Importance of Play in Early Childhood (9 Benefits & Infographic) (2022)

In this article, we will look at nine amazing benefits of play in child development. We will also review research results that highlight the importance of children play.

Importance of Play in Early Childhood

Why is play important for children?

Many parents intuitively know the importance of play in child development, but despite its many benefits, we rarely associate play with learning.

For most people, learning involves acquiring a specificnew skill, such as memorizing alphabets, counting, writing, etc. They oftenbelieve that playing is only for fun and involves no actual learning.

However, according to studies, playing is learning. Children learn through play experiences.

The importance of play in early childhood education cannot be underestimated because learning through play is essential to a child’s growth.

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Importance of Play in Early Childhood (9 Benefits & Infographic) (2)

9Benefits of Play

1. Stimulate Early Brain Development

Child play can promote brain development in many ways, including providing the child with a better understanding of the world and setting the groundwork for later brain growth​1​.

At birth, infants’ brains are equipped with an overabundance of brain cell connections (synapses). Synapse overproduction allows information captured from the early years to build a foundation for the brain.

An environment enriched with play, sensory play, and play toys provide the perfect life experiences as building blocks. Lack of play will cause the neuron connections related to play to be lost.

Neuroscientists discovered that enrichment such as toys, games, and playing can alter a brain’s chemistry and the child’s development. The brain area associated with higher cognitive processing (the cerebral cortex) can benefit from environmental enrichment and children’s play more than other parts of the brain​2​.

2. Improve Intelligence

Early playing also has an important role in a child’s intellectual development.

One study by the University of Arkansas shows that regularly offering toys to infants to play with leads to higher IQ by age three​3​. Later, psychologist Edward Fisher analyzed 46 studies done on playing. He found that playing could enhance a child’s cognitive, linguistic, and social development​4,5​.

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3. Spark Creative Thinking

Perhaps the most obvious benefit of playing is that it increasesa child’s creativity.

Creativity is closely tied to divergent thinking, which is the thought process that explores many possible solutions and generates new ideas. Many studies have found that playing is highly associated with divergent thinking.

To test this association in a study, researchers randomly assigned 52 children, aged six to seven, to two activities. In the first activity, the children copied text from a chalkboard. In the second, the children played with salt-dough​6​.

Later, all the children were asked to perform acreative project. A panel of ten judges found that the projects created by thechildren in the salt-dough group had higher creative qualities than those inthe other group.

Other studies have also associated free play, especially imaginative play, with significant improvement in divergent thinking​7,8​.

Free play or independent play is an unstructured form of play that encourages children to design their own play​9​. Pretend play requires a child to imagine scenarios and then act them out. The freedom of these types of play allows children to be creative​10,11​.

Imagination fuels creativity and some studies have also found that creative adolescents tend to have had imaginary friends in childhood​12​.

Importance of Play in Early Childhood (9 Benefits & Infographic) (4)

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Importance of Play in Early Childhood (9 Benefits & Infographic) (5)

4. Improve Communication, Vocabulary,and Language

The link between early play and later communicationskills is evident in research, too.

One study sought to understand whether communication could benefit from play. Researchers observed what happened when an infant began playing with a toy. They found that if the mother responded by manipulating and naming the toys, the baby – when tested three months later – would have better language skills​13​.

Another study, conducted by the University of Georgia, observed sixty-five kindergartners in their classrooms over four weeks. The presence of play, especially dramatic play, was found to predict performance in pre-reading, language, and writing​14​.

Pretend-play is especially beneficial because it allows young children to practice new vocabulary when they speak and try to understand others. During social play, they often reciprocate each other’s words and actions to reach agreements​15​.

5. Promote Impulse Control and EmotionRegulation

Self-regulation is one of the most important skills for school readiness. Well-regulated children can wait for a turn, resist the temptation to grab objects from other children, control negative emotions, and persist through challenging activities.

In a New Zealand study, psychologists examined how children handled negative events during pretend plays. They found that children who had more pretend plays with their caregivers were better at regulating their emotions to continue playing​16,17​.

Emotion regulation is not only essential for academic success but also for the psychosocial aspects of child development. It is a strong predictor of a child’s social success​18​. In preschool, children who exhibit better emotional control are more likable and socially competent​19​.

Importance of Play in Early Childhood (9 Benefits & Infographic) (6)

6. Grow Social Competence and Empathy

Playing is crucial in enhancing social development in children. Unstructured active play with others – including parents, siblings, and peers – is a significant opportunity to cultivate social skills. While playing, the act of pretending as well as negotiating with peers enhances children’s social skills​20​.

Playing also provides opportunities for children to learn social interaction. Wehile playing together, children learn to cooperate, follow the rules, develop self-control, and generally get along with other people.

Psychologists found that the amount and complexity of fantasy play by preschoolers significantly predicted their social skills and popularity, as well as their positive social activity​21​.

Playful children tend to be happier, better adjusted,more co-operative, and more popular with their peers than those who play less.

Children who play more also develop more empathy, another essential element that advances social skills. Such children grow to have a better understanding of other people’s feelings and beliefs.

7. Better Physical and Mental Health

We already know that play promotes a child’s emotional development. Emotional intelligence is vital for a child’s resilience and mental health.

Playing that involves physical activities also promotes gross motor skills, strength, endurance, and physical health.

8. Teach Life Lessons

Play helps children develop problem solving skills.

When children act out life’s problems in pretend-playing, it helps them cope with the struggles in their own ways. It also provides a safe opportunity for children to rehearse skills and future social roles.

When children try out various roles, they learn to take on different perspectives, which will further assist them in abstract thinking​22​.

Also See: Parten’s 6 Social Stages of Play and Why They Are Important

Importance of Play in Early Childhood (9 Benefits & Infographic) (7)

9. Strengthen Relationship withCaretakers and Peers

Parents who play with their children form a stronger bond with them. Even simple games like scavenger hunts can become a special bonding moment for both parents and children. These interactions provide positive life experiences that stimulate children’s brain development.

Last but not least, happy, playful moments are some ofthe most precious gifts we can give our children.

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Final Thoughts on Play

Because play is imperative in a child’s development, play-based preschools may provide a better learning environment than other alternatives​23​. When choosing a preschool, parents should pay attention to how classes are conducted, whether the “play to learn” approach is used, and how much free-play is allowed. Creating a Montessori home is also a good alternative.

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    Rosenzweig M, Bennett E. Psychobiology of plasticity: effects of training and experience on brain and behavior. Behav Brain Res. 1996;78(1):57-65. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/8793038.

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    Diamond M. Response of the brain to enrichment. An Acad Bras Cienc. 2001;73(2):211-220. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/11404783.

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    Elardo R, Bradley R, Caldwell BM. The Relation of Infants’ Home Environments to Mental Test Performance from Six to Thirty-Six Months: A Longitudinal Analysis. Child Development. March 1975:71. doi:10.2307/1128835

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    Fisher EP. The impact of play on development: A meta-analysis. Play & Culture. 1992;5(2):159-181.

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    Howard-Jones P, Taylor J, Sutton L. The Effect of Play on the Creativity of Young Children During Subsequent Activity. Early Child Development and Care. August 2002:323-328. doi:10.1080/03004430212722

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    Holmes RM, Romeo L. Gender, play, language, and creativity in preschoolers. Early Child Development and Care. November 2013:1531-1543. doi:10.1080/03004430.2012.733381

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    Russ SW, Wallace CE. Pretend play and creative processes. American Journal of Play. 2013;6(1):136-148.

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    Burdette HL, Whitaker RC. Resurrecting Free Play in Young Children. Arch Pediatr Adolesc Med. January 2005:46. doi:10.1001/archpedi.159.1.46

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    Dansky JL. Make-Believe: A Mediator of the Relationship between Play and Associative Fluency. Child Development. June 1980:576. doi:10.2307/1129296

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    Dansky JL, Silverman IW. Effects of play on associative fluency in preschool-aged children. Developmental Psychology. 1973:38-43. doi:10.1037/h0035076

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    Schaefer CE. Imaginary companions and creative adolescents. Developmental Psychology. 1969:747-749. doi:10.1037/h0028270

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    Newland LA, Roggman LA, Boyce LK. The development of social toy play and language in infancy☆ 3 3☆ This research was funded by a University Faculty Grant to Lori Roggman from the Vice President for Research at Utah State University, 1990–1992, by a College of Family Research Grant to Lori Roggman, 1998–2000, by a Fellowship to Lisa Newland from the Vice President for Research at Utah State University, 1997–1998, and by a College of Family Life Fellowship to Lisa Newland, 1998–2000. Infant Behavior and Development. January 2001:1-25. doi:10.1016/s0163-6383(01)00067-4

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    Pellegrini AD. The relationship between kindergartners’ play and achievement in prereading, language, and writing. Psychol Schs. October 1980:530-535. https://eric.ed.gov/?id=ej236155.

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    Lewis V, Boucher J, Lupton L, Watson S. Relationships between symbolic play, functional play, verbal and non-verbal ability in young children. Int J Lang Commun Disord. 2000;35(1):117-127. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/10824228.

    (Video) The benefits of a bilingual brain - Mia Nacamulli

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    Galyer KT, Evans IM. Pretend Play and the Development of Emotion Regulation in Preschool Children. Early Child Development and Care. January 2001:93-108. doi:10.1080/0300443011660108

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    Hoffmann J, Russ S. Pretend play, creativity, and emotion regulation in children. Psychology of Aesthetics, Creativity, and the Arts. May 2012:175-184. doi:10.1037/a0026299

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    Denham S, Blair K, DeMulder E, et al. Preschool emotional competence: pathway to social competence? Child Dev. 2003;74(1):238-256. https://www.ncbi.nlm.nih.gov/pubmed/12625448.

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    Mayberry ML, Espelage DL. Associations Among Empathy, Social Competence, & Reactive/Proactive Aggression Subtypes. J Youth Adolescence. July 2006:787-798. doi:10.1007/s10964-006-9113-y

  19. 20.

    Doyle A-B, Connolly J. Negotiation and enactment in social pretend play: Relations to social acceptance and social cognition. Early Childhood Research Quarterly. September 1989:289-302. doi:10.1016/0885-2006(89)90015-x

  20. 21.

    Connolly JA, Doyle A-B. Relation of social fantasy play to social competence in preschoolers. Developmental Psychology. 1984:797-806. doi:10.1037/0012-1649.20.5.797

  21. 22.

    Youngblade LM, Dunn J. Individual Differences in Young Children’s Pretend Play with Mother and Sibling: Links to Relationships and Understanding of Other People’s Feelings and Beliefs. Child Development. October 1995:1472. doi:10.2307/1131658

  22. 23.

    (Video) Why You Should Wake Up At 5:30 AM Every Day

    Diamond A, Barnett WS, Thomas J, Munro S. THE EARLY YEARS: Preschool Program Improves Cognitive Control. Science. November 2007:1387-1388. doi:10.1126/science.1151148

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FAQs

What are the 10 benefits of play? ›

The 10 Benefits of Play
  • It Builds a Healthy Body. ...
  • It Builds a Healthy Brain. ...
  • It Teaches Emotional Intelligence and Boosts Self-Esteem. ...
  • Play Builds Healthy Friendships and Romantic Relationships. ...
  • It Forges a Healthy Parent–Child Relationship. ...
  • It Teaches Cooperation. ...
  • Play Teaches Problem Solving. ...
  • It Stimulates Creativity.
8 Sept 2018

What are the importance and benefits of play? ›

Play improves the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and young people. Through play, children learn about the world and themselves. They also learn skills they need for study, work and relationships such as: confidence.

What is the importance of play based learning in early childhood education? ›

Through play, children can discover their own interests, abilities and limitations; they imagine, investigate and explore. They develop memory skills, build vocabulary, learn new skills and knowledge and learn how to get on with adults and other children.

What is the value of play in early childhood? ›

Play allows children to make connections between the physical world and abstract concepts. Playful learning experiences function as a modality for children to learn, practice, and master skills. Play is a zone of proximal development where adults can support the social development and learning of individual children.

What is play in early childhood? ›

Play is an activity where children show their remarkable ability for exploration, imagination and decision making. While play is often described as 'children's work', it is intensely enjoyable for them. The type of play children engage in and its purposes change over the course of childhood from infancy to adolescence.

Why is play important in kindergarten? ›

Playful learning helps children develop social relationships and connectivity, which are important to a child's persistence in school, love of learning, and self-efficacy. Play is essential to learning for all kindergartners. It can be academically rigorous and support gaps in a child's development.

Why is play important in the classroom? ›

When children engage in real‐life and imaginary activities, play can challenge children's thinking. Children learn best through first-hand experiences—play motivates, stimulates and supports children in their development of skills, concepts, language acquisition, communication skills, and concentration.

Why is it important for children to play games? ›

Research has shown that games are essential for healthy development in early childhood and beyond. Play lets children practise what they know, and also what they don't. It allows them to experiment through trial and error, find solutions to problems, work out the best strategies, and build new confidence and skills.

What are the 7 types of play? ›

The types of play include physical, dramatic, sensory, nature, music and art, and age-appropriate play. Children need the various types of play in order to support and facilitate meaningful learning opportunities as they develop language, motor, social, emotional, and cognitive abilities.

What are the important features of play? ›

Here are five elements essential to meaningful play that create those rich memories we treasure:
  • Children make their own decisions. ...
  • Children are intrinsically motivated. ...
  • Children become immersed in the moment. ...
  • Play is spontaneous, not scripted. ...
  • Play is enjoyable.

What are the 6 types of play? ›

Researcher Mildred Parten identified these six stages of play that children progress through.
...
Parten's six stages of play
  • Unoccupied play. ...
  • Solitary play. ...
  • Onlooker play. ...
  • Parallel play. ...
  • Associative play. ...
  • Cooperative play.
6 Oct 2015

What are the emotional benefits of play? ›

Emotional development: Especially in social and guided play, children learn self-regulation as they follow norms and pay attention while experiencing feelings such as anticipation or frustration. Play also teaches children how to set and change rules, and how to decide when to lead and when to follow.

How does play help a child's physical development? ›

Physical development

During play, children will learn to move, balance and lift things. This helps them develop the fundamental movement skills that will help them stay active in later life. As children get older, physical play will also help them to stay healthy and active. It also strengthens their bones and muscles.

How can play help to empower children? ›

The benefits of play can help your child to unleash their true potential of creativity, imagination and help them grow to become better individuals. Don't undermine it and concentrate on only the structured activities of your child.

What are the 5 types of plays? ›

Children learn and develop through different types of play.
  • Physical play. Physical play can include dancing or ball games. ...
  • Social play. By playing with others, children learn how to take turns, cooperate and share. ...
  • Constructive play. ...
  • Fantasy play. ...
  • Games with rules.

How do you support play in early childhood? ›

  1. Focus on the process (rather than the goal) of play. ...
  2. Elaborate and build on children's play or interests. ...
  3. Reflect the emotions children express in their play and actions. ...
  4. Define the problem. ...
  5. Provide varied materials to encourage exploration and play.
  6. Provide open-ended materials for play.
1 May 2009

Why is play important quote? ›

Play is our brain's favorite way of learning.” -Diane Ackerman. “Whoever wants to understand much must play much.” -Gottfried Benn. “The true object of all human life is play.” -G. K. Chesterton. “Children need the freedom and time to play.

Which is one role of play in the preschool and early childhood years? ›

Play is an important part of a child's early development. Playing helps young children's brains to develop and for their language and communication skills to mature. Simple games of peek-a-boo, shaking a rattle or singing a song are much more important than just a way to pass the time.

How can teachers use play to help children learn and develop? ›

In the primary grades, play opportunities enhance children's mastery of academic concepts and build motivation to learn. In fact, two of the most important things that play can develop are interest and motivation. Encouraging these in the early grades brings children on board in contributing to their own learning.

Why is it important for children to have fun? ›

It's widely recognised that play, fun and relaxation have a hugely important role to play in healthy brain development and it's often through fun new experiences that children have the opportunity to develop their emotional strength and resilience too.

Why is it important to play games answer? ›

Playing games also helps us in developing courage, determination and sportsmanship. Games help us to relax and refresh our minds. Our immune system becomes strong and diseases stay away from us. Sports combine physical exercise with entertainment.

Why should we play games give any five points? ›

Games are fun and source of positive emotions.

Games help us tap into positive emotions, like curiosity, optimism, creativity. You enjoy it just for the sake of enjoying. These emotions stay up hours after we play! Unless someone beats your high-score, of course..

What are the 8 types of play? ›

According to research by Dr. Stuart Brown, there are eight different types of play personalities: the joker, the kinesthete, the explorer, the competitor, the director, the collector, the artist/creator, and the storyteller.

What is the purpose of plays? ›

The Function of Plays

Plays introduce audiences to characters, settings, and situations they might not encounter in their everyday lives; or, if they do encounter them, plays may inspire new ways of thinking about these subjects.

What are the 12 features of play? ›

  • Bruce's 12 Features Of Play.
  • Children Use. Experiences.
  • Children. Create Rules.
  • Children. Use Symbols.
  • Children Choose. To Play.
  • Children Rehearse. Their Future.
  • Children Play. Alone Sometimes.
  • Children. Pretend.

What are the 7 principles of play? ›

According to education writer David Sobel, there are seven principles of natural play: adventure; fantasy and imagination; animal allies; maps and paths; special places; small worlds; and hunting and gathering.

Why are the stages of play important? ›

Young children develop their social skills through the six stages of play, all of which are important for their development. All of the stages of play involve exploring, being creative, and having fun. Watch to see how children's play changes by age as they grow and develop social skills.

What is the first stage of play? ›

Unoccupied Play

In the first few months of life children typically begin this first common form of play. This is the stage of development where babies or young children seemingly make a lot of random movements with their arms, legs, hands, and feet, but they do not engage with others.

What are the 5 stages of child development? ›

What Are the Five Stages of Early Childhood Development?
  • In general, the five stages of early childhood development are as follows:
  • Newborn.
  • Infant.
  • Toddler.
  • Preschooler.
  • School-age child.
8 Jul 2022

How does play benefit a child's physical development? ›

During play, children will learn to move, balance and lift things. This helps them develop the fundamental movement skills that will help them stay active in later life. As children get older, physical play will also help them to stay healthy and active. It also strengthens their bones and muscles.

What are the benefits to play in all learning domains? ›

Playing in all learning domains helps children to develop important skills. These skills include cognitive skills, such as problem solving and critical thinking; social and emotional skills, such as cooperation and communication; and physical skills, such as coordination and fine motor skills.

How does play benefit a child's cognitive development? ›

Play and children's cognitive development

There is considerable evidence that playing helps support children's cognitive development. This includes the development of language skills, problem solving, gaining perspective, representational skills, memory and creativity.

Why playing with your child is important? ›

Play helps build strong relationships.

Playing together is one of the most effective tools for building strong relationships with your child too. Play adds joy, vitality, and resilience to relationships. It can heal resentments, disagreements, and hurt. Through play, children learn to trust others and feel safe.

What are some physical benefits of play? ›

Physical activity has also been shown to contribute to brain growth and function and attention to academic subjects.
...
Physical benefits of play:
  • Fitness.
  • Strength.
  • Balance.
  • Dexterity.
  • Co-ordination.
  • Self-confidence.
  • Social skills.
  • Mood.

What are the 7 types of play? ›

The types of play include physical, dramatic, sensory, nature, music and art, and age-appropriate play. Children need the various types of play in order to support and facilitate meaningful learning opportunities as they develop language, motor, social, emotional, and cognitive abilities.

What are the emotional benefits of play? ›

Emotional development: Especially in social and guided play, children learn self-regulation as they follow norms and pay attention while experiencing feelings such as anticipation or frustration. Play also teaches children how to set and change rules, and how to decide when to lead and when to follow.

What are the advantages of play way method of teaching? ›

Advantages of Play-Way
  • Physical Value: The child develops the body through play. ...
  • Intellectual value: Learning is more effective when children are curious to learn. ...
  • Social Value: In play the students have a chance to live and work with others. ...
  • Emotional value: Play helps in stabilizing the emotions of children.
9 Nov 2011

Why is playtime so important? ›

Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development. It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.

Why is play important in school? ›

Play is essential for children's development, building their confidence as they learn to explore, to think about problems and relate to others. Children learn by leading their own play, and taking part in play which is guided by adults. Children learn though first-hand experience, in activities they have chosen.

Why is play important in kindergarten? ›

Playful learning helps children develop social relationships and connectivity, which are important to a child's persistence in school, love of learning, and self-efficacy. Play is essential to learning for all kindergartners. It can be academically rigorous and support gaps in a child's development.

What are the important features of play? ›

Here are five elements essential to meaningful play that create those rich memories we treasure:
  • Children make their own decisions. ...
  • Children are intrinsically motivated. ...
  • Children become immersed in the moment. ...
  • Play is spontaneous, not scripted. ...
  • Play is enjoyable.

What are the types of play in child development? ›

Types of play
  • Physical play. Physical play can include dancing or ball games. ...
  • Social play. By playing with others, children learn how to take turns, cooperate and share. ...
  • Constructive play. Constructive play allows children to experiment with drawing, music and building things. ...
  • Fantasy play. ...
  • Games with rules.

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