Guest Column - July 2012
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The Value of Play
Developing Meaningful Play Opportunities Through Research

By Anne-Marie Spencer

If you've ever stopped to observe children fully immersed in play, you will also note the imagination and creativity that is evident. By creating play spaces that are sensory-rich and supportive of children's needs for stimulation, we can guide exploration, discovery, creativity and imagination. Including natural elements, moving and loose parts, novel information and rich qualities, we can support the ever-changing pattern of children's perspectives, giving them an arena to develop in an environment that stays fresh and exciting to their evolving skills and imaginative processes.

Dr. Nilda Cosco, also of the Natural Learning Initiative, states that "It is through play that we share our abilities, make contact with our deepest self, and unleash our potential." Providing a play environment to encourage these developmental tendencies to their fullest potential is a responsibility that we as recreation providers must embrace, research and develop. Gone are the days of measuring a playground's value by the number of components, height of deck and color palette; today's play science and research indicates that we must also use available programming and research to ensure that the environments we provide are family-friendly, developmentally appropriate and enriching, across a spectrum of disciplines, to children and families of all abilities.

Play matters, play is vital, and play builds both social and community capital in the cities and towns that embrace the challenge of developing a healthier place to live, work and play. Together, we must make it a national priority to effectively demonstrate the research-based benefits of play in the environments we create, in order to promote healthier, happier citizens. We must align advocates and resources to creatively support play initiatives, and we must continue to demonstrate the best practices found in the simple act of play—for our own health and well-being, and for the communities we serve.


Anne-Marie Spencer is the vice president of Marketing and Communications for PlayCore. To obtain a complimentary copy of "Words on Play," read more in-depth research from contributing play scholars, and receive newsletter updates on emerging play science and research, e-mail