The Science of Play


The Science of Play
by Shane Sullivan, ES Math/Science Coach

I love vacation! Mostly because I love to play. Being on holiday frees the mind from many of the normal day-to-day routines that occupy the brain. Knowing that I don’t have to do anything allows me to be creative about how I’m going to spend my day. I am much more likely to do things I would not normally choose to do while I am on holiday. Most likely I will turn off my electronics and go outside and play. Play is an essential part of childhood development. Giving children free choices to have fun in their own individual ways are necessary for many reasons.

According to a University of Michigan study, children spend 50 percent less time outside than they did just 20 years ago — and the 6.5 hours a day they spend with electronic media means that sitting in front of a screen has replaced going outside to play.

Various play research studies make a direct connection from lack of play to worldwide problems such as child obesity, attention deficit hyperactivity disorder, childhood depression, classroom behavioral problems and an inability to interact well with peers.

Just an hour a day of vigorous play – running, biking, soccer, tag, anything that get the lungs pumping and the heart thumping – not only provides great health benefits, but it provides intense brain activity and learning skills. Active children are more poised intellectually and perform better academically in the long term.

Stuart Brown, author of Play, How it Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul, states:

Evidence from around the scientific compass — neuroscience, psychology, exercise physiology, sociology and developmental biology — has revealed the importance of play. Deprive a social mammal like a rat or monkey of its normal rough-and-tumble play and it enters adulthood emotionally fragile, unable to tell friend from foe, poor at handling stress and lacking the skills to mate properly. From an evolutionary perspective, the smarter the animal, the more they play. For humans, play reinvigorates us not because it is down time, but because it gets us in touch with our core selves and the joy of life.
Playfulness promotes adaptability. It encourages us to be flexible, innovative and can help us solve day-to-day problems more effectively. It is not just an escape, it is active mental engagement that alters and redefines our often narrow view of the world around us.
Just because the holiday is over does not mean “playtime” has to end also. My goal for this new year is to make sure I take time to play continuously throughout the year and not just during school holidays. As parents I encourage you to do the same, make sure you are setting a positive example for the children in our SSIS community and allowing ample time for our youth to play.

Additional Reading:
“Play, Creativity, and Life-long Learning”
“A ‘Dose of Nature’ for Attention Problem” By Tara Parker-Pope
“Do Early Outdoor Experiences Help Build Healthier Brains?” By Richard Louv