Last week, New York Times columnist David Brooks underscored the importance to our nation of expanding opportunities for underprivileged children, highlighting recent efforts to promote human capital development. Brooks argued that while academics, especially during the early developmental stages of childhood, are critically important, more emphasis needs to be placed on building social and emotional skills. Brooks contended that we won’t be able to expand opportunity for millions of students if they are unable to make good choices, build strong relationships, or persevere when faced with challenges.
We agree with Brooks that preparing the next generation for success requires a broad view of child development. Through our work providing more and better play opportunities for low-income children in communities across the United States, we know that children cannot reach their full potential if they are denied the essence of childhood – the opportunity to play. Play is an essential part of the solution to expanding opportunities for low-income children because it leads to active bodies, active minds and active interaction together with peers, family and other caring adults – all of which are necessary for healthy child development.
According to a report by the American Academy of Pediatrics, particularly for children who are faced with limited resources, it is essential that parents, families, schools and communities promote the lifelong benefits of play. The report notes that play helps children foster school engagement while enhancing their cognitive readiness, learning behaviors and problem-solving abilities, simultaneously aiding in the development of social and emotional ties.
Simply put, play is a fundamental building block for the human capital development Brooks persuasively asserts is a critical national imperative. However, in low-income communities, where neighborhoods are unsafe and schools are cutting back on recess, children lack the opportunity to play actively every day. Whether it is on the playground, in the classroom or at home, we need to ensure that all children get the play they need to thrive. It is time to give children the childhood they deserve.