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The Importance of Play: How Kids Learn by Having Fun

Play is one of the most important aspects of a child’s life. Through play and games, children learn to think creatively and interact socially.

Our “games” at Great Start Karate are all designed to help your child learn. When a child is having fun, they are at their peak mental state to develop physically, socially, and emotionally. Through play, children develop physically and discover a slew of emotional skills, and they learn how to process the world. In short, fun and play is pivotal to your child’s development.

“Play is how children learn,” says Dr. Tiff Jumaily, a pediatrician at Integrative Pediatrics and Medicine Studio City in Los Angeles.

What’s more, according to a 2012 study, play reduces stress. “On the whole, play is associated with responses that facilitate learning… and work off stress,” says Jumaily.

But what are the benefits of play and what type of engagement and activities do children really need? Here is what some experts say.

The benefits of play

Mayra Mendez, PhD, LMFT, a licensed psychotherapist and program coordinator at Providence Saint John’s Child and Family Development Center in Santa Monica, California, tells Healthline, “Play is important because it provides a primary foundation for learning, exploring, problem-solving, and building an understanding of the world and your role within it.”

But how do children learn through play? Well, it’s simple. Play allows children the chance to emulate what they see and practice skills. It gives them an outlet for creativity and experimentation, and play helps them learn how to interact and communicate with others.

Cognitive benefits

Play promotes healthy development and critical thinking skills. It reinforces memory, helps children understand cause and effect, and, according to Mendez, helps children explore the world — and their role in it.

“Young children learn how things fit together through play. It allows them to use their senses and encourages exploration and curiosity, and these skills are the foundation of intellectual development and cognitive processing.”

Play also inspires children to pretend, create, and imagine. Creative, open-ended play helps children conceptualize, brainstorm, and exercise critical thinking skills.

Physical benefits

Physically, play benefits children in a few ways, namely in the development of their fine and gross motor skills.

“Play benefits motor development by encouraging movement [and the] understanding of spatial relations, promoting motor planning skills, and supporting balance and dexterity,” Mendez says. “It also supports gross motor skills, such as energy, stamina, flexibility, and body awareness.”

Some examples of physical play include running, jumping, kicking, block building, dancing, karate, gymnastics, riding bikes, and climbing trees.

Social benefits

Play is also important for social development because it helps children learn how to interact with others.

Through play, children develop an understanding of social expectations and rules, and play provides opportunities to share thoughts and ideas, to listen, and to compromise.

Emotional benefits

Additionally, play helps children understand and process their emotions.

“Kids process their emotions and new concepts through play,” Kim Wheeler Poitevien, a child therapist in Philadelphia, tells Healthline.

When a child loses a game, for example, they learn to process sadness, anger, and grief. Playing also helps build confidence and encourages the development of their identity and self-esteem.

Ideas for play

The ways children play vary, depending on their age and interests. Here are a few ideas for both parents and kids.

School-age kids

Much like preschoolers, elementary and middle school-age kids are very independent. They are also very focused on school-based activities. However, play is still integral to their development. It is important to note that all kids need socialization. It is key to their development.

“School-age kids need play too,” Wheeler Poitevien says. Encourage games like tag, red light/green light, and Simon says.

Side effects of not playing

Play helps children grow into strong, healthy, and independent individuals. It also helps them develop emotionally and reduces stress. However, a lack of play can have negative and long-lasting effects.

Studies show that when kids don’t have the opportunity to play and have fun, they are at higher risk for attention problems and behavior problems,” Jumaily explains. “Without proper play, kids do not have the chance to stretch their imagination and build the skills they need to succeed in the workplace and in their life. A lack of play can also stunt an individual’s social and emotional development.”


Play and fun are valuable to children — very valuable. In fact, the benefits cannot be overstated. So run, sing, jump, kick, spin, and dance with your children. Play games with your kiddos and have fun!

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