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"Let’s Play"… Revisiting the Importance of Play
One of my favorite things to do is observe children at play. I find such an experience refreshing and delightful, and I always come away renewed. I love seeing what and how children are thinking and am often surprised at what they do when they play. Their imagination soars and they learn more about who they are and how things work.

When given an opportunity to explore, discover and imagine, children develop important skills. Watching them play, and joining in on the fun, is a wonderful way to gain an understanding of their budding personality. I have found from my observation of children around the world that play not only develops physical, social and cognitive skills. It also has the power to build self-esteem and unleash joy in children. As a matter of fact, research has shown that having plenty of time for play during childhood is one of the key factors leading to happiness in adulthood.

In October 2006, the American Academy of Pediatrics published a report titled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds.” The report states that play is a cherished part of childhood that offers children important developmental benefits and parents the opportunity to fully engage with their children. I agree – and I’m thrilled that such a prestigious and credible organization is emphasizing the importance of play.

According to the AAP report, play:

  • Allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength
  • Is important to healthy brain development
  • Allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles
  • Allows children to learn how to work in groups, share, negotiate, resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy skills
  • Allows less verbal children to express their views, experiences and even frustrations
  • Offers parents a wonderful opportunity to engage fully with their children
  • Allows for peer interactions and is thus an important component of social-emotional learning
As you can see, play is not just something to do in between activities. It’s an important activity in itself. Play is active and engages the whole brain, providing opportunities that are multi-sensory, creative and imaginative. It also provides children an opportunity to practice decision-making skills at their own pace.

However, there are many activities and events in your child’s life that reduce the amount of time spent just playing. So be sure to schedule some time to let your child be creative and do what comes naturally—play.

Here are some suggestions to free up time for play:
  • Limit screen time
  • Curtail time spent in adult-organized activities
  • Avoid over-scheduling
  • Make sure there’s ample free time in your child’s schedule for play
And to facilitate play:
  • Choose age-appropriate toys that encourage imaginative play
  • Encourage outdoor adventures and activities for physical and explorative play
  • Provide props and dress-up items to encourage role-play
  • Keep paper, crayons and simple art materials handy for creative play
Play is more than fun and games. It boosts healthy development in many critical areas of your child’s development. So let every day of childhood be a day of play.

For more information, visit the AAP website at aap.org or talk to your pediatrician.

Kathleen Alfano Ph.D., Former Director of Child Research at Fisher-Price®