A child’s play zone, whether it is in the home or classroom, can look like a free for all at times. A world full of movement and noise, of colors, textures, smells, and sounds, it’s a world where princesses build structures alongside superheroes, which turn into monsters just long enough to be scary and then “turn back good again”.

Yes, kids play. Yes, kids enjoy playing. But, do children really get anything out of playing? Is there a reason children should play, other than to expend some of their boundless energy and maybe give a parent or teacher a break?

What are the benefits of play?

• Commonly recognized, play is a social activity. Children learn social skills through the give and take of play: learning to take turns, settle disputes, negotiate, agree and disagree, communicate verbally and non-verbally and simply how to get along with others.

• Play is healthy. Child hood obesity and other health concerns are on the rise. Physical play encourages children to move their bodies and get regular exercise. There is a direct correlation between rigorous play and reduced levels of obesity, heart-related problems and stress.

• Play is learning. Through the various forms of play children engage in during a day, they are constantly exploring and learning about their world. Blocks and manipulative toys allow children to explore math concepts such as shapes, sorting, matching, depth, width, height, volume and length. Dramatic play develops critical thinking, problem solving, symbolic thought and decision making while providing an environment that is rich in language and promotes early literacy skills.

• Play Develops Relationships. Through play we can learn things about children they are unable to tell us. Play reveals children’s thought processes on relationships and how they see the world. Play is a safe way to explore and express relationships, feelings and fears.

• Play Develops Self-Regulation. Self-regulation includes an individual’s ability to control emotions and behavior and practice self-control and discipline over impulses. It’s the key to learning and social interaction. Giving children the freedom to plan play activities and make choices about what to play teaches them how to plan, organize, remember details and manage time.

What is your child’s favorite play activity?

Nick Strupp is a Special Education Teacher at Penfield Children’s Center. Nick previously taught Preschool, K4 and K5, and has worked with children from infants to teenagers. Nick has presented at International and National conferences on Early Childhood topics including; play, stories, and classroom community. He also speaks to UW-Milwaukee ECE classes and hosts Sensory Friendly Reading Nights for the New Berlin Public Library. Nick received his degree in Early Childhood Education from the University of Wisconsin-Milwaukee.

Bartlett, Tom. “The Case for Play.” How a Handful of Researchers are Trying to Save Childhood.” The Chronicle of Higher Education. 4 August 2014. Web. http://chronicle.com/article/The-Case-for-Play/126382/.

Korbey, Holly. “Let ‘Em Out! The Many Benefits of Outdoor Play in Kindergarten.” Mind/Shift. KQED Inc. 23 July 2014. Web. http://blogs.kqed.org/mindshift/2014/07/let-em-out-the-many-benefits-of-outdoor-play-in-kindergarten/.

Marantz Henig, Robin. “Taking Play Seriously.” The New York Times. The New York Times Company. 17 February 2008. Web. http://www.nytimes.com/2008/02/17/magazine/17play.html?pagewanted=all&_r=0.

Spiegel, Alex. “Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills.” NPR. 21 February 2008. Web. http://www.npr.org/templates/story/story.php?storyId=19212514.

Stegelin, Delores A. “Making the Case for Play Policy: Research-Based Reasons to Support Play-Based Environments.” YC: Young Children, March 2005, Vol. 60, Issue 2.

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