Notes on Parenting

Insights for parenting babies, toddlers, teens, and young adults.

Saturday, January 29, 2011

The Importance of Playing in a Child’s Development

Many of us probably have fond memories of childhood games and make-believe play. Like all children, though, we grow up. We have work, dishes, laundry, and grocery shopping, cooking, cleaning, let alone a few moments just to relax. By the time our children are born, many of us have forgotten what it is like to pretend to be a pirate on a ship or be chased by dragons. Sometimes, in our busy days, it can be difficult for us to make sure our children get enough play time. But why is pretend play important for our children?

Developmentally, it is essential that our children have time to simply play and pretend. Sandra Russ, Ph.D., a nationally known psychologist who specializes in children’s play said “Children who engage in fantasy play in first and second grade are the most creative problem-solvers as fifth and sixth graders.” Other studies have suggested that playing make-believe also helps children develop coping skills that will be useful later on in life.

Unfortunately, it is becoming more difficult for our children to have unstructured time to just play. TV and video games demand their attention. With budget cuts and the increasing pressure for preschool teachers to emphasize academics instead of outright play, our children are having less and less time to play at school. Many children also have afterschool activities that take time away from pretend play. While many of these things have their place in our children’s day, we as parents need to make sure that they take time to use their imaginations.

So how do we do this? First we can turn off the TV. Playing with our kids can have a vital role in helping them develop a love for imaginary play. Some of my fondest memories are of my dad running around the house, helping me fight off space monsters. Children do not need sophisticated toys to play pretend. In fact, a cardboard box or a few sheets and pillows thrown on top of some chairs can do more to foster the imagination than any store bought toy. The important thing is that our children have time during the day to explore and create new worlds and situations.

I believe that it is never too early to start. Some of the most fun times during my busy day are when I take out my hand puppets and play with my 11 month old daughter. I hope that as she grows, this early make-believe will help her imagination blossom. I also believe that it is never too late for children to start playing make-believe. Any child, no matter their age, can benefit from this type of play.


Picture from

By Becky

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