Let’s Play!

Let’s Play!

Over the past half century, children’s free play time with other children has declined sharply, according to recent research. Over the same period, anxiety, depression, suicide, feelings of helplessness, and narcissism have increased sharply. It’s not hard to see the connection there. But why is play so important?

“Studies dating back to 1964 suggest that exploration, self-discovery, and imaginative play stimulate brain development and strengthen a child’s emotional intelligence,” says Melissa Carroll, Beginning School and Lower School Director of the Swain School in Allentown. “We see evidence of this in the classroom through a child’s ability to creatively problem solve, self-advocate, persevere, and self-regulate.”

“When four-year-olds engage in block play to build imaginary cities, they explore concepts of physics, while learning to communicate and work together. When seven-year-olds experiment with recyclable materials to construct functioning snow sleds, they learn to calculate, problem solve, and to fail and start again. Play allows for space to experiment, imagine, and grow.” 

So, how much play time should kids get? There’s no magic number, but probably more than they’re currently getting, says Carroll, who suggests taking many small “brain breaks” for play throughout the day. “When play is incorporated throughout the day, resilience and creativity instinctively become part of a child’s repertoire,” she says. 

All this might have you wondering: What about adults? Don’t we deserve some play time, too? “Play allows our brain to relax and break the cycle of worry that many of us get into,” says Eva Ritvo, MD, a psychiatrist and author of Bekindr. Definitely something most of us need!

A simple solution: toss a frisbee, play tag, dust off a board game, or just have a dance party in the living room with the whole family. You—and your kids—will be glad you did.

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