The importance of play

Paizontas/Playing is one of the partners of the ProChil project – an NGO focusing on the importance of Play for the sake of play.

“When working with parents, we see that children aregetting under presure in terms of what they have to learn, in what activities they have to take part during the week etc. We are trying to persuade parents and teachers about the importance of free play for the sake of the play itself, we want to give our children more freedom to come and enjoy what they enjoy, ” says Elida Kapogianni.

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.

Why is playing so important (scientifically speaking)?

Play is a natural behaviour for children which is spontaneous and self motivated. Play is ‘what children and young people do when they follow their own ideas, in their own way and for their own reasons’.

Play is widely acknowledged as central to children’s physical, psychological and social well-being and crucial to their healthy development and happiness. The United Nations Convention in 1989 included play as a right for all children and indicated that play and recreation activities can have a significant role in fulfilling the child’s right to ‘the highest attainable standard of health’ and to ‘preventive health care’.

Evidence from the neurosciences suggest that play helps build and shape regions of the brain that concern emotion, motivation and reward and develop a range of flexible responses in various adaptive systems which link the brain, the body and the social and physical environment (Burghardt, 2005; Lester and Russel, 2008)

The 2007 Academy of Pediatrics report titled “The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds” was striking in its unequivocal recommendations. “Play is essential to development,” it said. “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.”

The American Academy of Pediatrics, the Institute of Medicine, and Stanford University all recommend that solutions to childhood obesity include opportunities for free play and the provision of facilities for play. There is a growing body of research that suggests that children will be more active if they are given opportunities to engage in unstructured or free play. Active children are less likely to be obese and less prone to have obesity-related health problems such as diabetes and heart disease. Unstructured play gets children moving, and more active children are more likely to be physically healthy (Ginsberg, 2007, Institute of Medicine, 2004, Stanford University, 2007).

Play has also been found to build resilience through the development of emotional regulation, attachment to peers and places, stress response systems, emotional health through pleasure and enjoyment and physical health (Lester and Russel, 2008).

To summarise, play is extremely important to children, as it is essential to children’s:

  • healthy development
  • physical health
  • mental health
  • learning and education
  • social well-being
  • peer interaction and group work
  • self regulation
  • emotional resilience and stress response systems
  • self confidence
  • happiness

Apart from the many benefits of play to children, studies have shown that parents as well as the community are also affected by the way, time and space where children play.

An appropriate and good quality play provision has been found to socially benefit the families and the community in a variety of ways:

  • Helps reduce children’s and young adult’s anti-social behaviour.
  • Promotes social cohesion in the long term.
  • Provides a focus for informal networks of family support.
  • In parallel with education, contributes to developing adults who are creative and effective in the social and economic sphere.
  • Offers opportunities for exploring cultural identity and difference.
  • Provides a focus for tackling social exclusion.

Last but not least, have a look at this video which says it all.

Written by Paizontas.