For Teachers

The Importance of Play

When I wrote the title to this post it sounded kind of silly. What do you mean the importance of play? Of course kids play. Well…play has changed quite a lot in the last few decades. Here are a 5 reasons why:

  2. TECHNOLOGY. Oh, sorry, Did I already say that one?
  3. Loss of recess time in schools due to budget cuts. (This one slays me. Apparently the powers that be in the government haven’t read a single study about play and brain development.)
  4. Fear. Parents, especially those living in urban areas, are much more afraid for their children than our parents were “back then”.
  5. Hurried life style.

I love research studies. Someone else has done the work for me! We are all observers. We KNOW play is natural and important for children, but do you know why?

  1. Play is a child’s “work”.
  2. Children learn how to cooperate and negotiate during play.
  3. Imagination is the stuff of life. When children play they are building a world of possibilities in their minds.
  4. Active play helps keep kids healthy. This is especially important in a country where we are constantly fighting the economy of “cheap”, empty “food” vs. healthy, wholesome, nutritious food that is sometimes more expensive up front. The back end costs of “cheap” food are always worse (diabetes, obesity, hyperactivity…you get the picture). Maybe one day our choices and their associated prices will be more fair.
  5. Play balances children’s emotions and let’s them air out any pent up feelings.

Here is a very comprehensive study that I recommend reading:

I appreciate this part from the above study so much, I had to copy it here. (The highlights and bold print are my own emphasis):

“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers. As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue. Ideally, much of play involves adults, but when play is controlled by adults, children acquiesce to adult rules and concerns and lose some of the benefits play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills. In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies. In fact, it has been suggested that encouraging unstructured play may be an exceptional way to increase physical activity levels in children, which is one important strategy in the resolution of the obesity epidemic. Perhaps above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood.

Children’s developmental trajectory is critically mediated by appropriate, affective relationships with loving and consistent caregivers as they relate to children through play. When parents observe their children in play or join with them in child-driven play, they are given a unique opportunity to see the world from their child’s vantage point as the child navigates a world perfectly created just to fit his or her needs. (The word “parent” is used in this report to represent the wide range of adult caregivers who raise children.) The interactions that occur through play tell children that parents are fully paying attention to them and help to build enduring relationships. Parents who have the opportunity to glimpse into their children’s world learn to communicate more effectively with their children and are given another setting to offer gentle, nurturing guidance. Less verbal children may be able to express their views, experiences, and even frustrations through play, allowing their parents an opportunity to gain a fuller understanding of their perspective. Quite simply, play offers parents a wonderful opportunity to engage fully with their children.

Play is integral to the academic environment. It ensures that the school setting attends to the social and emotional development of children as well as their cognitive development. It has been shown to help children adjust to the school setting and even to enhance children’s learning readiness, learning behaviors, and problem-solving skills. Social-emotional learning is best integrated with academic learning; it is concerning if some of the forces that enhance children’s ability to learn are elevated at the expense of others. Play and unscheduled time that allow for peer interactions are important components of social-emotional learning.”

What is the “take away” in all of this? Whether you are a parent, caregiver, or teacher…create, protect, and value time for children to play every day. Everyone benefits, especially our children.

What are your thoughts on children and play?



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