5 Reasons to Bring Back Playtime for Kids

Children need to play in order to grow up.

Isn’t it obvious? It should be, but sadly, children’s playtime keeps being cut back. In schools across the U.S., and in plenty of other countries too, youngsters are losing their recess and P.E. time because passing standardized tests is deemed more important than allowing children to play.

Yet, as educators know, learning and playing actually go hand-in-hand.

In his brilliant article, “The play deficit,” Peter Gray argues convincingly that, “If we love our children and want them to thrive, we must allow them more time and opportunity to play, not less.”

He goes on to say that, “At play, children learn the most important of life’s lessons, the ones that cannot be taught in school. To learn these lessons well, children need lots of play — lots and lots of it, without interference from adults.”

Why Do Kids Need to Play?

1. Creative Development: Albert Einstein is said to have hated school, but referred to his achievements in theoretical physics as “combinatorial play.” By playing and exploring in their own ways, children have the opportunity to develop their creativity. Adult involvement — for example, through adult-directed sports or when parents sign their kids up for classes or become too fearful of letting their kids go out to play with other kids – hampers such creative development.

2. Mental Health: Gray argues in his article that over the same decades that children’s play has been declining, childhood mental disorders have been increasing. He shows that there has been a continuous increase in anxiety and depression in young people over the decades. He further says that: “the rates of what today would be diagnosed as generalized anxiety disorder and major depression are five to eight times what they were in the 1950s. Over the same period, the suicide rate for young people aged 15 to 24 has more than doubled, and that for children under age 15 [it] has quadrupled.”

3. Social Development: Children need to play together in order to sort out their issues and learn how to get along with each other. Several studies reveal that as play amongst children has declined, so has the ability to empathize with others (i.e., to see things from another person’s point of view and to experience what that person experiences). Instead of being directed by adults, children need to learn for themselves the skills of leadership, negotiation and compromise.

4. Cognitive Development: The pace of play is self-regulated and thus can increase attention span and stimulate the senses. Any teacher knows that young people do not do well if they are forced to sit still for long periods of time. They need to get up and move around to keep that oxygen flowing. But instead, the movement in education is to push for ever more standardized tests and all the preparation that they require.

5. Physical Development: Playing outside may keep our youngsters in better shape and help in the fight against obesity. Seventeen percent of U.S. children between the ages of 2 and 19 are obese, so this is a huge issue. Try watching a group of children in a wooded area as they run, jump and climb over things. They are exercising and staying fit, and it all comes naturally to them. But are our schools listening? No, 40 percent of elementary schools across the country have either cut back on recess or cut it out altogether.

Children are stuck between a rock and a hard place: either pressured by schools to pass tests or over-protected by helicopter parents who won’t let go.

Just let them play!

Photo Credit: Thinkstock, Photo Credit: D Sharon Pruitt, Photo Credit: U.S. Army, Photo Credit: Fort Meade

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Donna Ferguson
Donna F.1 years ago


Kathy Perez
Kathy Johnson2 years ago

their play is equivalent to our work

Sarah Hill
Sarah Hill2 years ago

This is why they need to bring recess back into the school day.

Annabel B.
Annabel Bland2 years ago

Totally agree. Kids are meant to play, without adults always telling them what to do. The nearby elementary school doesn't even let the kids play tag at recess because they're scared someone's going to get pushed down. Playing is the most natural thing to a kid, even if they do (and most do) get hurt sometimes.

Meta Reid
Meta Reid2 years ago

There is an easy way to help kids. Have every elementary school do recess first and then follow it with lunch (there are studies to support this idea). And it's only a scheduling process, not even a terribly complicated one either!

Ganaisha Calvin
Ganaisha Calvin2 years ago

thanks so much for sharing

A F.
A F.2 years ago

Play time is so needed! And not online play or game console play. I mean interactive, "people" play, creative play, etc. Adults need it too. With the stresses of the world, and the growing of the internet, isolation, etc. we need FORCE ourselves to get out more if we don't already. Breathe the air and throw the frisbee, interact with other humans, play a "thinking" party game with dinner guests, etc.

People laugh at roleplaying games, but they can be great excuses to think and get together with other folks. Pretending to be someone else is always good fun. Home games like charades, trivia, etc. or even various card and board games are a great way to get your brain to work in different ways and enjoy yourself at the same time.

Suzan F.
Suzan F.2 years ago

Fat, lazy kids with a 4-foot wide butt. Reason enough!

Amanda M.
Amanda M.2 years ago

Harriet B, I agree wholeheartedly! If I had a dollar for every time my husband and kids were kicking back watching TV or playing outside while I was still stuck in the house cleaning up or doing whatever other chores I had, I'd be a rich woman! I NEVER get to play anymore, and I think I forgot how!

And people still continue to insist that stay-at-home moms don't deserve a paycheck or evenings/weekends off, sick leave, and vacation time!

Natasha Salgado
Natasha Salgado2 years ago

Thank you