My daughter teaches dance to preschool children and recently I went to observe one of her classes.   I was really surprised to see that some of the children could not follow a simple dance movement pattern and could not jump on one foot.   Their inability to concentrate and follow directions was also concerning though I certainly am not a child development expert.  On the other hand, preschoolers can work complicated electronic equipment and iphones.   I found this article that further explores and addresses my concerns and ask for comments from our readers on their observations.

What would childhood be without time to play? Play, it turns out, is essential to growing up healthy. Research shows that active, creative play benefits just about every aspect of child development.

Play is behavior that looks as if it has no purpose,” says NIH psychologist Dr. Stephen Suomi. “It looks like fun, but it actually prepares for a complex social world.” Evidence suggests that play can help boost brain function, increase fitness, improve coordination and teach cooperation.

Suomi notes that all mammals—from mice to humans—engage in some sort of play. His research focuses on rhesus monkeys. While he’s cautious about drawing parallels between monkeys and people, his studies offer some general insights into the benefits of play.

Active, vigorous social play during development helps to sculpt the monkey brain. The brain grows larger. Connections between brain areas may strengthen. Play also helps monkey youngsters learn how to fit into their social group, which may range from 30 to 200 monkeys in 3 or 4 extended families.

Both monkeys and humans live in highly complex social structures, says Suomi. “Through play, rhesus monkeys learn to negotiate, to deal with strangers, to lose gracefully, to stop before things get out of hand, and to follow rules,” he says. These lessons prepare monkey youngsters for life after they leave their mothers.

Play may have similar effects in the human brain. Play can help lay a foundation for learning the skills we need for social interactions. If human youngsters lack playtime, says Dr. Roberta Golinkoff, an infant language expert at the University of Delaware, “social skills will likely suffer. You will lack the ability to inhibit impulses, to switch tasks easily and to play on your own.” Play helps young children master their emotions and make their own decisions. It also teaches flexibility, motivation and confidence.

Kids don’t need expensive toys to get a lot out of playtime. “Parents are children’s most enriching plaything,” says Golinkoff. Playing and talking to babies and children are vital for their language development. Golinkoff says that kids who talk with their parents tend to acquire a vocabulary that will later help them in school. “In those with parents who make a lot of demands, language is less well developed,” she says. The key is not to take over the conversation, or you’ll shut it down.

Unstructured, creative, physical play lets children burn calories and develops all kinds of strengths, such as learning how the world works. In free play, children choose the games, make the rules, learn to negotiate and release stress. Free play often involves fantasy. If children, say, want to learn about being a fireman, they can imagine and act out what a fireman does. And if something scary happens, free play can help defuse emotions by working them out.

“Sports are a kind of play, but it’s not the kids calling the shots,” says Golinkoff. It’s important to engage in a variety of activities, including physical play, social play and solitary play. “The key is that in free play, kids are making the decisions,” says Golinkoff. You can’t learn to make decisions if you’re always told what to do.

Some experts fear that free play is becoming endangered. In the last 2 decades, children have lost an average of 8 hours of free play per week. As media screens draw kids indoors, hours of sitting raise the risk for obesity and related diseases. When it comes to video games and other media, parents should monitor content, especially violent content, and limit the amount of time children sit.

There’s also been a national trend toward eliminating school recess. It’s being pushed aside for academic study, including standardized test preparation. “Thousands of children have lost recess altogether,” says child development expert Dr. Kathryn Hirsh-Pasek of Temple University. “Lack of recess has important consequences for young children who concentrate better when they come inside after a break from the schoolwork.”

Many kids, especially those in low-income areas, lack access to safe places to play. This makes their school recess time even more precious. In response to these changes, some educators are now insisting that preschool and elementary school children have regular periods of active, free play with other children. The type of learning that happens during playtime is not always possible in the classroom. School recess is also important because of the growing number of obese children in the United States. Running around during recess can help kids stay at a healthy weight.

Play also may offer advantages within the classroom. In an NIH-funded study, Hirsh-Pasek, Golinkoff and their colleagues found a link between preschoolers’ math skills and their ability to copy models of 2- and 3-dimensional building-block constructions. Play with building blocks—and block play alongside adults—can help build children’s spatial skills so they can get an early start toward the later study of science, technology, engineering or math.

“In a way, a child is becoming a young scientist, checking out how the world works,” says Hirsh-Pasek. ”We never outgrow our need to play.” Older children, including teens, also need to play and daydream, which helps their problem-solving and creative imagination. Adults, too, need their breaks, physical activity and social interaction.

Without play and recreation, people can become isolated and depressed. “There’s therapeutic value in helping patients maintain what’s important to them,” says Gregory. “When you are physically and socially active, it gives life meaning.”
Source:  NIH



I am a parent of two kids (11 & 5) and I'm also an educator. I agree that play has an important role in every child's development.

In my business, I help high school students with the SAT, ACT & college admission. I have spoken to numerous parents with children as young as 10 who are interested in early test prep. I explain that in my experience, kids who are pushed into SAT prep classes too soon burn out before the test counts (junior year) and they would be better off encouraging their child to master the skills taught in school and take time to have fun and discover their true interests and natural talents (a more grown-up version of play.)

Excellent information. Thanks for spending the time. Genuinely enjoyed the post.

The article is very well written and brings out the importance of play for social skills development and for stress reduction

Your explanation is the best I have seen so far. Bravo, you know what you are doing.

Playing helps young kids develop in all aspects in their lives, without having time in playing children will tend to be numb or aloof. Thanks for sharing this wonderful and informative article, it indeed helps a lot of parents out there...

Definitely child's play has its use in children's growth. I think when children play, the neurotranmitters in their brain are working double time, something they need for growing skills and a sense of this world.

I´m the happy father of two lovely girls. One at 3 and one at 7. I have noticed, that a lot of the children in the my girls class, do have a heavy week - running to visit friends, several times a week, and doing two sports in the week. They are kind of stressed, and dont find the time to play, develop, imagine and reflect on their actions and day. Lets return to a society, where we contribute a little deeper to each other

I agree with this.Playing is very important for children because it helps them develop their motor skills and social skills. Children who lack confidence to themselves,it's because it lacks social activities involvement. Great information,indeed!

Ya, its fact that screen time of all kinds does take time away from imaginative forms of play and it truly is a pity that intellectual pursuits at school are taking the place of recess.

Yes, it is true that screen time of all kinds does take time away from imaginative forms of play and it truly is a pity that intellectual pursuits at school are taking the place of recess. The problem for me with my three kids is the fact that I am bring them up in a world that is increasingly dependent on screens. I need to ensure they are able to compete in this world which will be even more technology driven when they get older. On the other hand, I make sure each day that I switch off all screens and leave them to their own devices for hours on end. I agree imaginative play is very important and obesity is indeed a worry.

Anyway, I agree with the points made but wonder how to balance it with the world we have brought our children into.

Yes, I totally agree with your point of view. Playing helps in development of our kid’s physical health as well as reducing their mental stress. Children who play sports and are involved in other sporting activities always remain fit. For my kids, I have set the time for playing as well as studies. Thanks for sharing such wonderful post.

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