Simon Says “Go” – Enhancing Self-Regulation with Play by Dr. Dennette Hall

Children learn and express themselves through play and imagination. Through play, critical brain development occurs to specifically enhance what researchers have deemed Executive Functions or an individual’s ‘control center.’ Executive functioning, or cognitive processes including working memory, reasoning, task flexibility, problem solving, impulse control, and self-regulation, are predominately controlled by the prefrontal cortex within a child’s brain. These vital skills have been demonstrated to be better predictors of academic success than a child’s IQ. Here are a few of our favorite classic games to help enhance self-regulation, or the ability of a child to control emotional and behavioral impulses and exhibit self-control:

  • Simon Says – When Simon says, “Simon says jump!” the children must jump. But if Simon only says, “Jump!” and somebody jumps, that person must sit out for the rest of the game. The last person standing becomes the new Simon. Another excellent game for developing self-regulation because children must listen carefully, pay attention, and follow directions.
  • Freeze Dance – This game requires music! The leader will play the music and then when she stops the music the children must freeze and be still as statues in whatever position they froze in. Then the leader will play a variety of different music. The children must dance quickly to upbeat and fast songs, and they must dance slowly and gracefully to the slow songs. Then when they have gotten the hang of that, switch it up and have them dance slowly to the fast songs and quickly to the slow songs.
  • Red-Light Green-Light - One child is the stoplight, the other children are the cars. When the stoplight yells “Green light!” the children run towards the stoplight. When the stoplight yells “Red light!” all the children must stop. If a child doesn’t stop, they must go back to the starting line. A popular variation is to include a “Yellow light!” where children must walk instead of run. Excellent for developing self-regulation skills because children must learn to pay attention, follow directions, and wait their turn.
  • Starting Gun - Students will all line up on a starting line. Instructor says "Ready, Set...." and she might say "go" OR another word that sounds like go OR starts with a "g". Examples: green! gorilla! snow! crow! blow! grape! gate! The students that make a false start will have to take a penalty step backwards from the starting line. When instructor does say "go" all will run to the finish line