Why Play?


Three girls on a swing setPlay isn’t just for fun – according Dr. Stuart Brown, it’s a biological drive as integral to our health as sleep and proper nutrition. Throughout life, play continues to be an important factor in determining success and the ability to thrive. It is through play that we learn how to solve problems, interact with others and test our limits.

Another prominent researcher, Dr. Adele Diamond, says today's children are more likely to be entertained by technological devices, and/or to be signed up for lessons than to play for hours in the backyard with other children. "...most children today do not engage in the kind of intentional make-believe play that fosters self-regulation, an important characteristic for children to succeed in school."

Dr. Bryan Kolb is a researcher with the Canadian Centre for Behavioural Neuroscience, based at the University of Lethbridge. He is considered a worldwide expert on brain development. In this video, he explains a child’s intelligence - whether academic, emotional or social, is all forged through play:

Play develops intelligence. (running time 1:59)  

A pioneer in research on play, Dr. Stuart Brown says humor, games, roughhousing, flirtation and fantasy are more than just fun. Plenty of play in childhood makes for happy, smart adults - and keeping it up can make us smarter at any age. This Ted Talk video provides solid research emphasizing the importance of play for all of us.

And as renowned neuroscientist Dr. Sergio Pellis reminds us, not all kids are the same. For that reason, it's important to create diverse experiences, so children can select what they find most rewarding:

(running time 1:33)



Facilitating Children's Play: Young children need opportunities for different kinds of indoor and outdoor play. These tips for facilitating children's play are from Dr. Jane Hewes' Let the Children Play: Nature's Answer to Learning.


Supporting Research:


• Rieber, L.P. (1996). Seriously Considering Play: Designing interactive learning environments based on the blending of microworlds, simulations, and games. Educational Technology Research and Development.

• Brown, S., & Vaughn, C. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York: Penguin Group Inc.

• Diamond, A., Barnett, W.S., Thomas, J., & Munro, S., (2007). Preschool program improves cognitive control, Science , 318, 1387-1388.

For more information on leading play-based experts and their work, visit the Research section.


Play: The Cultural Context

Every child is unique, and how they play is influenced by both their immediate surroundings and their culture.

While Western cultures consider solitary play an important developmental milestone, children from cultures that place a higher priority on social interaction tend not to engage in such play. Those from an oral background may tell their children stories rather than read to them.

In this video, Jarvey initially struggled with his class assignment – to tell a story about himself. He was more comfortable doing this through song, and by drumming and singing, Jarvey shared his story with his kindergarten classmates:

(running time 2:01)
The Role of Play: For children who immigrate, and/or do not speak English as their first language, playing with other children not only forges social relationships, it provides a safe place to practice new words, because in the world of make-believe, anything goes. Free play should be encouraged as much as possible.

Language: When young children are learning a second language, the development of both languages is generally enhanced. The stronger the first (or home) language proficiency is, the stronger the second language proficiency will be. Maintaining the home language is not only key to a child’s success in school, it’s also important in developing their identity and self esteem.

What you can do: The Alberta Government, in consultation with authors Johanne Paradis, Darcey M. Dachyshyn and Dr. Anna Kirova, developed Working with Young Children who are Learning English as a New Language. The guide is intended to help early childhood professionals and teachers, parents and day home operators to better understand how children learn a new language, the importance of maintaining language and culture at home, and how to develop programming that effectively addresses these issues.

Loneliness: Many children of immigrants experience loneliness at school. Dr. Anna Kirova experienced this first-hand when she arrived in Canada with her husband and young son, who did not speak English. His difficulties prompted her to study the experiences of children who feel isolated in a foreign culture. She believes educators need to be aware of, and understand how these feelings of loneliness can affect a child’s ability and desire to learn.

Read more of Dr. Anna Kirova’s work


Learning A Second Language: How can you create an ideal environment for learning another language? Also, find out why maintaining proficiency in the home language is key to a young child's success in school.

Facilitating Children's Play: Dr. Jane Hewes has tips on how parents and teachers can help children get the most out of play.