Archive: Language and Play

“Propel” Executive Functioning & Play at Home

November 27, 2017

I’m Brooke
I'm a speech therapist specializing in early language, but more importantly, I'm a mom of a toddler who has been on her own journey with physical and occupational therapy
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In our practice we offer a variety of play groups to help early learners develop  executive functioning skills, social skills,and language. To promote these skills, we utilize the PRoPELS framework (Bodrova & Leong, 2007).

Play supports development

Research provides more and more evidence of the positive effects that well-developed play has on various areas of child development, including social skills, mathematical skills, early literacy concepts, and self-regulation (Singer, Golinkoff, & Hirsh-Pasek, 2006).  Self-regulation is critical executive function that allows children to regulate themselves for learning. As Bodrova & Leong, point out in their article, “Assessing and Scaffolding Make-Believe Play,” there have been massive changes in our culture of childhood.  The disappearance of multiage play groups, in which older peers served as “play mentors” and the increase in adult-directed activities in school have decreased the opportunities children have to learn how to play.


Traditionally, play instruction has been reserved for children with language and social delays. With the landscape of early childhood changing, it’s more likely that many children can benefit from support during play in order to achieve the quality of play children achieved in the past.

Play supports executive functions

Although the PRoPEL framework is specifically designed for the early childhood setting, in this article we’ll explore ways in which parents can support these concepts at home:

P: Planning- Mature play is characterized mostly by discussion of what is going to happen and how, followed by periods of acting out.

At home: Planning can happen orally or by drawing a picture. Encourage your child to tell you about what they want to happen during play (ex: “I’m the doctor and you’re the patient. Your baby is sick…”)  Setting up play dates or enrolling in play groups gives your child opportunities to play with peers and practice social skills. Seeking out groups with a variety of ages allows younger children to learn from older ones and older children to practice teaching skills to younger children.  Encouraging children to make to plan their play can help troubleshoot potential conflicts that may arise (ex: who gets to wear the stethoscope, etc.)

R: Roles-This refers to your child’s ability to take on and maintain roles during play. Mature play is about interactions between people.

At home: Taking your child on outings in the community and reading books helps them learn about the people and “rules” associated with different events and situations. For example, taking your child to the zoo and reading a book about a zookeeper helps them learn that the zookeeper takes care of animals. Conversations about events and experiences further reinforces these concepts.

P: Props– Symbols/objects that support play

At home: Many children grow up with only realistic toys and are not used to the open-ended nature of things like paper plates. rocks, and blocks. When children are younger, this is necessary since they do not yet understand the symbolic nature of objects. As children enter the preschool years, they are more capable of understanding this and participating in “higher level” make-believe. You can gradually introduce more open-ended materials at home. Model using them (“Mmm, this grilled cheese is delicious!” while holding a block) During the later preschool and kindergarten years, you can encourage children to make their own props out of things like paper plates and construction paper.

E: Extended time frame – Mature play can last hours, or even days as the children explore different scenarios within a theme.

At home: Mature play extends over time as children act out different story lines. Background knowledge plays a crucial role here. The more books, trips, and experiences your child has, the more “material” or story lines they have to explore.

L: Language: The language should match the play and the role the child is playing

Language: The more books, outings, and experiences your child has, the more they will be familiar with the language associated with that role.  You can also model the language and vocabulary someone in that role uses. For example, you can model asking, “What would you like to order,” if you are acting out a restaurant theme.


Play is crucial to child development, social skills, and development of executive functions. The PRoPEL framework offers a wonderful way for early childhood educators to support play in the classroom. Many of these concepts can be worked on at home by parents. Parents are their child’s first play partners. The more interactions and experiences you provide through books, trips, and a lot of conversation, the better you prepare your child for play and learning!


Brooke Andrews, M.A CCC-SLP is the owner of The Speech Dynamic, PLLC, a boutique private practice in Houston, TX.  She specializes in social communication, language delays and differences, and play-based learning. Brooke has presented at various conferences and shares her expertise in her workshops for parents and teachers.



Bodrova, E,. & Leong,  D.J.  Assessing and Scaffolding Make-Believe Play. Young Children, January 2007. 28-34.

Bodrova, E,. & Leong,  D.J  2007. Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education. 2nd ed. Upper Saddle River NJ: Pearson Education/Merrill

Singer, D., R. Golinkoff, & K. Hirsh Pasek, eds. 2006 Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social Emotional Growth. New York; Oxford University Press.

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