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The Purpose of Play


Why do children need to play? What purpose does play serve? Why should we make sure that every child, everywhere can play?


“Play is not only our creative drive; it’s a fundamental mode of learning” – David Elkind


Here’s a quick list to help you understand the importance of play for young children.


1. Play fosters brain development.


Yes! It’s true! There is loads of information and research out there about children’s brain development and play; the science is remarkable. But what it all means is that while children play, their brains are making connections, building neural pathways, logging information and experiences along with their associated emotional reactions. A child’s brain is literally forming as they encounter new information (like sounds and textures, shapes and smells). Essentially, children’s brain architecture is created through play!


2. Play builds relationships.


Think of your child’s earliest play experiences. They likely played with YOU or another primary caregiver; incredibly important and powerful relationships in their life! Not only are these relationships filled with warmth and care, these play interactions are also creating neural connections in the child’s brain. A loving and attentive adult who responds positively with attention and appreciation helps to build those connections.


When we think about a child venturing out and engaging with their community, being able to connect with others and build relationships with them is crucial to successfully interacting. Helping our children to develop this capacity for connection starts with the relationships they have in the early years. Relationships that are nurtured and developed through play.


3. Play develops important skills.


A playing child is experimenting, exploring, and navigating their way through the world, trying to make sense of things, and attaching their own meanings to their experiences. All the while, they are practicing and mastering their fine motor skills, gross motor skills, cognitive skills, and social-emotional skills.


4. Play engages the five senses.


You know how young children put *literally everything in their mouths? Each time their little gums latch onto a new object, their brains are actively recruiting information which gets stored in their sensory memory. This is how children begin to understand the world around them. What does this feel like, what will happen if I do this, what does this taste like… the young child is a researcher, questioning and experimenting long before they can put their wonderings into hypotheses.


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