“Play is not frivolous. It is not something to do after the ‘real work’ is done. Play is the real work of childhood.” - Bright Horizons
At Neighborhood North: Museum of Play, the power of play is at the very core of our mission. We know that play sparks learning, creativity and innovation, and connects parents and children. Our play-based exhibits are designed to provide hands-on artistic, scientific and social experiences, and we make these life-changing benefits of play available and accessible to all children.
It’s such a simple thing to declare: Play is important. And while we may instinctively know that children need to play, we don’t always associate play with learning and child development. It’s been determined, though, that play is absolutely essential. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) has named play as a central component in developmentally appropriate educational practices, and the United Nations High Commission on Human Rights recognizes play as a fundamental right of every child.
The research into the importance of play and how it affects our children points to significant evidence that play is necessary for the development of “critical cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills. Play even contributes to proper brain development.” As the article “The Importance of Play – 9 Amazing Benefits,” for Parenting Brain, shows us, we can’t underestimate the developmental, wellness and relationship benefits of play. Let’s take a look at some of these key takeaways:
Play stimulates brain growth and enhances early development
Play improves intelligence, learning, and memory
Play sparks creative thinking
Play has a direct link with communication, vocabulary, language learning, and visual-spatial skills
Pretend play facilitates impulse control and emotion regulation, which can contribute to resilience and mental health
Pretend play improves social competence and empathy
Playful children are happier and more popular
Play strengthens relationships with parents, caregivers, and peers
Another paramount aspect of the importance of play – the far-reaching consequences of play (or the lack thereof). We may easily understand what can be gained by young children engaged in play, but as research compiled by the Minnesota Children’s Museum points out, play has very real lifelong benefits as well:
“Play builds the foundation for a lifetime of learning. Many of these skills, first developed through play, are crucial for success in the 21st century. There is no doubt that amassing knowledge of the world around us continues to be important in our society – and playful learning can help children to learn content-based lessons, too. Increasingly, however, to achieve success in a global economy, the individuals that make up our workforce must also be socially adept and highly creative. The ‘6Cs’ – Collaboration, strong Communication, knowledge of Content, Critical thinking, Creative innovation, and Confidence to fail and try again – will be essential to our children’s future success. Many of these skills are not easily taught in the classroom; however, they are readily learned through play (HirschPasek & Golinkoff, 2003; Hirsch-Pasek et al., 2009; Partnership for 21st Century Skills, 2008).”
While we’ve barely even scratched the surface of the research that’s been done on the power of play, it is abundantly clear that playing isn’t simply a way to pass time or blow off steam. Playing is integral to the cognitive, emotional, social and physical well-being of our children. Or, more simply, playing IS learning.
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