The Power of Play

Posted by: The Lehigh Valley JCC

“When you ask me what I did at school today, and I say “I just played’, please don’t misunderstand me. For, you see, I’m learning as I play. I’m learning to enjoy and be successful in my work. I’m preparing for tomorrow. Today, I am a child and my work is play.”

“Just Playing” poem by Anita Wadley

The concept of “playtime” dates back all the way to the beginning of a child’s life, when we are trying to adapt to our world as newborns. At just a few months old, infants play with reachable items mostly in their hands and mouths. As they grow into toddlers, they develop playful associations with inanimate objects, such as holding up a piece of spaghetti and declaring it a worm.


Unfortunately in today’s world, playtime has often taken a backseat to other activities that politicians and administrators have deemed more important for educational success. As a result, many schools have reported reduced recess time in the last couple of decades, as the pressure has increased to include more lessons as part of the curriculum.


However, many educators are pushing back on this idea, and urging schools to include more unstructured playtime.  Several studies have showed numerous benefits for children with more free time in school, versus time spent in an organized learning environment.


To level-set the importance of playtime, the American Academy of Pediatrics states, “play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.” 


Additionally, the American Journal of Play  states that “adults who disdain play as a waste of time should understand that by encouraging their youngsters’ predispositions for fantasy, imagination, and creativity, they are indeed providing the mental tools required in the long term for success in areas such as math and science.”


Let’s take a closer look at some of the biggest benefits of free playtime below:


  • Free play among children helps promotes imagination, creativity, and learning skills. Little ones can create their own worlds, step into adult roles and work out problems or fears that may exist in the back of their minds. “Pretend play” is a huge part of this, as many children love to play imagination games where they are free to be characters they watch and admire (mom, dad, a fireman, a puppy, etc.)


  • Playtime also builds critical social and physical skills, such as working in groups, learning to share, and developing compassion for others. They also learn to be advocates for themselves and for what they believe is right in the world. Physically, playtime helps build healthy bodies, as children have the freedom to move and run around as they wish. This can go a long way toward building healthy habits and combating rising obesity rates.


  • Lastly, unstructured play builds critical bonding time with family. When parents watch a child play, they get a firsthand view of their child’s current thoughts and dreams. Parents can then use these insights to communicate with their child in a way the child understands. Nurturing that time together helps establish wonderful bonds for long-lasting relationships and developing trust. 


Here at the JCC of Lehigh Valley,  we are firm believers in the power of play for young children. While we do focus on key activities such as block building, language arts, science and math, music and movement, we also very much focus on free play, dramatic play and outdoor play time.


For more information or to ask more questions about our curriculum, feel free to contact us here.


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