Why, you might ask, given that I run an education centre, would I be writing an article about the merits of children spending time more time playing?

While grasping academic basics is essential in building a foundation for learning, exploring the outdoors and using our imagination are just as important for developing cognitive and social skills.

Play helps us mature in our ability to solve problems, develop empathy and self-confidence.  There has even been a shift in many classroom models towards activities that are self-directed by students for similar reasons.

The trouble is that children just don’t get enough old-fashioned play.  There are often many opportunities to take part in organised sports but not much time is set aside for time for the child to direct his or her own play.

Probably the single biggest change to our lives that has encroached on play is the increasing amount of time we all spend in front of screens.

The American Journal of Play states that alongside the decrease in the amount of play, there has been a sharp rise in the amount of depression, anxiety and narcissism in children.

According to a report from The Alliance of Childhood, a non-profit partnership concerned with the health and wellbeing of children, kids “spend less than 50% of the time in unstructured outdoor activities than in the 1970s.”

Ironically, if your child seems stressed or irritable, it may just be that what he or she needs is more time for unstructured play.  One of the major benefits is said to be the development of children’s ability to regulate their anger and emotions.

A thought-provoking quote that stood out to me was by psychologist Peter Gray.  He noted that


“Tantrums might work with parents, but they never work with playmates.”


As we strive to develop independence and resilience in our children, we sometimes forget that the best way to do this is through a process of self-discovery in an environment where formal structure is actually kept at a minimum.

To summarise, then, it should make sense that far from being at opposite ends of the learning spectrum, play and academic success go hand in hand.

When students are able to operate independently and creatively, they become better problem-solvers and ultimately better learners generally.