Running Head: PLAY IS CRITICAL 1

Play is a critical aspect of development in early child development

Savannah Thompson

University of Colorado Denver
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Tender, love, and care is what a baby needs. There are endless studies on attachment and

bonding between infants and care givers and obviously touch, warmth and care are essential for

those tiny bundles of joy but what is critical for growth, what is essential for development and

what is sometimes overlooked is play.

Children need time to express themselves and learn about the world through play because

play time will help a child grow and develop into a bright and intelligent individual. In 1962

Piaget wrote a book called Play, Dreams, and Imitation, where he discussed these three abstract

ideas in a child’s life through six different sub stages. He talks about how children develop these

things, and when they are seen throughout a child’s life, but why is this important.

Government policies regarding play usually do not matter. When taking care of a child

often times play, and dreams even imitation are disregarded. Give kids a bed and food and they

will survive. That is the key word. Survive. As human beings and mammals may survive given

food, and a place to sleep they will will not flourish.

As a child, I was given (mostly, because I was spoiled) a whole room to play in. I had

different boxes with different toys. I had Barbie’s galore, probably fifteen different baby dolls, a

giant doll house, a kitchen set, etc. Basically anything a little girl would want I had. I was also

given time to play, but so what?

Play is one of the critical parts of development because it allows children to develop,

form a personality, express themselves, and learn about the world through a creative lens. Play is

important in the home, in the classroom, in hospitals, and serves a big purpose for kids with

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Play inside the Home

Before preschool a child spends all of its time at home or at a daycare facility. Assuming

that the child gets to spend its early years at home there is a huge chunk of childhood when the

child is developing that play needs to be incorporated inside the home. This is where a child will

build foundations for play, and to build imagination. “Young children used to play with siblings,

neighbors, friends, and by themselves during their free time. It was common to see children

running through neighborhoods, playing pretend house, making up creative games, and spending

time engaged in play was not led or structured by adults. Many would suggest that times have

changed, leading to the shift away from child-led, open-ended play to more of a structured

approach to activities” (Raphael-Leff, 2012). This article talks about how important play is but

that there is beginning to see a shift in less play which could be a cause for the common

behavioral issues. In reference to the tittle of the article “Terrible Twos and Terrible Teens: The

Importance of Play” The article references that when toddlers play games like house, or school

they begin to learn norms and rules about life situations.

Another article talks about the importance of play for other reasons not related to

behavior but to overall development, “As early toddlers, children begin to construct relationships

that exploit the unique physical properties of objects” (Williams & Wilkins, 2011). This is the

most important part of play in young children because this is when they are learning essential

skills to help them develop harder skills like holding a pencil, or learning to write their name. In

a research study looking at dynamic Synchrony (Rader, 2011) they were looking at learning

language when being presented with an object. The researchers looked at if a child could learn a

word better if it was presented with an item and then the word. These researchers didn’t look

directly at play itself but they can predict that when a young child is playing and hearing words
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they will have a better grasp on language and on the words around them. Although, this research

article didn’t directly link them using the evidence from their research there can be a conclusion

made about how play will enhance a children’s learning ability of language.

When a child is at home, it is very important for the child to engage in play for other

health reasons. In recent years there has been a rise in obesity for a multitude of reasons. In an

article about the benefits of play in poverty it discusses many benefits of play that can help even

in kids that are not dealing with poverty because every child is at risk for obesity “play enhances

physical health by building active, healthy bodies. Physical activity beginning in early childhood

prevents obesity” (Muligan, 2012).

Not only will it help with obesity the article also describes that play will benefit the brain

development in children, and “may increase children’s capacity to store new information, as their

cognitive capacity is enhanced when they are offered drastic change in activity” (Muligan, 2012).

Often times children can become frustrated when changing task often but this article talks about

how play can help this frustration that children may get.

Play is an essential part to a child when developing as almost every article talks about

play will have some sort of benefit on a child as they develop. That is why it is important to bring

play into the child’s world at a very young age and help them learn how to play. Another

important aspect of play is the relationship of play that a parent or caregiver creates. There is two

types of play. Parent-directed play and child-directed play. A study called Structured Parent-

Child Observations predict development of Conduct Problems: the importance of Parental

Negative Attention in Child-Directed play looked at how the types of play in a home have an

affect on conduct problems, “CP includes a broad spectrum of ‘acting out’ behavior, ranging

from relatively minor oppositional behavior… to more serious antisocial behavior such as
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stealing…” (Fleming, 2016). The study found that positive parent involvement in child-directed

play is important in helping stop CP problems for kids in school. The article agrees with the other

play in the home articles in that parent involvement in encouraging play inside the home as well

as in the neighborhood is vital to a kid’s development for the present and for their futures. Play

during the early years creates a solid ground for the later school years.

Play in the classroom

After a child leaves the nest, they will spend a majority of there time in school.

Sometimes kids even attend before or after school because of a parent’s work schedule. Play

cannot stop once a child reaches elementary school or preschool. Often times there is a struggle

between education and play. Why? Play should be incorporated into schooling all the way

through high school. Play is even seen in college. As discussed in the previous section play is so

important to everyday activities and absolutely critical to life. While school teachers do have a

lot to focus on with state testing it is important to always include play, because play will allow

children to grow into healthy adults.

As mentioned above the biggest struggle that presents itself with play in schools is

because more often than not play is not included in schools, Anette Sandberg and Rebecca Heden

did a study to figure out just how teachers feel about play and how play helps students. They

begin by saying that they need to know how each of the teachers feel about play inside the

classroom because they say “most educational studies regarding children’s play are made within

pre-school and after-school recreation centers and not in schools” (Sandberg, Heden 2009). They

are doing this research because they want to show that “play has to be made in school but that
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you are not to leave the children to themselves, but use play in connection with education and

also organize play so that the learning aspects can be utilized” (Sandberg, Heden 2009).

What they found after completing this experiment is that students benefitted from play in

almost every category. They were able to benefit on a social scale, they were able to use play to

teach things such as spelling, they were able to use play to get students to refocus by giving them

a study break. This article proves exactly how important play is in the classrooms because they

were able to prove that play was able to better students on almost every aspect on the education


Just like the memorization of a song comes easier than remember all fifty states and

capitals; play can be used to leave a lasting impact on students. Math is historically a hard

subject for many students. Most often students will say that math is boring or that it is too hard.

Just like in Sandberg’s research Mary-Anne Kefaloukos and Janette Bobis looked at how play

can help with the conservation of mathematics and measurement.

Bobis and kefaloukos explain that “Measurement is a strand that has the capacity… to

make or break a child’s confidence in mathematics” (Kefaloukos, Bobis 2011). They believe that

measurement is so important that students must learn this foundation and they believe that this

can happen because “Playful investigations will form the prior knowledge needed for practical

investigations in the later years of learning in measurement” (Kefaloukos, Bobis 2011). Like the

previous article they too believe that play has the capacity to create benefits for children inside

the classroom simply because “Play provides a memorable experience for children” (Kefaloukos

Bobis 2011).

That is what is so essential of play is that it creates a memory for kids. They learn

because they are having fun. More often than not playing a PowerPoint presentation of all the
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ways students will be measuring will loose kids focus and will basically become a waste of time

because the students will not be listening or be able to put the information into their memory


Maria Engel a teacher herself talks about how she sees that play is being pushed out of

the classrooms because of the high demands on teachers. She say’s that many articles explain the

benefits but she doesn’t understand why play has been diminished so much. She says that every

year she “finds [herself] having to defend play more and more” (Engel 2015). She believes of

course that “in no way do I [Maria Engel] think kindergarten should be ALL play. Of course,

children need to master basic skills in this crucial year, and children should be challenged and

expected to make progress” (Engel 2015). She then goes on to say that while the basics are

important it is not fair to label kids. If they are getting the right support and they are able to have

friends and socialize then the more advanced skills will come later.

As with all the articles they all agree that play is being lost inside the classroom, and

because of that children are not able to learn the basic social skills. Students aren’t able to

connect with others and even more so now that technology has become so advanced. While

autism is a huge issue and social isolation becomes an issue we are still not including play in

everyday school life for children, and while sometimes it is included it is very limited.

Play with “normal” children inside the classroom is very important and almost all people

working with kids would agree the other thing to look at is students with disabilities and how

play can affect them.
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Play in Children with disabilities

Play is a huge part of all kid’s life, and as mentioned above play inside the home and

inside a classroom is essential for kids to learn, grow, and develop and then to keep a person

healthy play is critical throughout the rest of life. Why do “grown-ups” have Dave and Buster’s

or go to Las Vegas and play slot machines? Play doesn’t stop.

Play is a huge aspect in a child’s life when they have disabilities. One disability that is

very overlooked is underprivileged kids. Often times these kids living in poverty or without a

home are completely denied the ability to include play in their life. When living in poverty kids

are usually expected to work or their parents aren’t home much so they are responsible.

Sometimes these kids don’t even have a home and don’t have the ability to play because they are

having to constantly look for basic amenities.

Looking at just schools alone and how students living in poverty are affected by play is

huge. “Poor children enter the educational system at a lower level of readiness averaging 2 years

behind their middle- and upper- class peers” ( Milter and Ginsburg). The article says that because

they are so behind and because of state testing in schools the schools reduce the amount of recess

and activity time they get. “As previously discussed opportunities for play and social and

emotional learning enhance school engagement” (Milteer, Ginsburg 2012). The article tackles the

tough topic of poverty and explains that underprivileged children do not get play time in schools

because they are trying to up their academic success.
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On top of play being taken out of schools for the underprivileged kids they don’t get play

time at home either. Often times their home environment makes in unsafe to pay outside, or

depending on the situation it may be unsafe to play inside the home as well. A problem that all

the articles discussed say is that in education there is too much pressure on students to preform

academically that the foundations of life is taken away in order to increase test scores. But, based

on that information what many articles and researchers are trying to do is prove that taking away

play time will not increase these test scores.

Other disabilities that children can have is things like autism or down syndrome, these

issues may not inhibit one from having play time but these children may not know how to play.

In an article by Dana C. Chidress called “Play Behaviors of Parents and their Young Children

with Disabilities” she talks about how kids with different dissabilites will need more parent-

directed play and she talks about how play can help these children. One of the biggest disabilities

that hurts kids during play is autism. This is because autism takes away the ability for kids/

people to communicate and understand social clues. “Children with ASD show deficits even in

the most basic forms of play” (Warreyn 2014). With that said, and with already previously

discussed how important play is there is to be an intervention

Play can be corrected in children with Autism by focusing their play time on things they

are interested in. With autism disorder the child will be fixated on one subject such as cars or

trains. A way to incorporate natural play with other kids is the engage them in play of the thing

that they are specifically interested in (Warreyn 2014). There is also things like therapy play in

which the therapist will lead play exercises to help a child grow and develop.
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Play in Hospitals

Sometimes the unimaginable can happen. That is your child gets sick with a disease such

as cancer and the child has to be in the hospital. Sometimes this happens at a very young age,

and while the child may have to miss out on school or some other important milestones because

play is so critical to child development and thinking when a child is in the hospital you have to

keep thinking and creating ways to involve play.

Play during hospitalization will help the child as well as show improvement. “Play is a

form of communication and self-expression, which gives them the possibility of communicating

with both the family and the medical and nursing staff, while helping them process a series of

emotions” (Koukourikos 2015). This article about play in a hospital discusses how play will help

children in their unknown situation. Being in the hospital is scary for kids, they don’t know what

all the machines do or what all the nurses are running around for therefor play can give them a

way to cope with all of that. Play can be especially effective with a child’s thinking before going

into surgery “Personalization of play prior to surgery is an intervention effectively reducing

anxiety, since it is based on the patient’s history, any previous negative experiences from

hospitalization, and, mostly, age” (Koukourikos).

Sometimes children will have terminal illnesses that keeps them hospitalized for a while.

This can be very hard on a child and can cause depression, “Play therapy among children

suffering from a terminal disease may create an atmosphere where young patients, even for a

short period of time, will be able to develop a sense of control of the situation, they will have the

chance to handle their lives in their own way, and will be able to externalize their frustrations,

fears, and feelings” (Koukourikos 2015). This article explains that play can be used as a form of
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treatment. Lifting up the spirits using play of a child that is in the hospital can be very helpful to

their treatment and their quality of life while they are there.

In an article by Sherwood Burns-Nadar the author talks about two different types of play

that can be very helpful. The first being normative play; this type of play is effective because it

brings in play that would be normal outside the home. Normative play is good for hospitalized

children because it can lower their anxiety. Their anxiety will be lowered when they are able to

think and experience things other than what their treatment is.

The other type of play the author talks about is medical play. Medical play is especially

important for kids in helping them cope with being in the hospital because it allows them to play

and experience all the instruments that they may be afraid of. The hardest part of kids being in

the hospital is often times they will feel as if they lost control of their lives. Medical play can

somewhat allow them to get that control back. This play can also just help kids that are going to

the doctor for an annual check up. It can put the child in control of an unfamiliar situation that

they are scared of.

play and imitation. He explains that play was founded in very young infants, surprising to him at

the time being’s infants weren’t thought to know much.


Play is overlooked for many reasons. The first one is that in education teachers,

administrators and states are very focused on getting the kids the be as book smart as possible.

They are always striving to make higher test scores, and the problem with this is that they use

those test scores to judge how well the teachers are teaching the students.
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Because the teachers are constantly worried about keeping their job with better test scores

they have to constantly cut out fun time for the kids. There are thousands of studies and articles

talking about all the benefits of play, and how play will help kids develop therefor it needs to be

more implemented in schools.

As it pertains to child’s thinking, play really helps a child develop mentally. As discussed

above when play is introduced in a child’s life they will have better time learning, and they will

develop socially at a much higher rate than kids where play is not in their lives.
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Brussoni, M., Olsen, L. L., Pike, I., & Sleet, D. A. (2012). Risky Play and Children’s Safety:

Balancing Priorities for Optimal Child Development. International Journal of

Environmental Research and Public Health, 9(12), 3134-3148.


Burns-Nader, S., & Hernandez-Reif, M. (2014). Facilitating play for hospitalized children

through child life services. Children's Health Care, 45(1), 1-21.


Childress, D. C. (2010). Play Behaviors of Parents and Their Young Children With Disabilities.

Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 31(2), 112-120.


Childress, D. C. (2010). Play Behaviors of Parents and Their Young Children With Disabilities.

Topics in Early Childhood Special Education, 31(2), 112-120.


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during early word learning: The importance of dynamic synchrony. Language Sciences,

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Engel, M. (2015). The Importance of Free Play in the Early Childhood Classroom: Perspectives

From a Teacher. Childhood Education, 91(5), 323-324.

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Fleming, A. P., Mcmahon, R. J., & King, K. M. (2016). Structured Parent-Child Observations

Predict Development of Conduct Problems: The Importance of Parental Negative

Attention in Child-Directed Play. Prevention Science Prev Sci. doi:10.1007/s11121-016-


Huisman, S. (2014). Focus on Family: The Importance of Play. Childhood Education, 90(6),

466-467. doi:10.1080/00094056.2014.983029

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Mary-Anne Kefaloukos and Janette Bobis discuss the importance of introducing

conservation in measurement through the use of play in the early years of school.

Australian Primary Mathematics Classroom, 16(4), 19. Retrieved November 29, 2016,

from Academic OneFile.

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During Hospitalization of Children. Mater Sociomed Materia Socio Medica, 27(6), 438.


Lifter, K. (2011). Overview of Play: Its Uses and Importance in Early Intervention/Early

Childhood Special Education. Infants and Young Children, 24(3), 225-245.


Milteer, R. M., Ginsburg, K. R., & Mulligan, D. A. (2011). The Importance of Play in Promoting

Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bond: Focus on

Children in Poverty. Pediatrics, 129(1). doi:10.1542/peds.2011-2953

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