An Introduction to Play
This article was created by Kallie Crouch, our 2021 Spring Semester intern from the Front Street Writers program at the TBAISD Career-Tech Center.
Click on the underlined words for hyperlinks to other sources or check out the list of resources at the end of this article to learn more about play!
Play is a fundamental part of child development that sets the tone for a lifetime. These far-reaching effects make it crucial that children experience a rich variety of play throughout their childhood. It is for this reason that PoWeR! Book Bags works to promote play of all kinds in all ages.
Why is play so important? Play researcher Stuart Brown notes that play helps establish empathetic and intimate connections in children as young as infants. One of our earliest experiences with play, he notes, is that first interaction between parent and child, when the parent smiles at their child, and the child smiles and laughs in response. In this situation, both parent and child are playing, though it doesn’t look like the traditional image of play.
When we picture play, we may think of kids going outside to play-fight or engage in rough-and-tumble play. We may imagine them building forts out of sticks, digging in sand boxes, running around a playground, digging for worms, or otherwise being active and getting dirty. It is true that these activities are important forms of play. Focusing solely on them, however, provides an incomplete view of the diverse nature of play.
Play can take the form of conversation between friends, a shared joke, or even reading and writing. Play experts agree that the one thing that defines play is that it seems to have no purpose or reason. When someone plays, it’s simply for the sake of doing it. Engaging in play often and regularly also serves as a way for children and adults alike to learn what brings them pleasure and to honor that in their day-to-day lives.
Experts on play also agree that there are countless benefits of play. Evidence shows that people who were able to adequately play as children are more empathetic, develop better social skills, and build stronger interpersonal relationships and a better sense of community. Children can also learn how to problem-solve through play because the rapidly changing environment of play requires children to adapt to shifting circumstances—a skill that translates into their lives as adults.
Resources for Play
Follow the links below to learn more about play, its benefits, the types of research being conducted to better understand it, and the people who conduct that research.
Taking Play Seriously - Children and Youth - Play - Development - Science - The New York Times (nytimes.com)
Robin Marantz Henig speaks with play expert Stuart Brown and dives into years of play research to learn more about why play should be taken seriously. The article explores everything from the way we invite play with others to the impacts play has on our lives. Additionally, Henig dives into the history of play research and the way in which our understanding of play has developed over time.
The National Institute for Play - National Institute for Play (nifplay.org)
The National Institute for Play, founded by Stuart Brown, is a non-profit with the goal of spreading information about the benefits of play. Their website shares their vision, the science behind the importance of play, and opportunities presented by play.
The Science of Play - The Science of Play | Radiolab | WNYC Studios
Radiolab presents this short, multimedia article about what goes into the science of play. The webpage features a short article paired with clips of audio from an interview with neuroscientist Jaak Panksepp. The article references observations of play in other species and research performed to attempt to understand how play helps shape brain development.
The Practice of Play with Dr. Stuart Brown - The Practice of Play with Dr. Stuart Brown | Taking Charge of Your Health & Wellbeing (umn.edu)
The University of Minnesota published this short article on play and an interview with Dr. Stuart Brown as a part of their “Taking Charge of your Health & Wellbeing” series. The article provides some background into Stuart Brown’s work with play and is followed by an interview with Stuart Brown that answers some common questions about play and its importance.
Play is More than Just Fun - Stuart Brown: Play is more than just fun | TED Talk
Dr. Stuart Brown speaks about taking play seriously in this TED Talk. In this video, he discusses the benefits of play for children and adults alike. He also covers his history of play research, the many different types of play, and how play is mirrored in different species throughout the animal kingdom.
Press Play: TED Radio Hour - Press Play : TED Radio Hour : NPR
NPR’s TED Radio Hour presents an episode on play, filled with a variety of speakers who all have witnessed or researched the benefits of play.
The Strong National Museum of Play - Brian Sutton-Smith Library & Archives of Play | The Strong (museumofplay.org)
The Strong Museum was founded by Brian Sutton-Smith, a preeminent play scholar. The museum’s website has access to a variety of resources devoted to the history of play for you to explore.
The American Journal of Play - American Journal of Play |
The American Journal of Play is the first of its kind—a journal dedicated to the study of play and featuring some of the most recent play research. On the journal’s website, there are countless articles, book reviews, and access to previous issues. The articles explore play in all of its forms, from online gaming to the play we observe in other animals.
Play Time: A Podcast on Children and Play Therapy - Play Time: A Podcast on Children and Play Therapy on Stitcher
Play Time is a podcast hosted by a play therapist for listeners curious about play therapy and the common experiences of children who go into play therapy. The podcast already has 70+ episodes focusing on a variety of topics, and it’s updated regularly. On top of that, the episodes are between ten and twenty minutes on average, with other episodes being between twenty and thirty minutes long. This valuable information is given to listeners in small, manageable chunks.
The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds - The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds | American Academy of Pediatrics (aappublications.org)
This article from the American Academy of Pediatrics discusses the benefits of play for the development of cognitive, physical, social, and emotional wellbeing of children, and how playing can benefit the relationship between children and their parents. The article also spends time discussing the things limiting play and how parents can ensure that their children are getting enough time to play when so many different things are demanding their attention at once.
The Genius of Play - 6 Benefits of Play & Young Kids - Physical, Emotional, Social, More (thegeniusofplay.org)
The Genius of Play website features a variety of resources. From information about play and its benefits, to ideas for games, to advice from experts, toy guides, and so much more. The website includes games that your child can play online on their own or with your help, and there are additional ideas for games your child can play off the computer.
What We Can Learn From Brian Sutton-Smith - What We Can Learn From Brian Sutton-Smith - Pacific Standard (psmag.com)
This Pacific Standard article was written shortly after Brian Sutton-Smith, a prominent play scholar, passed away and details his life’s work with play. Kate Wheeling, the author of the article, ties Sutton-Smith’s work with play to his own personality and good-humor in order to inform readers of the things we can learn from his work.