Born to Play


All healthy children play. I have watched children play in Europe, the Sudan, the Democratic Republic of the Congo and in my South Carolina backyard. All the research I have read reinforces the concept of how important play is for humans throughout the lifespan, but especially for children and youth.

The American Academy of Pediatrics reports that play is essential to human development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, emotional, and social health and well being of children and youth. It teaches resiliency when children learn to cooperate, meet challenges and learn the skills of negotiation.

In addition to this, play offers a chance for parents and other beloved adults to engage fully with the children in their care. Adults who play with children learn their perspectives and get a clearer view of their children’s world. Just play “school” with a seven-year-old and see how often you don’t get to be the teacher.

Playing with a child is one way to help develop social and self-control skill sets. Interactions with parents and others help children develop skills needed to build their future.

Moreover, parents can offer a child more mature and varied play than can siblings or friends. Adults know more about the world than any child and often can widen imagination in ways that other children cannot.

This is not to say that children should play only with adults. Playing with agemates and interactions with a wide range of children and adults of various ages is healthy and good for development.

Kids are born ready for play. The National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) contends that the links between play and capacities for memory, self-regulation, oral language abilities, social skills and success in school are all tied to play in the early years of life.

Play is good for adults too. In the words of George Bernard Shaw, “We don’t stop playing because we grow old; we grow old because we stop playing.” Play can increase your energy levels and boost creativity. Young children often learn best when they are playing—a principle that applies to adults, as well. Play can stimulate your imagination, helping you adapt and solve problems.

When you and your children play together, joining them in child-driven play, the adults are given a unique opportunity to see the world from the children’s point of view as children navigate a world created just to fit their own needs. Parents who use this opportunity are afforded a glimpse into their children’s world which may teach them to communicate more effectively with their children and provide a means to offer adult wisdom and experience in a manner that is acceptable to their children.

Yes, play is important. And no, we don’t play enough. Everyone is born equipped to play. So…move away from the screens and play more for your health and wellbeing and that of the children you love in your life.

How has play made a difference in your child’s development? How has it made a difference in your life as an adult?


Milteer, R., Ginsburg, K., and Mulligan, D. The importance of play in promoting healthy child development and maintaining strong parent-child bond: focus on children in poverty. Pediatric Vol 129 No.1 January 1, 2012. (doi: 10.1542/peds.2011-2953)

National Association for the Education of Young children. References to Play in NAEYC Position statements. http://www/

Dr. Kathie Williams is the Director of Public Health EdVenture. During more than 30 years of public health experience, Kathie Williams has worked in Africa and the U.S. in health care delivery, maternal and child health education, nursing education, development of health literacy materials, and accessing health care for refugees resettled in the United States. Dr. Williams holds a B.S. in Nursing from Duke University, M.P.H. in public health nursing from the University of North Carolina at Chapel Hill and a DrPH in Health Promotion Education and Behavior from the Norman J. Arnold School of Public Health at USC-Columbia. After joining EdVenture in 2007, Kathie worked to expand health programming at EdVenture to include greater community collaboration, opened the BioInvestigations Lab as part of a National Institutes of Health grant and opened the Taste Buds Nutrition Lab.


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