The Power of Play

Research by Dr. Rachel E. White for the Children’s Museum of Minnesota

INTRODUCTION

Virtually every child, the world over, plays. The drive to play is so intense that children will do so when they have no real toys, when parents do not actively encourage the behavior, and even in the middle of a war zone. In the eyes of a young child, running, pretending, and building are fun. Researchers and educators know that these playful activities benefit the development of the whole child across social, cognitive, physical, and emotional domains. Indeed, play is such an instrumental component to healthy child development that the American Academy of Pediatrics(Ginsburg, 2007) issued a white paper on the topic, the National Association for the Education of Young Children (2009) named play as a central component in developmentally appropriate educational practices, and the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights(1989) recognized play as a fundamental right of every child. Yet, while experts continue to expound a powerful argument for the importance of play in children’s lives, the actual time children spend playing continues to decrease. Today, children play eight hours less each week than their counterparts did two decades ago (Elkind, 2008). Under pressure of rising academic standards, play is being replaced by test preparation in kindergartens and grade schools, and parents who aim to give their preschoolers a leg up are led to believe that flashcards and educational “toys” are the path to success. Our society has created a false dichotomy between play and learning. This paper presents an overview of the scientific research that guides the educational philosophy that play is learning, discussing many overlapping forms of child-centered play, including social, object, pretend, physical, and media play. Through play, children learn to regulate their behavior, lay the foundations for later learning in science and mathematics, figure out the complex negotiations of social relationships, build a repertoire of creative problem solving skills, and so much more. Finally, this paper also addresses the important role for adults in guiding children through playful learning opportunities

Link to the rest of the research

About S. R. Zelenz 102 Articles
S.R. Zelenz has worked in education for 20 years. Working with students from all walks of life, cultures, races, and social diversity, Zelenz’s research in Educational Leadership led to finding a better way to approach learning for students with trauma histories. Many were juvenile offenders, gang members, diagnosed with varying behavioral disorders, or had family histories of violence, murder, or narcissistic parenting. This research could not be effectively accomplished without further understanding: how epigenetic trauma inheritance may be impacting these students; how brain development from trauma may be impacting their behavioral and emotional development; as well as deep understanding of psychology and its varying classifications for behavioral and personality disorders. The goal is to find solutions for changing the conversation and making a real difference for these students. She has also worked with nonprofits of varying focus areas for the last 25 years. Her undergraduate degree in Arts Administration and Music prepared her for managing nonprofits of any size as well as procuring funding so that they can achieve their goals. Pairing her nonprofit background with her education background, she has been able to make a difference for over 200 nonprofits worldwide, written curriculum for schools across the globe, and assisted many arts organizations through performance and management.