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The power of play

As children slog though grueling schedules of enrichment and academics, researchers have found a connection between brain development and the very thing kids are getting less of.

By Valle Dwight

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Fantastic findings

Whether it’s shooting pretend enemies or playing with a dollhouse, there’s a whole lot going on when young kids use their imagination in play. Pretend play uses many parts of the brain, including those that control language, movement, emotions, and cognition. It also helps kids explore new roles and figure out how things work and how they fit into the world. Research has shown that kids who spend lots of time engaged in pretend play are better abstract thinkers and more socially and linguistically competent. And you thought your child was just playing with dolls!

Studies have also found that pretend play is the foundation for more obviously  educational activities. It’s the building block to more-sophisticated games (in which kids add rules and play cooperatively) and ultimately things like team sports and board games.

Valle Dwight is a reporter, writer, and mother of two school-aged boys. She has written for many magazines, including FamilyFun, Wondertime, and Working Mother.

Comments from GreatSchools.org readers

11/14/2011:
"can you link me up with best school for power of play esp outdoors, she is smart, with emementary children, she is 10 years old, somewhere in houston tx or country (she already has an IEP under OHI) (public for adhd, social and behavior dyslexia and can't write (fine and gross? Her birth mom drank alchol and she has Alchol related nerological disorder, ODD and social skill lack of She needs peer researched theraputic recreatioinal play and behavor with a neurological approach to teaching. Thaks, Cindu "
10/1/2010:
"I LOVE this article!!! I have ALWAYS believed play was important. As a child I did not have the opportunity to play much outside because we lived in a not-so-good Brooklyn neighborhood and my parents were always afraid of the influences the neighborhood kids would have on us. So needless to say, I made poor choices in friendships later on as a teenager when I 'escaped' to freedom and longed for that fun play time I wanted so much as a child. Now as a mother of 2. I play with my children as much as I can and take them to the park regularly and I ALWAYS have it in mind that play is important to them because it WILL help them in life. Thank you for this awesome article. I hope LOTS of parents read this and realize how important play is in their child's life. "
07/28/2010:
"Another great article, Ms Dwight. I particularly like the progression of play thru the ages/stages. As a therapist, one of the most useful venues of 'play' is the fertile ground it provides for expression and healing of emotional wounds, as well as physical illnesses. Without it, no child (or adult), can fully heal, particularly if the type of play is used to elicit bolts of joy and exhuberance. Ignite the heart, ignite the body. And an even more delightful effect of a happy, playful child, is that they're contagious. Before long, the entire classroom is giggling away, cleansing the air we breathe :)"
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