children are taken from Enhancing
and Practicing Executive Function
Skills with Children from Infancy
to Adolescence, a booklet published
by the Harvard University’s Center
for the Developing Child. To
download the booklet, visit:
Games for six- to 18-month-olds
Pat-a-cake, pat-a-cake, baker’s man.
Bake me a cake as fast as you can.
Pat it and roll it and prick it with a “B.”
Then put it in the oven for baby and me!
Pat-a-Cake, a nursery rhyme
dating to the 17th century, is a
perfect example of how “supportive,
responsive interactions” with you,
an adult, can help a child create the
foundation to build working memory
and practise basic self-control.
Simply having a conversation with
baby boosts the same skills, as does
finger-play (think: Itsy Bitsy Spider).
And because babies are natural
copycats, they learn beautifully from
imitation games (you cuddle a doll,
then pass it to baby to follow suit).
Games for 18- to 36-month-olds
I’m a little teapot, short and stout.
Here is my handle. Here is my
spout. When I get all steamed up,
hear me shout: Tip me over and pour
Toddlers develop language and
physical skills quickly. A song game
such as I’m a Little Teapot helps
them pay attention to the song’s
words, hold them in their working
memory and use them to cue their
Other song games such as
Motorboat, Motorboat that require
little ones to slow down and speed
up (“step on the gas!”) are excellent
for self-control. Imaginary play—
pretending to cook and eat from a
pot, for example—starts to move
beyond just copying grown-ups to
developing simple plots.
Encourage this by narrating
what toddlers are doing or asking
questions about what they’re making
(“Are you baking cookies?” and
pretend to eat one, if it’s offered).
Provide an array of household items,
toys, props and dress-up clothes to
spark their imaginations.
Games for three- to-five-
Everyday errands, such as going to
the doctor’s office, are good material
for a preschooler’s imaginary play.
Talk about the doctor and what
she does, and when you get home,
encourage role-playing. A grownup’s
white shirt and a lanyard attached to
a circle of paper can serve as
the doctor’s coat and stethoscope.
The “doctor” can wrap a sock around