The Power of Play

The Power of Play

In recent decades, play began to look like an endangered species.  Funding cutbacks and a laser focus on academics forced elementary schools to slash recess and kindergarten to replace play with workbooks. Meanwhile, kids of all ages became glued to devices that can process data at amazing speeds but can’t play hide and seek.

But the American Academy of Pediatrics has an important message: It’s time to put the play back in childhood. Playtime that stimulates young brains and gets young bodies moving is too important to lose. The exercise kids get when playing also helps protect them against obesity and makes it easier for them to learn and concentrate in school.

In addition, play may have special benefits for children with ACEs. A recent report from the Academy notes that the mutual joy and shared bonds that parents and children experience during play can calm the body’s response to stress. That makes play a healthy antidote to aggressiveness and uncontrolled emotions.

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As the Academy spells out in its report “The Power of Play,” imaginative play is fun, spontaneous, and full of magic and “joyous discovery” — all crucial ingredients for healthy brain development. Kids aren’t wasting time when lost in their own world: They’re laying the foundation for healthy minds, bodies, and relationships.

Those little guys playing ship in an empty box? They’re taking risks, experimenting, and testing boundaries. They’re also learning collaboration, negotiation, and a sense of control, along with a good dose of decision-making, creativity, and leadership, the report says. Put simply, play teaches kids how to get along with other people, develop empathy and solve conflicts – things many adults could stand to learn.

Play is so crucial to child development, in fact, that the Academy is even calling on pediatricians to write prescriptions for it. Here are some of the AAP’s ideas for encouraging your kids to play:

Play back-and-forth games with your little ones. Games like peek-a-boo, hide-and-seek, and tag teach kids about social cues and give them a feeling of security, according to the AAP.

Keep it simple. The last thing parents need to do is go out and buy a bunch of new toys. Whatever you have around the house is best: balls, empty boxes, old clothes for dress-up games, dirt and trees. The child will supply imagination.


Take it outside. Outdoor play promotes “sensory integration”—the ability to process all of the five senses. But nearly half of American preschoolers did not go outside to play with mom or dad, according to the report. If your neighborhood is safe, try to spend some time in nature with your child every day.

Allow for some rough and tumble play. Don’t try to eliminate all risk, the AAP advises. Sure, every child is a winner, but it’s okay for everyone to learn how to lose graciously.

Bring back recess. Encourage your school to let young children play outdoors every day. Research shows countries with more recess enjoy better academic success. On top of that, the AAP noted, recess is the best place for children to make friends with people of diverse backgrounds.


Resnick M. (2017).  Lifelong Kindergarten: Cultivate Creativity Through Projects, Passion, Peers, and Play. Cambridge, MA: MIT Press.

Yogman, M., et al. (2018, September). The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics 142 (3). Retrieved from