Play Supports Early Brain Development in Impressive Ways

There’s an old saying that “play is the work of childhood,” and this issue of Research to Policy looks at the ways in which play works to shape the developing brains of young children in Memphis. Research shows us that play supports early brain development in impressive ways. Through play, young children learn about the world around them. They develop ways to make sense of that world, and even learn the words that we use in different parts of life. When toddlers play house, for example, they reflect the behaviors that they see modeled at home or on TV. In the same way, they learn to interact with other children through play. Some of the lessons learned are hard: take turns, play nicely, and solve problems through words. All of these skills are important building blocks to kindergarten readiness.

Child's Play is Learning

As the articles that follow make clear, by playing together children learn how to pay attention and listen to the people in their lives. Through play, they learn important pre-reading skills, including the way that stories work – with beginnings, middles, and ends.

The bottom line is that we should feel good about taking time to play with our children, and finding ways for them to play with each other. Playtime with parents lets children know that they are cared for and valued. It also allows them a safe place to explore, imagine and create.

Children Feel Valued When Parents Play

In time, when children begin to interact and play with each other, more than one parent will be a bit relieved to not have to play another round of “invisible ponies who can secretly talk” or some equally mysterious game. But the gift that we give our children when we engage with them – at their eye-level, and on their terms – is a growing conviction that their ideas matter to the most important people in their lives.

A Safe and Playful Environment Helps Children Feel Confident

Self-confidence is a critical kindergarten readiness skill, and science tells us that we strengthen a child’s developing self-confidence when we make their world a safe place to play and explore, and when we let them know that their ideas matter.

This issue of Research to Policy includes a list of ideas for fun, (almost) free, and developmentally appropriate ways to play with young children in Memphis this summer. If it makes you feel more comfortable: these are great ways to promote your child’s healthy brain development. But … shoot … it’s summer-time and school is out, do we really need a better reason to play with our children than for the sheer fun of it?!

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