Ten Reasons Why Play is Essential (for Children AND Adults)

Play is good to do and good for you! That’s why play is universal in humans and widespread throughout the animal world. Here are 10 reasons to play:

1) Play Makes You Smarter 

2) Play Strengthens You

3) Play Helps You Make Friends

4) Play Boosts Creativity

5) Play Reduces Stress

6) Play Enhances Attractiveness

7) Play Builds Resilience

8) Play Helps You Solve Problems

9) Play Promotes Discovery

10) Play is Fun

Now if you want to delve deeper to learn the research that supports any of these statements, these articles in The Strong’s American Journal of Play provide more information:

1) Play Makes You Smarter—When we play, we solve problems, overcome obstacles, and engage in tasks that are fun because they’re challenging. All this play work builds our brains. There are many ways to be smart, but Robyn Holmes, Sharon Liden, and Lisa Shin explore some of the connections between play and success in school in “Children’s Thinking Styles, Play, and Academic Performance.”

2) Play Strengthens You—Play builds physical strength, but it also increases mental, emotional, and psychological capacities. For a good discussion of how play builds toward strength, see Scott G. Eberle, “The Elements of Play: Toward a Philosophy and a Definition of Play.”

Playing with dinosaurs, The Strong, Rochester, New York.

3) Play Helps You Make Friends—Watch kids on a school yard and you’ll see that play is the glue that cements friendships. Bill Corsaro has explored this beautifully in his many books and in an article drawing on his experience studying children in Italy and the United States.

4) Play Boosts Creativity—Pretend play is the soil out of which creativity grows in childhood. The flexibility and free-spiritedness of play in adulthood keeps creativity thriving for grownups. Learn more about the connections between creativity and play in Sandra Russ and Claire E. Wallace’s “Pretend Play and Creative Processes.”

Riding the carousel, The Strong, Rochester, New York.

5) Play Reduces Stress—Not all stress is bad. Sometimes we need stress to be productive, but too much stress not only makes us unhappy but also can damage our health, relationships, and ability to think clearly. Play offers a respite and a chance to renew ourselves; our recreation can be an important means of re-creation. For more, see Paula Thomson and S. Victoria Jaque, “Visiting the Muses: Creativity, Coping, and PTSD in Talented Dancers and Athletes.”

6) Play Enhances Attractiveness—Play is universal in part because it serves a biological imperative, the search for a mate. For an exploration of the link between romance and play, see “Play and Mate Preference: Testing the Signal Theory of Adult Playfulness” by Garry Chick, Careen Yarnal, and Andrew Purlington.

7) Play Builds Resilience—The capacity to bounce back from setbacks is crucial to success. Some call it grit. But how do we develop these habits of tenacity? Play has a role as Steven Siviy explores in his article “Play and Adversity: How the Playful Mammalian Brain Withstands Threats and Anxieties.”

Playing detective, The Strong, Rochester, New York.

8) Play Helps You Solve Problems—Life is full of surprises, obstacles, and challenges. It’s impossible to predict everything that will happen to you, and play makes us more adaptable and responsive to the curveballs life throws at us. Read about this in humans and animals in “How Play Makes for a More Adaptable Brain: Comparative and Neural Perspectives,” by Sergio M. Pellis, Vivien C. Pellis, and Brett T. Him

9) Play Promotes Discovery—Discovery is the product of exploration, and exploration and play go hand-in-hand. Terry Marks-Tarlow’s “The Fractal Self at Play” offers a unique meditation on this process.

10) Play is Fun—Everyone knows that play is fun and this shouldn’t require any scholarly exploration! But if you’re interested in learning more about the neuroscience that explains why play IS fun, see Louk J. M. J. Vanderschuren, “How the Brain Makes Play Fun.”

Article by Jon-Paul Dyson, Vice President for Exhibits and Director of the International Center for the History of Electronic Games, The Strong National Museum of Play

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