The Value of Play

Today I listened to an interview with Peter Gray, a psychologist who examines the importance of play over at the (free online) unschooling summit. Despite yesterday’s post, Summer Learning, where I talked about the academic focus of our homeschool, the truth is my children play a lot especially compared to their public school friends.

After listening to his interview and cruising some of the articles he posted on his website, Freedom to Learn, I felt lots better about the amount of free play my kids have. 🙂 Here are some of the wonderful reasons children’s play is valuable:

  • It’s creative and fun!
  • Play is self-directed.
  • Kids stay physically active.

  • It fosters creativity as kids express themselves through art, music, painting, role plays, etc.

  • It helps kids explore the world around them.

  • It helps kids develop and keep friendships. It helps kids learn to cooperate, negotiate and restrain their impulses. It gives them opportunities to resolve conflicts and learn self-advocacy skills.
  • It helps kids develop their emotional capacity… like empathy, compassion, listening, sharing, etc.
  • It allows kids to use their imagination.
  • Kids can practice adult roles.
  • Kids help develop rules surrounding their play. Kids’ play almost always has structure. Kids often play a role and have to play within their and their friend’s understanding of the role. This requires quite a bit of self control. I’ll often hear the girls say, “Let’s pretend that…” and they go back and forth negotiating the storyline together.

In the photo below, ED explained all the grass was lava and they could only step on the logs.  The wheelbarrow was their house and they could go wherever they wanted by spinning the wheel:

  • Play can teach perseverance. When kids try things over and over he/she gains confidence over his/her own abilities. I just think about LD’s archery set and how determined he is to get a bulls eye.
  • Kids learn to entertain themselves.
  • Part of the value of play is the time and space to be in a stress-free, carefree world.
  • It helps kids develop dexterity and real-world skills. A lot of children’s play involves building things and putting things together. This helps them learn to use tools and explore how things work.  You can see toddlers who enjoy learning to use hammers and screw drivers… all the way up to kids who do woodworking or go outside to build their own forts.
  • It helps develop kids moral capacity. 
  • Kids can explore their behavior by acting out scenes and examining interactions they’ve observed.  I can think of many “phone calls” I’ve overheard where the kids act out the proper phone etiquette (“Hello?” “Oh, it’s so nice to hear from you” type of conversations.) 

I often hear, ED tenderly talking as McKenna (the doll) gets ready for bed, etc. 

So this summer when the kids are playing for long hours, we can rest assured that this is time well spent. As Albert Einstein said, “Play is the highest form of research.” Indeed, play is important and vital to a healthy childhood.

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  1. June 13, 2013

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