Why Play Matters

Play is how children have fun, acquire skills, experience success, and build self-esteem. Through play children practice, reinforce and remember what they are learning. Creative play is a central activity in the lives of healthy children. Why, then have we seen the decline of play in the United States and other countries around the world?

The Decline of Play

The decline of play has many sources, but we identify three:

  1. Children have become dependent on electronic entertainment like television, videos, computers and game systems. In the United States, children spend hours per day in front of screens outside school. This leaves little time or inclination for real play. When media-filled children do play, it is naturally full of media characters and stories. It becomes increasingly hard for children to make up their own creative stories in play, for their imaginations have been overpowered by what they have seen on the screen.
  2. Kindergarten programs in the United States focus so strongly on teaching literacy, numeracy, and other academic subjects that many children no longer have time to play in kindergarten. In a typical six-hour public kindergarten in the New York or Washington area, for instance, children spend ninety minutes per day on early literacy drills, sixty minutes on mathematics, and thirty minutes on science. They have about thirty minutes for outdoor play but no time for indoor play.
  3. The amount of time spent in sports and other organized activities for young children has increased greatly in the past thirty years, beginning with pre-schoolers, so that children have little time for their own play activities.

Given the importance of play for children’s physical, social, emotional, and mental development, the demise of play will certainly have serious consequences during childhood and throughout children’s lives. Already we can see that with the decline of play has come the incline in childhood obesity. So differnet really does matter!

“Children have to play with what they know to be true in order to find out more, and then they can use what they learn in new forms of play.”

Fred Rogers, Mister Rogers’ Neighborhood

Restoring Play

There are many steps that can be taken to retore play to its rightful place in your child’s growing years. You won’t be disappointed and ultimately your child will be happier too. Here are some ideas for starting down that path:

  1. Resolve to buy toys differently. Seek out toys that encourge creativity rather than those that entertain.
  2. Provide alternatives to “screen” time for your children. Turn off the TV!
  3. Partner with your child’s educators to stress the importance of play. Work together to examine the role of play in childhood and the ways in which it is endangered.
  4. Take time yourself to create play opportunities for children where previously there were none. Your children and others benefit immensely.



Joan Almon, “The Vital Role of Play in Childhood”, 2004, From http://www.waldorfearlychildhood.org/article.asp?id=5.

Dr. Stuart Brown, “Play Science – the Patterns of Play”, From http://www.nifplay.org/states_play.html.