learning library: free play studies

Play : Essential For All Children

Joan Packer Isenberg, Nancy Quisenberry
ACEI, Association for Childhood Education International
1988, Updated 2002

Play – a dynamic, active, and constructive behavior – is an essential and integral part of all children’s healthy growth, development, and learning across all ages, domains, and cultures.

Theorists, regardless of their orientation, concur that play occupies a central role in children’s lives. They also suggest that the absence of play is an obstacle to the development of healthy, creative individuals.

Psychoanalysts believe that play is necessary for mastering emotional traumas or disturbances; psychosocialists believe it is necessary for ego mastery and learning to live with everyday experiences; constructivists believe it is necessary for cognitive growth; maturationists believe it is necessary for competence building and for socializing functions in all cultures of the world; and neuroscientists believe it is necessary for emotional and physical health, motivation, and love of learning.

Download the Full Paper >


Developmentally Appropriate Practice & Play

C. Copple, S. Bredekamp
National Association for the Education of Young Children

For children 3 years and onward play is one of the most important vehicles for developing self-regulation as well as promoting language development, cognition or understanding situations, and social competence.

Additionally, play enables children to develop fine and gross motor skills, practice math and science, and experience a sense of achievement. Longer periods of child interaction, higher levels of child to child involvement, more cooperation, ability to vision or picture situations, and control and self-regulation greatly aid the physical and mental development of children.

Higher level learning during play does not occur on its own – teacher or supervisor led situations help guide learning.

Download the Full Paper >


School Recess & Group Classroom Behavior

Romina Barros, MD, Ellen Silver PhD, Ruth Stein, MD
Pediatrics, The Official Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Children need free play at home and at school. During free play, children increase their imagination and creativity, organize their own games, develop their own rules, learn problem solving skills, and practice leadership.

In school recess represents an opportunity for free play. Recess provides discretionary time and opportunity for children to engage in physical activity. Post recess – after an opportunity for free play – young students (ages 8-9) were able to better focus attention on teachers and assigned tasks and were less fidgety in the classroom. A break of at least 15 minutes daily increased proper classroom behavior and boosted academic scores.

Download the Full Paper >


Promoting Creativity For Life Using Open-Ended Materials

Walter Drew, EdD, Baji Rankin, EdD
Young Children Magazine
July, 2004

Play and the creative arts in early childhood programs are essential ways children communicate, think, feel, and express themselves. Children will succeed developmentally when they have access to a variety of creative, free form play objects and are surrounded by adults who believe in the competence of children and are committed to their success in expressing themselves.

In this era of school performance standards and skill-based, outcome based education, it is more important than ever for educators and families to articulate the values and support the creativity of play and exploration as ways to meet and exceed these standards.

Download the Full Paper >


The State Of Play : Principals On School Recess

The Robert Wood Johnson Foundation

Principals overwhelmingly believe play and school recess has a positive impact not only on the development of children social skills, but also on achievement and learning at school.

Study recommendations include – education policy makers need to take play seriously – schools should enhance recess to improve the school learning climate – best way to improve recess is to improve the children’s play equipment as well as staff availability and training.

Download the Full Paper >


Play and Literacy Learning

Stuart Reifel, Kyunghee Moon
University of Texas, Austin, Contemporary Issues in Childhood Learning

It is well documented that play is an important vehicle for children’s social, emotional, and cognitive development – as well as a visible, measurable reflection of this development.

Children engage more during play – thus they have the opportunity to learn more from others. Play is a comfortable way for children to learn – it focuses children natural peer learning in social situations.
In play children create, explore, experience – play encourages free choices, self-discovery, theme creation – there are no right or wrong answers.

Children’s ability to learn and develop during play can be based largely on the play materials and equipment provided – as well as the role models. Props and unstructured toys help stretch the overall play experience.

Adult interaction during play – to prompt learning situations – can be helpful.

Download the Full Paper >


Crisis In The Kindergarten : Why Children Need To Play In School

Edward Miller, Joan Almon
Alliance For Children

The importance of play to young children’s healthy development and learning has been documented beyond question by research. Yet play is rapidly disappearing from kindergarten and early education. Stifling play has dire consequences – not only for children but for our nation’s future – the damage must be reversed now.

Too many schools are placing a double burden on children. First, they heighten stress by demanding they master academic material beyond their developmental level. Then, they deprive children of their chief means of dealing with that stress – creative play.

Download the Full Article >


The Importance Of Free Play To Children’s Development

Pei-San Brown, John Sutterby, James Therrell, Candra Thornton
2011 (republished)

Each one of these four categories—cognitive, social, physical, and emotional—plays an important part in the development of the whole child. Everyone needs to insure that children’s free play activities include opportunities for all these elements that are essential to their growth and success. Providing ample, healthy play opportunities fosters the unique potential of each child to learn and develop skills, concepts, and character in a way that only play can provide.

Download the Full Paper >


An investigation Of The Status Of Outdoor Play

Rhonda Clements
Hofstra University, Contemporary Issues In Early Childhood, Volume 5

Parents and educators agree that outdoor lay is a natural and critical part of a child’s healthy development. This study clearly indicates that when compared to a mothers play experiences today’s children spend considerably less time in outdoor and indoor play.

This study specifically indicates 5 findings :

  1. Today’s children play outdoors less than previous generations
  2. Children engage in different outdoor activities (less imaginative, made up games)
  3. More indoor than outdoor activities (more controlled environment)
  4. Increased use of video/television reduces outdoor play
  5. Mothers recognize the need for outdoor play (development of physical and motor skills, social skills, artistic and creative skills, stimulates cognitive skills).

All parents, early childhood professionals, and classroom teachers should seek to develop qualities reflecting eagerness, energy, curiosity, and playfulness. They regard the issue of increased outdoor play as one of major importance.

Download the Full Paper >


Preschool Peer Interactions and Readiness To Learn

Kathleen Coolahan, John Fantuzzo, Julia Mendez, Paul McDermott
Journal of Educational Psychology, American Psychological Association Journal

Promoting young children’s readiness to learn is a national priority. Our countries National Education Goals (1992) states that all American children will start school ready to learn by the year 2000.

Play has become identified as a critical part of child development. This study found that children with keen interaction skills developed during play (indoor and outdoor) had keen attention and engagement skills during lessons in the classroom.

Fostering peer interaction between children with varied levels of interactive play is a successful tool to aid in building longer-term engagement and competence in children.

Download the Full Paper >


The Importance Of Play In Promoting Healthy Child Development And Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds

Kenneth Ginsburg, MD
Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Journal of the American Academy of Pediatrics

Play is essential to child development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social, and emotional well-being of children and youth. Play is also an ideal opportunity for parents to engage fully with their children. Despite play benefits for children and parents, time for free play has been markedly reduced for children – hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, increased attention to academics, “enrichment” activates replacing recess are contributors to reducing creative play time.

Colleges are increasingly seeing a generation of students who appear to be manifesting increased signs of depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and stress.

So, since there is no easy “one size fits all” answer play advocates must surface to promote the implementation of strategies to insure healthy youth development and resiliency. Some of these strategies are community based, some schools based, but many reside within the family. Parents need to feel supported not to passively accept the media and advertising messages that suggest there are more valuable means of promoting success and happiness in children than the tried, trusted, and traditional methods of play and family togetherness.

Download the Full Paper >


The Vital Role Of Play In Childhood

Joan Almon
Waldorf Early Childhood Association, WECA of North America

Creative play is a central activity in the lives of healthy children – and by play I mean developmental, open ended and creative free play. The importance of free play, and its importance in children’s physical, social, emotional, and mental development is well documented.

Despite play’s importance it is being pushed out of children’s lives by electronic media, academic programs shifting younger in schools, and organized play activities.

Restoring play for children requires understanding and validating the root causes, creating advocacy groups among parents, educators, health professionals, and working within the community to create safe play spaces (grass, sand, water, hills, etc) and related adult supervision.

Download the Full Paper >


watch a video: "playwork: an introduction"

London playworker Penny Wilson talks about the importance of play to child development.