28 August 2017

Coming to the end of the summer holidays, it’s tempting to start the back-to-school rush: running errands, setting up after school clubs, and wondering whether that really is all the homework the school set for the vacation. With that in mind, we wanted to share ten facts about play which have been revealed by scientists and psychologists, amongst others…

Photo of a colourful toy brain

1. Play is necessary for brain development. Physical play and exploration is thought to trigger the release of BDNF, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells, according to scientists.

2. Physical play can be better for physical development than a weekly sports activity. Regular informal play can build stamina as well as strength, coordination, and balance, and jumping further contributes to bone density.

3. By parents or other family members participating in the playful activity, adults are given a unique opportunity to see the world from their child’s view. It helps adults to communicate more effectively with children, as well as build stronger relationships.

4. Play is integral to the academic environment. It enhances the social and emotional development of children and therefore helps them adjust to the school setting and interacting with other students.

5. The right to play is actually a human right: the United Nations Committee on the Rights of the Child says that children have a ‘right to play’ (Article 31).

6. A deprivation of play can be just as important as other key factors in predicting criminal behaviour in adulthood, according to a large-scale study in America.

7. Free play prompts changes in the way the neurons in the prefrontal cortex of the brain are wired. This sort of brain development has a critical role in regulating emotions and solving problems. Organised play (such as sports activities or PE) doesn’t stimulate this change, meaning free play is more useful for development than Physical Education!

8. Risk is a necessary part of play. Play gives children the chance and control to make mistakes in a somewhat controlled context, improving the ability to master new tasks, conquer fear, and develop risk-benefit analysis from a young age.

9. Lack of play is a causative factor in the rise of mental ill health in young people. As early as the 1990’s, health organisations were making links between increased mental illness amongst children and a lack of time and opportunity to play.

10. Play is intrinsic to adult relationships. Sharing laughter and fun with another person can foster empathy, trust, and intimacy – with a significant other, a friend, or a stranger. For adults, play can be a state of mind which is key in building relationships and community.