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Guest Column - October 2010

US Play Coalition

The Value of Play: It Matters!

By Joel R. Agate & Fran P. Mainella


Everyone knows that play is fun, but isn't it just a waste of time? Absolutely not!

According to researchers at the Stanford School of Medicine, free play is essential to proper cognitive, physical, social and emotional development. Similarly, studies published in Pediatrics, The American Journal of Public Health and the British Medical Journal tell us that play deprivation may contribute to increases in emotional disorders, including depression and anxiety, and that outdoor play is an effective treatment for attention disorders.

Reports from a recent Gallup survey indicated that "[school] principals overwhelmingly believe recess has a positive impact not only on the development of students' social skills, but also on achievement and learning in the classroom."

Indeed, the US Play Coalition has gathered a strong body of evidence from a growing group of researchers who tell us that play matters for many aspects of human development.

This vast evidence of the value of play is mounting as the prevalence of play deprivation and its negative consequences are becoming all too clear. A recent survey from the Kaiser Family Fund indicates that children spend an average of seven and half hours per day in front of some type of screen (e.g., computer, television, video games). We also know that fewer than 25 percent of school children participate in daily physical activities, and childhood obesity rates have skyrocketed to epidemic proportions. Indeed, the current generation of youth is the first ever expected to live shorter lives than their parents.

This is all happening while reports in the American Journal of Play show that 95 percent of mothers "express deep concern that their children are missing out on the joys and experiential learning opportunities of free play and natural exploration."