By: Ann Saylor
We all like to have fun, but did you know there is scientific research proving the power of play? There is truth to the Life is Good Foundation’s slogan, “Life can hurt, play can heal”. Here are some of the many ways science says that play leads to healing in children and youth.
I’ve been using play as a teaching method for 15 years, and these are the growth areas that I notice on a consistent basis.
Play keeps the doctor away. Play keeps us moving and active, which helps children maintain a healthy body weight. Obesity, on the other hand, contributes to chronic diseases such as diabetes, cholesterol, and heart disease.
Play can help to heal broken relationships. Building positive memories together during playtime, whether playing soccer, Wii, or “Phase 10” is a powerful way to strengthen relationships. Over time, playing together builds trust and acts as a glue to bind people together in healthy ways.
Play bolsters emotional health by helping children overcome insecurities and gain confidence. When children take risks and overcome challenges in their pretend worlds (dolls, LEGOs, games, role plays), they learn skills to overcome real world challenges.
Play reduces strains on a child’s mental health. Laughter and play are healthy ways to minimize stress, which can lead to anxiety, depression, and illness. Children and teens with healthy outlets for active play also learn to manage their energy and emotions more effectively.
Play prevents brain drain, and it actually helps the brain grow. The more experiences a child has, the more connections (synapses) the brain cells will make. The more connections, the more effectively the brain works.
Play reduces violence by helping children practice and refine social skills. As children learn to resolve conflicts, persuade teammates, and play fair in their game-time, they are learning valuable skills to reduce violence in schools, sports, and families.
Search Institute’s scientific research on Developmental Assets also strongly supports the importance of play.
- Games help build an environment of support with peers and caring adults.
- Youth are empowered to learn and grow in new ways – trying new leadership roles, practicing new ways of problem-solving, and using critical thinking skills.
- Group games help youth set high expectations for themselves – climbing beyond challenges that stump them, and excelling at new adventures.
- Challenges help children learn about their skills and abilities. Games highlight sparks, strengths, and talents that aren’t usually recognized in the classroom.
- Games help students make healthy life choices, as they practice decision-making in life-like scenarios that offer a safe place to experiment with values and ethics.
- Working together sharpens social skills and respect for all people, as diverse people work together to achieve a goal.
- Games can promote positive identity and life purpose. Games help children learn who they are and what they are good at. This can help prepare them for future leadership roles, service opportunities, and career paths.
For more information on the benefits of play, check out the following resources:
- The National Institute of Childcare and Education on the power of play
- Helpguide.org on the benefits of play
- Great Group Games: 175 Boredom-Busting, Zero-PrepTeam Builders for All Ages
So laugh and be silly – and you may discover a whole new realm of health for your family!
2. Image via: jenni from the block on Flick’r.