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The Power of Play

Mrs. Joanne Price-Camargo
Mrs. Joanne Price-Camargo (4 posts) EYFS & KS1 Coordinator and Reception Teacher View Profile

“In play it is as though (the child) were a head taller than himself. As in the focus of a magnifying glass, play contains all developmental tendencies in a condensed form and is itself a major form of development.”

Leo Vygotsky



We are all familiar with the benefits of play and the opportunities it allows children to learn and explore the world around them. It produces pleasure, sparks joy and wonder however more and more research points to the power of play in boosting children’s academic performance and their resilience. Over the past few decades, researchers in the fields of education and child psychology have amassed significant evidence for the necessity of play in children’s lives. There is no denying that play is fun, and certainly fun is its biggest draw for children. However, as children play, they also develop critical cognitive, emotional, social, and physical skills. Play even contributes to proper brain development (Shonkoff & Phillips, 2000). In this way, play is an important end in itself; it is also a means to other ends. The skills children learn through play in the early years set the stage for future learning and success from the  classroom to the workplace.


Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada says that “The experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain” and it is essentially these changes that have a critical role in regulating emotions, making plans and problem solving. According to Pellis, play is what prepares a young brain for life, love and even schoolwork.  Think of some different play situations - rough play, board games or two children building a sandcastle. Regardless of the type of play, children have to use many negotiating skills e.g. what are we going to play, who will go first, what will we use, what will happen next? Play helps the brain to build connections to help us navigate these social interactions. 


Pretend play has many cognitive and social benefits. By being able to step into the shoes of another person or character in their play, children develop a sense of empathy for others by imagining what the other might do or feel. Play provides an outlet for children to deal with stress and gives them the opportunity to exercise some control over their environment and regulate their thoughts and feelings. 




Free, unstructured play can give children the opportunity to explore their interests and develop their creativity. As adults, we often ask the well intentioned question to a child of “what are you playing, what are you drawing, etc?” when often a child sets off on a game or activity without any plan or intention. By asking this question, we can sometimes ask them to limit their activity by labelling it. Instead, we should remember that play is process oriented and that the means are more important than the outcome and ask “can you describe what you are doing?”. 


In play, children develop life skills and a lifelong love of learning. As play is intrinsically motivated and actively engaging, children have control over their own play and learning and this in turn promotes desire, motivation and mastery to practise and repeat these skills in play.