I think Mr. Rogers said it the best:

Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children play is serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood 

As an educator with almost two decades of early childhood experience and almost 6 years of motherhood under her belt…I truly and deeply believe that play is a fundamentally vital part of raising a balanced, healthy, well-rounded, happy, successful and….yes…smart child. It is the vehicle in which children discover and understand the world. It helps them to gain the skills and habits that they will carry with them all throughout their life. Play sets creativity and curiosity on fire and brings joy to childhood. Play is what children should be doing from the moment they wake up until the moment they fall asleep. Play = childhood.

But what exactly does play teach our children? Why is play more valuable to a child’s development than flash cards and worksheets? Why is play so dang important? Here are 4 things that play does for you child each and every day:

1. They Are Learning…..really.

Truly, children learn when they play in the most organic way possible. When they are building with blocks, they are learning trial & error skills. When they are lining up rocks, they are enhancing their math skills. When they are playing with dinosaurs and digging in the garden, they are learning new vocabulary words. When they play as a group, their social skills are being refined. And when they make up a story to go along with the pictures in a book, they are developing their literacy skills. 

2. They Create Healthy Habits

When children run and jump, climb trees swing on swings, dance or any other type of gross motor movement….they are not just playing but also learning to love physical movement. In a society where we are more and more stationary, raising children to love movement is going to be one of major keys to combating the obesity crisis that is plaguing this generation.

3. Play Helps Children Find Their Passions

Think about your favorite thing to do. The thing that brings you the most joy. Is it crafting? Or skiing? Or cooking? Whatever it is, it probably is something you explored through your play as a child. I bet all you mountain bikers tore it up on the tricycle as a kid and those of you who are amazing bakers were often found with a play dough cupcake in your hand. Play offers opportunities to safely explore skills and find deep-seated passions that will likely carry on throughout life….and perhaps turn into careers

4. Play Combats Stress and Anxiety in Children

Children work through the issues rolling around in their head during play. I can always tell a toddler is almost ready to potty train when he/she starts pretending to put dolls on the toilet. And my own daughter will act out social scenes with her dolls that caused her stress in real life. Playing out their emotions is not only their coping skill but also an opportunity for you to see what they are thinking and act accordingly.

Play is the most natural thing for a child to do. They long to learn, discover, explore and understand. And while worksheets, TV shows, and flash cards might give them a glimpse of knowledge, nothing will ever be as effective as good old fashioned open ended play