Most of what scientists know about play and learning comes from animal studies. Initially, scientists believed that the rough-and-tumble play of young animals was a way to develop hunting or fighting skills. However, recent studies have shown that play has a different purpose.
Researchers now believe that play develops social skills. Play behavior is very similar across species. Children, puppies, kittens, and mice seem to have similar play rules: do not inflict pain, take turns, and play fair. The real function of play is to build social brains that interact with others in a positive way.
Play that is overseen by adults and their rules does not count. Social brain development occurs through unstructured, free play. Kids need to develop play goals and rules with each other, without adult interference. Play helps develop the prefrontal cortex during childhood. This area of the brain has a role in regulating emotions, solving problems, and making plans — essential skills that kids will carry with them into adulthood.
Play matters. Skills associated with play have been shown to also improve grades. Play is what prepares the developing brain for the social interactions of life, school, work, and love. Check out the links below from Mind/Shift for more on the importance of free play.
“Everyone is ignorant, only on different subjects.” – Will Rogers