The Importance of Play

The Importance of Play

It’s no secret that children learn about the world around them through playing. They discover and absorb new things like thirsty little sponges. By ensuring that children take the time to play, you have a sturdy hand in the trajectory of their future.

“Maria Montessori said, ‘Play is the work of the child,’ says Dr. Shannan Boyle Schuster, Head of School at The Swain School, a private preschool-through-8th-grade school in Allentown. “What she should have said is, play is learning! Research has proven that the best way for a child to develop academic, social, and emotional skills is through play.”


Play boils down to two main types—free play and guided play. Kids learn different skills from each style of play and it’s important to incorporate both regularly.

“Free play is just as it sounds—totally child-directed,” says Dr. Boyle. “Guided play is what great schools provide through teacher guidance. For example, a teacher may read a book about a farm and then put out farm-related toys to allow the children to play out what they heard in the book. Or they may challenge a child to create Rube Goldberg type of chain reaction while playing with cardboard and tape by introducing dominoes and marbles.”

Dr. Boyle adds that young children should primarily focus on play with no more than two hours of screen time. Older children, she says, should stay within the flipside of the coin, maintaining at least two hours of time completely free from screens.

“When I was growing up in the 80’s, I spent many hours watching TV,” she says. “This type of screen time is passive and is not healthy for children (or adults) for long periods of time. Today’s children tend to spend their screen time engaging actively. This means they are reading, playing games, or communicating with others. Although this is not healthy to do all day, it is definitely better than the passive screen time of my childhood.”


Playing gives kids the chance to practice discovery while building upon what they’ve learned. Early literacy, math, and social skills all flourish when reinforced through play.

“Constructing with blocks, for instance, applies concepts of mathematics and physics, while dramatic play involves reading and writing through storytelling and confidence and communication skills through delivery,” says Dr. Boyle, who has taught for more than 25 years in public and private schools.

Even kids in older grades can benefit from play. Playtime serves as a great stress reliever and a powerful tool to rise above troubles common in adolescence.

“So often, we hear about children during their middle school and high school years experiencing challenges with social emotional relationships,” she says. “Through play, we can set children up for success by giving them the language and tools to constructively problem solve and the grit and resilience to work through challenges.”

The biggest benefit of play is indisputable—it’s brain development.

“We know through animal research (by the way, ALL animals play) that play releases a chemical (BDNF) in the brain that results in growth of brain cells,” Dr. Boyle shares.


The importance of play cannot be overstated. When it comes down to solo playtime, play with a parent or adult, and playtime with peers, Dr. Boyle says all three are very important. She cites independent play as being pivotal for the imagination to flourish, as well as strengthening problem-solving skills. When playing with their children, parents can help to introduce and reinforce vocabulary, social skills, and emotional skills, to name a few. And, when playing with friends, kids learn to hold their attention better as well as practicing self-regulation and problem-solving, especially in cases of sharing.

“Play is important at all ages! Research has shown that even adults perform better at work when play is a part of their daily life. For young children, play should be the primary activity. For school-aged children, it is vital for them to spend their non-school hours playing. Research has shown that young children are actually at a disadvantage when they do hours of homework at night instead of playing because play is so important for brain development. Children over 10 should have at least 1 hour of unstructured time per day to play.”

When is the last time you played or did something you love? Even adults need play, as it provides relaxation and helps to protect against burnout. Besides focusing on play for your kids, be sure to schedule time for play in your own life to provide recovery and respite from the daily grind.


The Swain School places a strong focus on helping parents to navigate the trickiest parts of parenting. Each year, The Swain School offers three free programs focused on raising children.

Some recent topics in the parenting series have included:


Each program focuses on raising healthy kids while staying abreast of the current trends in education. Attendees also receive guidance and best practices while learning about the latest research. At the conclusion of the presentation, panel discussions and Q&A sessions open the door to more dynamic learning.

The Swain School also plans to launch a new series for the 2019-2020 school year. For more information, visit

GET INVOLVED: Send an email to The Swain School to learn more or to get started.

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