Child’s rubber boots-clad legs jumping in a puddle
evgenyatamanenko/iStock/Thinkstock

The Importance of Playtime

There’s value in fun and games
Beryl Meyer
Thursday, April 5, 2018

While the classroom teaches children many valuable lessons, the playground does, too. Without their even realizing it, problem-solving, collaborating and negotiating are all part of the fun! 

The world of pretend is a magical place where kids’ imaginations come to life and spark dreams that can often fuel future ambitions. Whether it’s riding a rocket ship to Mars, making a major medical breakthrough or discovering an archeological wonder, your child’s capacity for creativity truly comes into play when left to their own devices. 

The Power of Let’s Pretend
According to the National Association for the Education of Young Children, pretend activities help kids learn and build upon a multitude of developmental skills. Little ones who love to play grocery store can boost their cognitive abilities by learning math and problem-solving. Activities based on interaction, such as playing school, promote the growth of social skills. And those who enjoy games that involve vocabulary increase their literacy proficiency. 

Advantages of Being Active
Playtime also enhances children’s physical skills, teaching them balance and coordination. Skills that require eyes and hands working together sharpen as kids play with building blocks, and they get a leg up on their strength and agility climbing the monkey bars. Equally important, as children race around the playground or park, they’re burning off not only pent-up energy (and in some cases, anxiety and stress), but also calories, helping to fight the risk of obesity.

The Benefits of Having Fun
On an emotional level, play elicits joy in children – pure and simple. It provides endless opportunities for being surprised, excited and delighted. And while fun is the objective, there is the added potential for improvisation, says Stuart Brown, M.D., author of Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul. “The result is that we stumble upon new behaviors, thoughts… or ways of being,” he says. 

For the Good of the Game
The capacity for learning advances as children move on from familiar games and explore new ground. Lessons in negotiation, delayed gratification and risk-taking are played out as kids take on various roles and adjust to new rules. “Children playing Monopoly learn to develop strategies and take risks, while, in card games, they acquire the ability to observe others and evaluate their intent,” notes David Elkind, Ph.D., author of The Power of Play: Learning What Comes Naturally. “Even with something so basic as hide-and-seek, children learn mutual respect as they make and break their own rules.”

The Playbook for a Happy Life
Play is something children of all ages should aspire to regularly. “As kids grow older, the line between what is pretend and what is real becomes more solid, but imaginative play continues to nourish the spirit,” stresses Brown. “Throughout life, imagination remains a key to emotional resilience and creativity.” What better reason to take time out from the day, head outdoors with the family – and play like a kid?