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Cognitive Benefits of Play

Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L

April 1, 2024



What are the cognitive benefits of play? 


Research reveals diverse cognitive benefits of play:

  • Enhances language development through description and comparison
  • Improves planning skills by reworking failures
  • Can boost academic skills and attitudes through organic interests
  • Links to higher IQ scores and socio-dramatic play
  • Helps children decenter from an ego-centric view

Play also:

  • Provides a release of stress
  • Builds confidence and self-assurance

*Taken from the book Playing, a Kid’s Curriculum by Sandra Stone

The hands-on nature of play embeds learning into long-term memory. The multisensory experience - seeing, hearing, touching - creates stronger neural connections than passive learning. An example is the feeling they get when they break the egg, hear the feedback from the materials, and demonstrate inhibition while the egg slowly hatches. Play brings home a concept.

As children build a block tower and discuss its attributes, play integrates conceptual, motor, communication, problem-solving, and social skills seamlessly. Academic skills often emerge organically from play experiences.

Most importantly, play teaches children to navigate challenges while developing self-regulation. The joy and engagement of play promote lifelong cognitive and socio-emotional benefits across domains. It is an essential ingredient of early childhood learning.

This Ask the Expert is an edited excerpt from the course Play, Has It Become A 4 Letter Word In Education? by Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L


tere bowen irish

Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L

Tere Bowen-Irish has been practicing occupational therapy for over 40 years in pediatrics and psychiatry. Tere provides assessment, treatment, and collaborative services in public and private school systems. Through her business, All the Possibilities Inc., she offers workshops for therapists, parents, and educators focusing on service delivery, classroom management, mindfulness, wellness, and prevention for all school-age children. Tere is also the creator of The Drive Thru Menu Suite of Exercises (published by Therapro), an initiative to bring movement into today’s classrooms. She is a certified YogaKids Inc. teacher and incorporates creative movement and yoga into her practice. She is a Certified Mindful Schools Instructor. She is also the author of Yoga and Me, Come be a Tree and co-authored My Mindful Music with Mary Ann Harman.

Related Courses

Exploring Self Regulation With 3 To 5 Year Olds
Presented by Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L
Recorded Webinar


Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L
Course: #4768Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'I really enjoyed the specific examples of activities to help with self regulation'   Read Reviews
Self-regulation for 3–5-year-olds can be quite variable. As we know, self-regulation skills help kids navigate their environments, regardless of age. This seminar explores self-regulation for little ones just starting their first school experience. Learning to wait, responding calmly, being able to listen, and direction following are all part of building the foundational skills of self-reg. Let’s help them get a great start!

Executive Function and Its Application to Physical Therapy in School Based Treatment
Presented by Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L
Recorded Webinar


Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L
Course: #4782Level: Advanced1 Hour
  'I liked her various short examples throughout the course to help understand and remember principles'   Read Reviews
Do you have students on your caseload with memory, organization, emotional regulation, attentional, and judgment challenges? These are just a few aspects of executive function. Our role is to help students access their classrooms, so why not utilize a brain-based approach in our school-based treatment? Join me for some ideas and strategies for best practices.

Play, Has It Become A 4 Letter Word In Education?
Presented by Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L
Recorded Webinar


Tere Bowen-Irish, OTR/L
Course: #4783Level: Intermediate1 Hour
  'Thank you for all the evidence and research info to help pronmvevtge value to teachers and administrators!'   Read Reviews
The concept of returning to play-based Pre-K and K seems to be making a resurgence. Promoting learning via play makes sense as children naturally learn through exploration, cause and effect, and pleasure. Throwing away the worksheets to pave the way for play-based learning to become the norm can initially be daunting for all working with young children. We will discuss research, implementation, and outcomes that promote this initiative.

QiKIDS™ - Qigong for Pediatrics
Presented by Amy M. Starkey, COTA/L, CTP-E, CYMHS
Recorded Webinar


Amy M. Starkey, COTA/L, CTP-E, CYMHS
Course: #4866Level: Introductory1 Hour
  'very informative'   Read Reviews
In “QiKids: Qigong for Pediatrics”, participants will learn gentle, effective mind & body-based movements, breaths and acupressure points proven to decrease stress, calm anxiety, improve mental focus, boost immune system function, and build resiliency. Qigong is the perfect therapeutic movement exercise for both clinicians and clients wanting to create a regular mindfulness practice that supports mental, physical, and emotional health and well-being.

Impact of Motor Learning For The Child With Autism Spectrum Disorder
Presented by Mariah Woody, OTR/L, Lisa Roehl, PT, DPT, Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Pediatric Physical Therapy
Recorded Webinar


Mariah Woody, OTR/LLisa Roehl, PT, DPT, Board-Certified Clinical Specialist in Pediatric Physical Therapy
Course: #3870Level: Advanced4 Hours
  'vey informative'   Read Reviews
Master skills to implement in your practice immediately with continued Master Class. Children with ASD face challenges as they form the motor programs that serve as the basis for daily life and play. This interdisciplinary course series will expand upon the theory of praxis and the child’s ability to adaptively respond to their environment in a way that is meaningful and efficient. Through practical and clinical demonstrations, the learner will develop a deeper understanding of the importance of motor learning for the child with ASD. This course is directly related to the practice of physical therapy and is therefore appropriate for the PT/PTA.

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