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The Benefits of Play for Children

Medically Reviewed by Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD
Updated
Find out why play is so important for childhood development.

Are you worried whether your child is getting as much playtime as you did when you were younger?

If you’re contemplating cutting back on your child’s free playtime indoors or outside because of your concerns about safety or because of scheduling purposes, think again. As an adult, it might not look like it’s a top priority that your child is finding time for play.

But it’s actually an important time of the day for them — it helps them develop and learn.

And if you’re worried because your child seems to play near other kids but not necessarily with them, don’t fret. That’s a totally normal stage of development.

Keep reading to learn all about the importance and benefits of play in child development.


Benefits of Play for Kids
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The Benefits of Play for Kids

Playtime can make for a well-rounded kid. Here are the top 10 benefits of penciling in enough play for your child.

1. Boosts Brain Power

Playtime using toys when a child is an infant yielded in a higher IQ by the time a child reached age 3, and even when retested at age 4.5 during one study. Just by offering your child toys and letting them test them out, you’ll be building up their brainpower.

2. Improves Creativity

When children have time to play, they have time to imagine and create. Whether they are making mud pies in their backyard or exploring the limits of their physical capabilities by testing out cartwheels, they are developing their creativity. Where would humanity be if we didn’t have the creativity of people like Thomas Edison, Mark Twain, or other people who helped shape our world?

3. Develops Vocabulary and Language

By participating in pretend play as well as other forms, children, especially those in preschool, can really improve their ability to speak and their understanding of the words they’re saying. Being around other kids during play can also help with their vocabulary and language — kids love to learn new words and phrases from each other.

4. Leads to Happier Children

Even if you don’t care as much as about making your child as smart as they can be, you should care about their overall happiness. And for many children, playtime results in a happier kid. They’ll feel real joy getting to pursue their favorite form of play, checking out new toys, or having a friend over for some backyard hijinks.

Happiness shouldn’t be underrated. It’s one of the greatest gifts of a well-balanced childhood. And for some, those feelings of happiness can be hard to hang onto throughout their lives if they don’t have a good basis for it now.

5. Helps Kids Cope With Stress

Kids will have a lot to deal with as they get older. There will be peer pressure, romance drama, friendship issues, and stress over grades. Play can help them learn how to rebalance the stress in their lives and cope with the daily pressures they’ll face.

It’s a lesson and a skill that will serve them well throughout their life — finding healthy and constructive ways to deal with stress.

6. Contributes to Better Physical Health

Playing will give your child more physical activity than they would get otherwise. All those movements they’ll experience while playing will make them stronger and give them more endurance and greater motor skill development.

Getting more physical activity will help your child sleep better at night too. And you’ll be able to sleep better as well.

7. Helps Kids Them Be More Sociable

Play can help improve a child’s social skills, especially when they are playing near other children or playing with them. It gives them a fun, non-judgmental space in which they can learn the give and take that relationships require.

Just being around other children, even if they aren’t directly interacting with them can benefit them.

8. Builds Self-Confidence

Tackling challenges and succeeding can make your child feel like a rock star. No feat is too big or too little to be celebrated to them. Whether it’s learning how to do a handstand in the pool or getting across the monkey bars at the playground, taking a risk and eventually accomplishing what they set out to do is a confidence booster.

While physical challenges can build confidence, children can also gain confidence by developing their imaginations or learning conflict resolution skills (1). They’ll know that no matter what the challenge is, they have the ability to rise to the occasion to face it head-on.

9. Helps Kids Express Their Emotions

Whether kids are happy, sad, or scared, having some playtime can help them let out those emotions. They can take out their anger in an imaginative setting which can give them a great release that will make them feel better when they’re done playing. Playtime can help children of all ages deal with what they are feeling.

It’s a great way for children to learn to tap into everything they are thinking and feeling and find a constructive way to deal with it.

10. Lets Kids Explore Their Passions

Part of the fun of play for kids is getting a chance to pursue whatever it is that interests them. What they do during that playtime is totally up to them — if they want to sing into their hairbrush and pretend they’re a rock star, or act like they’re an astronaut getting ready to head into space.

Playtime can give them a safe place to explore all their interests. Some may become lifelong interests while some will fall by the wayside.

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Are Toy Good or Bad for Play?

Toys are a mixed bag of nuts when it comes to children. Some can provide the stimulation they need, while others are disruptive developmentally. So how can a well-meaning parent know the difference between a helpful toy and one that might be detrimental?

In an effort to give their child every advantage by picking the most expensive and flashy toys on the market, like ones that light up or talk to children, parents might be making the wrong choice.

Some research shows that when toys do the talking and the singing, babies are quieter (2). Instead of working on their language development, babies tend not to chatter as much when they are using electronic toys instead of old school ones.

What parents need to keep in mind is that play and entertainment are two different things when it comes to toys. Entertaining toys are meant to be amusing and keep a child occupied by distraction — they’ll have things like lights, voices, or music that will turn children into an observer.

But play toys are meant to engage a child’s mind and curiosity, which is why they are a better choice. They don’t come with rules that limit a child’s imagination.

Things to Look For In a Toy

When you’re searching for a toy for your young child, you need to think strategically about what you’re after. It gets really confusing in toy stores because there is so much to choose from. You aren’t quite sure which toys to go for.

Here are some guidelines to help you with your search.

  • Find a multi-tasking toy: Young children like to use toys in multiple ways. That’s why toys like blocks are such a good choice. They can build so many different structures, and they’ll incite a child’s imagination as well.
  • Find toys they can continue to use as they age: Some toys are only interesting for a very small window of time for a child. But after a couple of weeks or so, they never get used again — they’re completely abandoned and forgotten. Some good choices of toys that can grow with your child include dollhouses, trains, stuffed animals, and action figures (3).
  • Look for toys that require problem-solving and exploration: Kids like to figure things out on their own. It’s good for their brains, and it gives them a sense of accomplishment. Toys in this category include puzzles, clay, and nesting cups.
  • Toys that challenge your child’s imagination: As a young child, your toddler will have a ton of creativity you don’t want them to waste. To encourage that, find toys that can help your child nurture that creativity, like dress-up clothes, play kitchen items, stuffed animals, and dolls.
  • Find toys that will get your child moving: An important part of play is getting your child to be active. It will boost their brainpower and strengthen their bodies. Tricycles, toy gardening tools, and mini basketball hoops are excellent choices for this category.
  • Look for toys that can involve more than one generation: Playing with grandparents or parents is good for children. If they play things like board games with them, they will learn about taking turns and how to listen. Plus, the older generations can model how to lose gracefully, which is a skill that will serve your child well throughout their life.

Baby Toy Guides

Toys for Boys

Toys for Girls

Be Careful About Screen Time

One of the biggest dangers to your child’s playtime is the possibility of them being sucked into too much screen time. Screen time — time spent on television, gaming systems, tablets, and phones — takes away from their playtime.

Try to limit your child to as little screen time as possible throughout the day to ensure they have enough time to play and develop as they should.


The Bottom Line

Now that you know why play is important for your child and the benefits they can reap from it, you’ll be more motivated to make sure they are getting all the time they need.

Remember to give your child a variety of options when it comes to play and provide more challenges as they are ready for them.

Headshot of Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Medically Reviewed by

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett, MD

Dr. Pierrette Mimi Poinsett is a veteran board-certified pediatrician with three decades of experience, including 19 years of direct patient clinical care. She currently serves as a medical consultant, where she works with multiple projects and clients in the area of pediatrics, with an emphasis on children and adolescents with special needs.