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.