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10 Things Every Parent Should Know About Play

by Laurel Bongiorno, Ph.D.*

Play is Healthy!


1. Children learn through their play.

Don’t underestimate the value of play. Through play, children learn and develop:

  • cognitive skills – like math and problem solving in a pretend grocery store

  • physical abilities – like balancing blocks and running on the playground

  • new vocabulary – like the words they need to play with toy dinosaurs

  • social skills – like playing together in a pretend car wash

  • literacy skills – like creating a menu for a pretend restaurant

2. Play is healthy.

Play helps children grow strong and healthy. It also counteracts obesity issues facing many children today.


3. Play reduces stress.

Play helps your children grow emotionally. It is joyful and provides an outlet for anxiety and stress.


4. Play is more than meets the eye.

Play is both simple and complex. There are many types of play: symbolic, sociodramatic, functional, and games with rules-–to name just a few. Researchers study play’s many aspects, such as: how children learn through play, how outdoor play impacts children’s health, the effects of screen time on play, and the need for recess in the school day.

5. Make time for play.

As parents, you are the biggest supporters of your children’s learning. You can make sure they have as much time to play as possible during the day to promote cognitive, language, physical, social, and emotional development.


6. Play and learning go hand-in-hand.

Play and learning are not separate activities: they are intertwined. Think about them as a science lecture with a lab. Play is the child’s lab.


7. Play outside.

Remember your own outdoor experiences of building forts, playing on the beach, sledding in the winter, or playing with other children in the neighborhood? Make sure your children create outdoor memories too.


8. There’s a lot to learn about play.

There’s a lot written on children and play. Check out the NAEYC website for recommended articles and books about play. David Elkind’s The Power of Play (Da Capo, 2007 reprint) is an excellent book to start.


9. Trust your own playful instincts.

Remember as a child how play just came naturally? Give your children time for play and see all that they are capable of when given the opportunity.

10. Play is a child’s context for learning.

Children practice and reinforce their learning in multiple areas during play. It gives them a place and a time for learning that cannot be achieved through completing a worksheet. For example, in playing restaurant, children write and draw menus, set prices, take orders, and make out checks. Play provides rich learning opportunities and leads to children’s success and self-esteem.


Courtesy of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) 

*Laurel Bongiorno, Ph.D., is the director of Champlain College’s graduate program in Early Childhood Education with specializations in teaching and administration, in Burlington, Vermont. She has taught preschool, directed early childhood programs, and studied parents’ perceptions of preschoolers’ learning through play.


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