counting how many pieces of candy they have together and a child counting skips a number, another child will correct the count. This demonstrates an understanding of number sequence and is shared with other students. This type of evaluation occurs during play and helps students learn or reinforce material learnt at home or in school.

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