Playtime is fun, but what about real learning? There are some very important facts we should all know about the importance of play in early childhood settings.

The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Settings

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Playtime is fun, but what about real learning? There are some very important facts we should all know about the importance of play in early childhood settings. It’s super important to know if you are running a home daycare.

kids running outside playing a game and kids playing with paints outside

Play is vital for learning and development. Kids will succeed at their optimal levels if allowed enough free playtime. 

Time after time I hear parents saying, I want my kids to go to daycare in a place where they learn and not just play all day. Remember the importance of play including outdoor play.

Our public schools are being forced to spend most of their time preparing for testing and putting pressure on kids to perform. Society has gotten to the point that everything is about performance and not much attention is paid to creativity, happiness, life skills, or knowledge that is useful in making the world a better place.

Recesses are getting shorter, and our creative programs are getting cut. We are so focused on academics that we forgot to teach our kids how to say please and thank you, how to offer a friend a hand up when they fall, or how to think of new ideas in inventive ways.

child enjoying play in early childhood setting by climbing up a slide outside. Shes smiling and having fun.

If we continue on this path of pushing our kids to perform in these core areas, who is going to be the singers and songwriters of tomorrow? Who is going to discover the cure for cancer? Who is going to create the next great work of art?

And are these kids going to be so stressed or depressed that they will be unable to join the workforce and be productive members of our society? These are the questions I ask myself as I see our educational system steering further and further off course. The importance of play in early childhood settings is paramount!

Value of play in early childhood

Research shows free play increases literacy skills, memory, oral language, social development, self-regulation, and the ability to recognize symbols. It is linked to an increase in all areas of academic learning.  

Play in early childhood settings develops emotional well-being in people and helps children master their environment and overcome fears and bad experiences. Through play, children learn about people, themselves, their environment, and the world around them. Play is THE WAY children learn.

Why free play is so important

Play and interaction with others increase cooperation, negotiation skills, ability to play by the rules, and ability to take turns. Children explore spatial relationships, build motor skills, and gather information about their world through their senses during play.

Children who play in early childhood settings learn to solve problems, get along with others, build leadership skills, and enhance creativity through play. Play develops pre-reading and writing skills and is THE best foundation for success in school. Through healthy, fun, joyous play, children begin to develop a love of learning and prepare for real life. Dramatic play teaches kids so much.

Jeanne Bassis, the founder of PlayReflections® who offers “playshops” for adults, says “Play is not just about doing, it’s about being. Play is a state of grace, innocence, wonder, and creativity… and happens when anyone is truly living in the present tense.”  To check out what PlayReflections is all about, click here.

According to the Alliance for Childhood, “Overscheduling, emphasis on academics in preschool, too much sedentary screen time, lack of safe place spaces, and violent TV/movie-based toys all threaten healthy playtime, putting play at risk.

In the wave of expanding accountability in education, millions of preschoolers are taking standardized tests now; if children are taking more tests, then they are playing less.”  

Play is at serious risk in our society today, even though research is proving the power of play over and over again. It’s more important now than ever to support play for children in early childhood settings and beyond.

To foster play experiences for children in our care, we can offer plenty of free time and materials with which young children can try new things. We need to allow kids to be outdoors, let them ask questions, talk, sing, listen, read, explore and get messy.

We need to let them experiment. Also, we need to model a playful attitude and not be afraid to play with the kids and in front of them. We need to value play in early childhood and teach our parents the meaning and importance of play in their children’s lives. The play you support today prepares your children for the work, learning, and play they will have as adults.

The president of the American Association for the Child’s Right to Play and professor at Hofstra University, Dr. Rhonda Clements, says, “It is important to maintain a healthy sense of play throughout childhood and into adulthood.

Our complex society requires clear thinkers, playful attitudes, humor, and creativity for complex problem-solving.”  

When children enter the public school setting, they are not expected to be able to read a novel or do long division, but teachers are hoping children can be considerate, pay attention, and concentrate, which comes through interacting with other children during playtime.

If children enter school with these skills, they will be able to learn productively as will the other children in their classroom because disruptions and struggles will be at a minimum.

Play in today’s society is thwarted by TV, computers and video games as well as being overscheduled with activities day after day. There is a decreasing opportunity for play with neighborhood children and even siblings due to the current culture of busyness and lack of time outdoors.

Adult-directed activities have value, but when children are so overscheduled with them that they don’t have a chance to play, it can stunt their opportunity to experience multi-age play settings, which are important to developing skills children desperately need.

Bill Gates left Harvard because he loved computers. Toys of today become the technology of tomorrow. Imaginative play is the cornerstone for all learning, and we as caregivers to children in today’s society need to stand firm in our support of play!

Importance of play

As adults, we have a desperate need for play as well. Dr. Stuart Brown writes in Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, says “Play is not a waste of time but a catalyst. The benefits of getting just a little true play can spread through our lives, actually making us more productive and happier in everything we do. Play can become a doorway to a new self, one much more in tune with the world. Also, play is all about trying on new behaviors and thoughts, it frees us from established patterns. Learning to play isn’t the enemy of learning, it’s learning’s partner. Play is like fertilizer for brain growth.”

Dr. Brown also says, “The opposite of play is not work, the opposite of play is depression. Far from standing in opposition to each other, play and work are mutually supportive.

We need the newness of play, its sense of flow, and being in the moment. Also, we need the sense of discovery and liveliness it provides. And we also need the purpose of work, the economic stability it offers, the sense that we are doing service for others, and that we are needed and integrated into our world.

Without some sense of play, people usually can’t make themselves stick to any discipline long enough to master it. People reach for the highest levels of discipline because they are driven by love, fun, and by play. Tiger Woods hits thousands of golf shots because he loves it, and he loves it because he plays at it, not works at it. The joy has to find its way to and us, and us to it.”

kids playing with dinosars and crocoldiles outside on the playground.

“Play lowers the level of violence in society and increases communication. Find the joy you have experienced some time in your life and you are halfway to learning how to create it again in your present life. It can also be a guide to free-flowing empowerment by identifying natural talents that may be dormant or that may have been bypassed.”

In my life, I remember I always loved writing and wanted to write, but outside influences told me writing was a waste of my time, I wasn’t good at it, and it was silly. So I gave it up.

But all of my adult life, I longed for the feeling I get when I write, so one day a few months ago, I picked it back up again, and the joy that has rushed into my soul since I opened that part of me back up has been unimaginable. I had no idea stifling my love for writing was stifling me in such a way.

But now I feel more complete and on my way to finding my true self once again. The feelings I felt as a child writing have resurfaced and come back into my heart and mind again. It is joy in its purest form.

Play is the work of childhood

Every day there are opportunities to find some sort of play in early childhood settings and beyond. Teasing a kitten with a feather, playing hide and seek with a child, stopping to enjoy some natural beauty in the world, like the smell of a rose, whatever it is that awakens that in you, do it!

Don’t worry about looking silly or undignified, this is a big obstacle many of us have to play. Thinking it’s irresponsible to play is also a misguided thought. Frivolous play is critical, it’s not a waste of your time.

Be emotionally free. I am very shy and reserved in a group of adults, but get me with my kids, alone, when no one else is around and we have a great time. When I play with kids, I don’t worry about my dance moves because my kids love them and they bring them joy.

I don’t worry about looking fat or nerdy because they love me and don’t judge me. And I don’t worry about my singing being off because they beg me to sing relentlessly which tells me they adore it. Be who you are. Even if you can’t do it everywhere all the time, find a place, and be YOU!

Kids playing outside, some swinging, some digging in pea gravel, some playing with a shopping cart, the importance of play in early childhood settings.

To get inspired to play again, author Tracy Hinton of Healthy, Playful Living says, “Play is fun! Now think about a fun time you had as an adult. For me, one that came immediately to my mind was rolling down a hill with the kids at a park here in town.

It is just a tiny incline, but a few years ago when I took the kids there, I asked them if any of them had ever rolled down a hill. None of them had, so of course, we had to do it. I plopped myself down on the ground and showed them how it was done, lol.

Now every time we go to that park, we have to roll down that hill. It is my hope that seeing me let loose and have fun rolling down hills will be a memory that sticks with these kids and they know that it is okay to play and be silly, even when you are a ‘grown-up’.” 

Get physical to bring on play. Throw a ball, take a walk, do some pushups, whatever, just move. It’s the most basic form of play and leads us to more play. People can enhance their personal pleasure through play. Play can give inner confidence and strength but also heal communities.

Dr. Brown says “Fun is your North Star, but you don’t always have to head north. Nourish your mode of play and be with people who nourish it too. Play helps you regain the mind of the child and better deal with the major problems and challenges we all face.

If your life has become barren, play brings it to life again. Play transcends love and work, infuses them with liveliness, and stills time’s arrow. Play is the preset expression of love.” When enough people raise play to the status it deserves in our lives, we will find the world a better place!

If you haven’t read it already, I suggest you pick up a copy of Dr. Brown’s book. It will change your perspective, your mind, and your life! To read more of Dr. Brown’s work check out his organization, National Institute for Play by clicking here.

Comment below about what kind of play you’ve rediscovered that has changed your life or something you have learned about play and the kids in your life.  I’d love to hear all about it.



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  1. This was a really great article. I’ll be sharing it soon.

    We home schooled our last three children TOTALLY, and did not start them in formal education until they were 8 years old. “Better Late Than Early: A New Approach to Your Child’s Education” by Raymond S. Moore was the catalyst that led to our decision. They learned so much through play and were up to grade level within two years. (Meaning that at age 10 they were doing 4th or 5th grade work)

    Our children were never bored, and are inventive, creative, musical and HAPPY! They also grew up to be successful adults, and boy, do they all know how to play!

    You will also note that the Seahawks have done so well the last three years because they have fun and LOVE PLAYING football. It will work in every area of your life.

    TIME TO PLAY!!! 😀

  2. I hope parents read this informative article on play. It seems the competitive spirit of the adults is damping the creative spirit of the children. Great read, even though I’m an Auntie and not a parent.

  3. Loved this article and all of your research! I love the quote, “Playing IS work.” For little ones especially, this is so true! Sometimes I get down on myself for not having a lot of structured “learning time” with my baby and toddler. But really, getting down there and playing with them seems to grow their hearts and minds so much more. Thanks for sharing!

  4. Thanks for such a wonderful well-written informative article. I enjoyed all the links you incorporated here. I believe that “play” is the lost art of “being”. Since play is so uniquely tied to the process of creativity surely it is linked to the purpose of our creation, to enjoy the created world with the Creator. The basis of play is surely foundational to trust, love, overcoming fear and the limitations that systems of society have thrown upon us humans! Bravo for articulating this so well in your blog.

  5. I am so glad to see someone publishing an article about this! I feel like play is so important for development. Also, learning THROUGH playing is one of the best ways to understand and retain the knowledge. So awesome, and a big reason why we will be homeschooling with the Charlotte Mason method with our kids as they get old enough… Thanks for sharing at the Homestead Blog Hop this week!

  6. GREAT article Christina. I just wrote an article for the OKC Moms Blog about being the best teacher you can for your child and a big part of it is playtime. I recently attended a homeschool conference where several of the lectures where centered on learning thru play and how boys, especially, need that activity to learn. Since the conference, we start everyday with free play while I read out loud. The kids can play with anything quietly while they listen to the story. I have also added more game time into school with math games, 20 questions, and plenty of outside time when it’s not freezing outside.

    1. I’m so glad to hear that the homeschooling culture is learning about the importance of play. I admire that you homeschool your kids as well. It’s a tough job, but oh so worth it! It’s great that you’ve used the information you learned to improve the environment for your kids. Thank you so much for reading and for your comment! I am very excited for people to get this information!