Why Play?

Comprehensive research in the field of child development and educational psychology continues to add to the already overwhelming evidence supporting the significant developmental benefits of open and pretend play for young children.  

Providing time for our children to have self directed play stimulates their imaginations, encourages them to problem solve, and allows them to refine their social skills – helping them to build a strong framework for a lifetime of learning.

In a recent Scientific American article, The Need for Pretend Play in Child Development, Yale professor Dr. Scott Barry Kaufman and his distinguished co-authors Dr. Jerome L. Singer and Dr. Dorothy G. Singer, summarize the last 75 years of research on this topic by declaring imaginative play as ‘a vital component to the normal development of a child’.

Despite all that we know about the benefits of play, the actual time children spend playing continues to decline precipitously.  According to a recent study (Elkind, 2008), children today play eight hours less each week than their counterparts did only two decades ago.

Equipped with this body of knowledge we must take action for the sake of our children on what inherently and deep down I think we always knew well.  Increasing the use of standardized tests, decreasing time for recess, rote memorization of facts/figures, and over structured schedules will not create the visionary leaders and creators our world needs now more than ever. 

We must let our kids play as if our future depends on it… because in fact it does!

What the experts say about PLAY

  • PLAY builds the foundation for a lifetime of learning (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000).
  • In PLAY, children develop a lasting disposition to learn (Erikson, 1985; Hurwitz, 2003).
  • PLAY with parents sets the stage for children’s ability to successfully play with peers (Bornstein, Hanes, Legler, O’Reilly, & Painter, 1997; Escalona, 1968; Feise, 1990; Stevenson, Leavitt, Thompson, & Roach, 1998).
  • Children can use PLAY to scientifically reason about novel objects and test hypotheses about how those objects operate (Schulz & Bonawitz, 2007).
  • PLAY has been described as practice in divergent thinking, because in play, children are constantly coming up with new ideas and recombining them to create novel scenarios (Johnson et al., 2005).
  • PLAY lays the foundation for higher-order thinking and later learning of formal STEM concepts (Bergen, 2009; Ginsberg, 2006; Shaklee et al., Tepperman, 2007).
  • Pretend PLAY has been linked to creativity, and creative problem solving in particular (e.g., Dansky, 1980; Russ, 1993, 2004; Saracho, 2002).
  • Stepping into the shoes of a character and imagining what he would say, do or feel might help children to develop an understanding of other people (Houghes, 1999).
  • Through conflicts and negotiations with other children or the creation of characters, children become aware that other people have intentions and desires that may not match their own (Russ, 2004).
  • PLAY can help children to regulate their emotions by providing and outlet to deal with stress in the moment (Johnson et al., 2005).
  • PLAY and fantasy give children means to exert control over their environment and to regulate their thoughts and feelings (Johnson et al., 2005).
  • Pretend PLAY is a powerful tool for learning in childhood (cf., Lillard et al., 2012).
  • PLAY can boost physical development, promote healthy lifestyles, and even help children perform better in school (Pellegrini & Davis, 1993).
  • PLAY is learning (Vygotsky, 1978).

What is Play?

  • PLAY IS PLEASURABLE. Children must enjoy the activity or it is not play.
  • PLAY IS INTRINSICALLY MOTIVATED. Children engage in play simply for the the satisfaction the behavior itself brings.  It has no extrinsically motivated function or goal.
  • PLAY IS PROCESS ORIENTED.  When children play, the means are more important than the ends.
  • PLAY IS FREELY CHOSEN. It is spontaneous and voluntary.  If a child is pressured, she will likely not think of the activity as play.
  • PLAY IS ACTIVELY ENGAGED. Players must be physically and/or mentally involved in the activity.
  • PLAY IS NON-LITERAL. It involves make believe.

source: Dr. Rachel E White (2012). The Power of Play. A Research Summary on Play and Learning: Minnesota Children’s Museum