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“We have to play!”

Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child's soul.”

(Friedrich Froebel)

  • We Have to Play

Some theories emphasise the ideas and thoughts children have as they develop their learning through play. Others focus on the way that play helps children to experiment and cope with their feelings, and to deal with them through its self-healing powers. These theories also give us insights into the way play helps children to understand other people and relate to others. We should not underestimate the way that play also helps children to be physically coordinated, which links to the development of their self-esteem and well-being. Play applies throughout life.

I initiated a discussion with some of the children as I was genuinely interested in their views of play. The children were happy to indulge me with my wondering, “Why do you think children love to play?” and willingly offered their opinions, knowing that I would listen to them and take their ideas seriously. There were suggestions about friendships, togetherness and joy.

“Because children want to make a big mess and play together.”

“It makes them happy and they have so much fun.”

“We can be best friends forever when we play together.”

“Because I love to play with my sister and my brother and my dad.”

“Dads love to play because with friends.”

“My dad plays with me.”

“Because if children don’t have any toys they won’t play.”

“I have one hundred toys at home. I have lots of brothers and sisters to play with.”

“You need toys to play with or you will be sad.”

“I like to play with my pet Chihuahua.”

“I love to play with my friends and my mum and my dad. It’s really fun to play. We play together.”

I love to play with Eli. He’s my best friend. Play inside and outside. They like to play so much. And so altogether we can play.”

And then Theo, exclaimed, “We have to play. We need to.”

I was fascinated by Theo’s response. Humans are hard wired to play. We do need to play. One of the many reasons to play is to learn. Open-ended, self-directed play helps to form an internal locus of control within the child. When a child possesses an internal locus of control, they believe that they are in control of their own actions. Research has shown that having an internal locus of control is related to higher academic achievement (Findley & Cooper, 1983) Children with an internal locus of control are able to cultivate a strong sense of responsibility and accountability for their own actions. In addition, children who have an internal locus of control tend to form a growth mindset as opposed to a fixed mindset, terms coined by Carol Dweck.  

“In a growth mindset, people believe that their most basic abilities can be developed through dedication and hard work—brains and talent are just the starting point. This view creates a love of learning and a resilience that is essential for great accomplishment.” 

(Carol Dweck)

I wonder what you have noticed in the power of play?


Dweck, C. S. (2012). Mindset: How you can fulfill your potential.

Findley, Maureen J.; Cooper, Harris M. (1983) Locus of control and academic achievement: A literature review. Journal of Personality and Social Psychology, Vol 44(2)  

Liebschner, J (1992) A Child’s Work: Freedom and Guidance in Froebel’s Educational Theory and Practice.