Why Play is So Important

iStock_children playing on playground (2) There has been so much researched and written about play, that I thought it would be a good idea to share some of the great resources on WHY children should play.

Dr. David Elkind asserts, “If we encourage and facilitate children’s true play, we bequeath them an important and priceless gift, an album of joyous memories. Years from now these memories are what our young charges – grown up – will remember us by, and thank us for.”

Play is so important to optimal child development that the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child has recognized the “right of the child to rest and leisure, to engage in play and recreational activities… and to participate freely in cultural life and the arts.”

Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well being of babies, children and youth. However, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) notes that in modern times, a “hurried lifestyle and heavy academic, extracurricular load [are] taking [a] toll” – as not as much play is being encouraged as in previous generations.

Play is important to development. “It contributes to so many aspects of a child’s life. It is important for babies to play as well as adolescents to play. Children who don’t have these opportunities to engage in play do not have a chance to develop to their unique potential,” asserts Brian C. Scheff. (1).

10 Things Every Parent Should Know about Play

Laurel Bongiorno, PhD, explains clearly why children should play. (2).

1. Children learn through their play.

  • Don’t underestimate the value of play. Children learn and develop:
  • Cognitive skills – like math and problem solving in a pretend grocery store
  • Physical abilities – like balancing blocks and running on the playground
  • New vocabulary – like the words they need to play with toy dinosaurs
  • Social skills – like playing together in a pretend car wash
  • Literacy skills – like creating a menu for a pretend restaurant

2. Play is healthy.

Play helps children grow strong and healthy. It also counteracts obesity issues facing many children today.

3. Play reduces stress.

Play helps your children grow emotionally. It is joyful and provides an outlet for anxiety and stress.

4. Play is more than meets the eye.

Play is simple and complex. There are many types of play: symbolic, socio -dramatic, functional, and games with rules-–to name just a few. Researchers study play’s many aspects: how children learn through play, how outdoor play impacts children’s health, the effects of screen time on play, to the need for recess in the school day.

5. Make time for play.

As parents, you are the biggest supporters of your children’s learning. You can make sure they have as much time to play as possible during the day to promote cognitive, language, physical, social, and emotional development.

6. Play and learning go hand-in-hand.

They are not separate activities. They are intertwined. Think about them as a science lecture with a lab. Play is the child’s lab.

7. Play outside.

Remember your own outdoor experiences of building forts, playing on the beach, sledding in the winter, or playing with other children in the neighborhood. Make sure your children create outdoor memories too.

8. There’s a lot to learn about play.

There’s a lot written on children and play. Here are some NAEYC articles and books about play. David Elkind’s The Power of Play (Da Capo, 2007 reprint) is also a great resource.

9. Trust your own playful instincts.

Remember as a child how play just came naturally? Give your children time for play and see all that they are capable of when given the opportunity.

10. Play is a child’s context for learning.

Children practice and reinforce their learning in multiple areas during play. It gives them a place and a time for learning that cannot be achieved through completing a worksheet. For example, in playing restaurant, children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and make out checks. Play provides rich learning opportunities and leads to children’s success and self-esteem.


1. Brian C. Scheff, is a preschool teacher and Executive Director of Discovery Schoolhouse, Inc., in Milton, MA, and father of three.

2. Laurel Bongiorno, PhD, is the director of Champlain College’s graduate program in early childhood education, with specializations in teaching and administration, in Burlington, Vermont. 

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Patty Weiner is a mother and grandmother whose career spans over 40 years as a child life specialist, an educator, a child and family advocate and a health education specialist. Patty works with children referred by the Making Headway Foundation as an Educational Consultant, helping families of children who have had brain tumors receive the educational services they need in school in the NY Tri-state area. She is the author of a book for Parents/Caregivers entitled, Taking Your Child to the Doctor or The Hospital: Helpful suggestions and practical tips to make your child’s visit more comfortable.

The views and opinions expressed on this blog are purely the blog contributor’s. Any product claim, statistic, quote or other representation about a product or service should be verified with the manufacturer or provider. Writers may have conflicts of interest, and their opinions are their own.

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