The word play can be used in both positive and negative contexts. In positive contexts it might be heard as, “you can play with that” or “we got to play outside today”. In this context it is almost used like a privilege. However, when used in phrases like “stop playing around” or “don’t play with your food” it has a negative connotation. Let’s spend a few minutes trying to spin this word for positive usage.
Play is valuable. And while the benefits of play have been widely accepted as a benefit for improving physical health (Levine & Ducharme, 2013), perhaps the more critical advantages lie outside of weight loss, physical coordination, etc.
Why? Because play assists children in developing appropriate social skills and the ability to self-regulate (Ramani & Eason, 2015; Cavanaugh et al., 2017). Afterall, children who don’t play “fair” will be naturally excluded. In these instances, children have to self-negotiate and be willing to cooperate in order to return to the game. When adults structure these moments and do all the problem solving then we are robbing children of these valuable opportunities.
Further, the practice of play supports children cognitively. The research demonstrates that it is beneficial for language (Cohen & Emmons, 2017; Stagnitti et al., 2016) as well as math and science (Bulotsky-Shearer et al., 2014). How? When children are involved in imaginative play they use language for roleplaying. When they decide to choose teams they need even numbers; when they are building sand castles they have to determine how much or how little water to add to the sand for stability.
And while it isn’t just for physical activity… it’s also not just for children. When was the last time you played? When did you last step away from your work space and do something silly? Or something spontaneous? Or something that helped you reset and return to the tasks of the day?
In the recent SCOTUS confirmation hearing for Judge Ketanji Brown Jackson, Senator Mazie Hirono asked Judge Jackson what she did o pay attention to the creative side of her life. Judge Jackson’s answer was that she recently took up fiber arts… an example crochet.
So, basically, the senator asked her what she did for recess/play… because even senators and judges realize that to relieve stress and to be well rounded and protect our mental health… yes, we need to make time to play.
Charlene Woodham Brickman, PhD
Bulotsky-Shearer, R. J., Bell, E. R., Carter, T. M., & Dietrich, S. L. R. (2014). Peer play
interactions and learning for low-income preschool children: The moderating role of classroom quality. Early Education and Development, 25(6), 815–840.
Cavanaugh, D. M., Clemence, K. J., Teale, M. M., Rule, A. C., & Montgomery, S. E.(2017).
Kindergarten scores, storytelling, executive function, and motivation improved through literacy-rich guided play. Early Childhood Education Journal, 45(6), 831–843.
Cohen, L. E., & Emmons, J. (2017). Block play: Spatial language with preschool and
school-aged children. Early Child Development and Care, 187(5), 967–977.
Levine, D. G., & Ducharme, J. M. (2013). The effects of a teacher-child play intervention on
classroom compliance in young children in child care settings. Journal of Behavioral Education, 22(1), 50–65.
Ramani, G. B., & Eason, S. H. (2015). It all adds up: Learning early math through play
and games. Phi Delta Kappa, 96(8), 27-32.
Stagnitti, K., Bailey, A., Hudspeth Stevenson, E., Reynolds, E., & Kidd, E. (2016). An
investigation into the effect of play-based instruction on the development of play skills and oral language. Journal of Early Childhood Research, 14(4), 389–406.