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Why Kids Should Play

playdium floor 2

Child's play.

We often take it for granted, but in reality, many children aren't getting enough play time these days, and pediatricians say that isn't healthy.

Play is vital to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth, according to recent research published in Pediatrics, the journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics, and it's also an ideal way for parents to fully engage with their children. Play is so fundamental to optimal child development, it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as the right of every child.

Globally, play is limited by child labor, exploitation, war, neighborhood violence and sheer poverty. Closer to home, harried lifestyles, changes in family structure, emphasis on academics and organized enrichment activities, increased screen time and pressure on school districts to respond to the No Child Left Behind Act all impinge on child-centered play.

Why is free play important for children? Here's an eloquent excerpt from a Pediatrics article by Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, the Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health:

"Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them. Play allows children to create and explore a world they can master, conquering their fears while practicing adult roles, sometimes in conjunction with other children or adult caregivers."

playdium floor

"As they master their world, play helps children develop new competencies that lead to enhanced confidence and the resiliency they will need to face future challenges. Undirected play allows children to learn how to work in groups, to share, to negotiate, to resolve conflicts, and to learn self-advocacy skills. When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interest, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue.

"Ideally, much of play involves adults, but when play is controlled by adults, children acquiesce to adult rules and concerns and lose some of the benefits play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills. In contrast to passive entertainment, play builds active, healthy bodies. In fact, it has been suggested that encouraging unstructured play may be an exceptional way to increase physical activity levels in children, which is one important strategy in the resolution of the obesity epidemic. Perhaps above all, play is a simple joy that is a cherished part of childhood."

Tips on play from Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, the Committee on Communications, and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health:

  • Emphasize active child-centered play as a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies.
  • Emphasize "true toys" such as blocks and dolls that encourage children to use their imagination fully, over passive toys that require limited imagination.
  • Make time to cherish and play with children even if it means decreasing their extracurricular activities (or yours).
  • Pediatricians should be a stable force, reminding parents that the cornerstones of parenting—listening, caring, and guiding through effective and developmentally appropriate discipline—and sharing pleasurable time together are the true predictors of childhood, and they serve as a springboard toward a happy, successful adulthood.
  • Read to children, even when they are very young.
  • Allow children to explore a variety of interests in a balanced way without feeling pressured to excel in each area. Avoid conveying the unrealistic expectation that each young person needs to excel in multiple areas to be considered successful or prepared to compete in the world. In parallel, promote balance in youth who are strongly encouraged to become expert in only one area (e.g. a particular sport or musical instrument) to the detriment of having the opportunity to explore other areas of interest.

Pacific Science Center is huge playground for families! Poke into the Saltwater Tide Pool, experiment with water at the Stream Table, visit the butterflies and naked mole rats, tinker with gyroscopes. In Wellbody Academy's Playdium, rev up your heart and laugh rate by chasing "bugs" on our ExerGames dance floor. Don't forget to bounce on the butt-bouncers in Loft-a-Palooza to launch balls into the stratosphere (actually a netted enclosure). Ridiculously fun.


  • Guest
    Science Center Lover Monday, 22 July 2013

    Agreed. :)

  • Guest
    Gwynn Torres Saturday, 26 October 2013

    I especially like what you say about free play. We differentiate between open-ended play, which presents a child with creative options, as opposed to games and puzzles, which only have one outcome. While games and puzzle have their own benefits, it's open-ended play that nurtures the imagination. 

    The Creativity Institute

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Guest Friday, 17 April 2015