Why Play Matters

Too many kids are missing one of the most important childhood experiences—play. Play is on the decline throughout America. Not enough playspaces are being built and those that do exist are often in disrepair or made unavailable to children.

The issues surrounding this decline are numerous. Many playgrounds fail to challenge both a child’s imagination and body, recess is being removed from our nation’s schools as a result of academic testing, parents concerns over safety have limited children’s opportunities to play outdoors unsupervised, and more and more children are electing to stay indoors and make use of electronic media.

The belief that play is a luxury is an untruth that far too many have accepted. In fact, play helps kids grow to be healthy, happy, and successful through an experience full of creativity, exploration, physical activity, friendship, and adventure.

Play is defined as an activity that is freely chosen, child directed, and self-motivated. Play is a crucial factor in children’s overall well-being. Play affects the quality of life they will enjoy and impacts them physically, emotionally, socially, and cognitively.

Physical impact

  • Since play often involves physical activity, play is closely related to the development and refinement of children’s growth and fine motor skills and their body awareness.
  • Kids who play are healthier. Kids who play are less likely to be obese and develop obesity-related health problems such as diabetes and heart disease.

Emotional and social impact

  • Play helps kids feel more connected to their communities. Community playspaces have a positive effect on social cohesion, foster positive attitudes toward racial and cultural diversity, and help reduce feelings of isolation or exclusion.
  • Kids who play, play well as adults. Kids who play build their confidence and learn the social skills that help them become happy, well- adjusted adults.

Cognitive impact

  • Research suggests a strong link between play and cognitive development. Play has been linked to student learning and academic performance. Play is a factor in improving attention, attitudes, creativity, imagination, memory, and so many other skills critical for learning.
  • Kids who play do better in school. Kids who play develop the cognitive skills that are positively linked to learning and academic performance.

So why aren’t kids playing as frequently? Why have today’s kids been pronounced the most inactive generation in history? There are at least four big reasons why:

  1. Kids are spending twice as much time in front of a television or computer.
  2. The number of accessible and safe playspaces is decreasing.
  3. “Structured” activities such as organized sports are replacing free, “unstructured” play.
  4. Under pressure to deliver certain academic assessments, schools are cutting down on the frequency and time kids spend in recess.

If we want a world full of healthy, happy, and successful adults, we need to be sure we create a world where kids can play. Today is the day to make a commitment to play.

Learn More and Act Now

Get started with these “cheat sheets” on play. They provide quick facts to make your case for the necessity of play, ideas for action in your neighborhood, and links to some of our best resources.