The Definition of Play for Children: If you don't know what play is, you don't know what a child is.
The headline of this article, The Definition of Play for
Children, hints at the fact that the child and play are so
inextricably intertwined that it's virtually impossible to
discern where one leaves off and the other begins. Hence,
we're left to conclude that the definition of play for
children is what a kid naturally does. Youngsters are born
to play. It appears to be hardwired into their brilliant,
growing brains. Why?
Perhaps because play is learning that is interesting and
fun. Programming the brain for play stimulates the
youngster to want to play more and, therefore, learn more-a
great combination for a brain that must build up massive
stores of knowledge in preparation for adulthood.
What's more, part of the definition of play for children,
concerns the fact that play is a kid's way of being in the
world. It's her way of learning from and expressing
herself in the world.
Understanding the definition of play for children proves a
difficult task because play is usually taken for granted by
parents, as if it doesn't matter. Gaining a good
understanding of the definition of play for children will
help parents realize that play is the single healthiest
task a child can occupy himself with. Play is what a child
naturally does when left to his or her own devices. Play
is an act, performed and enjoyed for its own sake, that
enlivens and invigorates the spirit, is always interesting,
and usually involves imagination, creativity and fun.
Particularly in the case of youngsters, play facilitates
learning. Play is how they learn. Play enlivens their
brains to learn more and invigorates their bodies to do
This particular definition of play for children differentiates
between competitive play, like computer or football games,
versus play as a group of kids playing with their
stuffed animals or dolls. One situation emphasizes
organized, structured play and all that goes with that,
such as perfectionism, practice, and winning and losing. The
second situation stresses fun and imagination.
Hence, neither most computer games nor organized sports
would be considered play under this definition. However,
the neighborhood sandlot baseball games, where all ages
often took part, including little sister, dad and especially mom,
for example, would be considered play.
Our definition of play for children stresses the
minimization of competition in healthy play. The difference
between the organized game and the neighborhood game is due
to the lessening of the competitive aspects of the game.
Decreasing the importance of competition, not only allows
more people to be involved, but it means other factors, like
socializing, imagination and creativity become more
prominent. The game becomes more about playing, instead of
about winning and keeping track of the score.
The sheer emphasis on winning or losing may be the greatest
single factor limiting play. As it increases play plummets.
The definition of play for children emphasizes increased
human bonding. Play, by its very nature, is inclusive,
which in turn, encourages greater bonding or connectedness
between the participants. This is achieved, not just
because everyone is allowed to play, but due to the
creativity and imagination necessary to make it work.
Enhancing factors exist in the definition of play for children.
Some factors that enhance play are freedom from
fear, and the freedom to go and play where you wish, as
well as, freedom from interference of adults wishing
to control or structure play. On the other hand, parents who
encourage and enjoy their children's play, and let them know
it, increase their youngster's joy of play. This positive
communication may create greater emotional bonding between
parents and children.
Too often play is taken for granted by adults, as when we
hear, "Johnny is just playing." They forget Johnny learned
what his feet were and how to control them by playing with
them. He learned how to move his body through space by
playing. He learned to speak by playing with the
coordination of his vocal reflexes. All these aspects of
play are included in the definition of play for children.
What Are Children Learning When They Play?
So critical is play to effective learning and to the mental
and physical development of our youngsters, one might
expect that it would have come to be a national priority by
According to John Holt, author of "How Children Fail," children
fail because they are afraid, bored and confused. Would
not a positive emotional school environment, emphasizing
play, ameliorate this challenge?
Concerning the definition of play for children, Karen MacPherson
writes about the sad facts involving children and play:
- American youngsters don't seem to play much any more.
One study indicated children have lost 25% of their
playtime since the late 1970s, while time in structured
sports has doubled.
- On average, millions of kids spend 30 hours per week
passively watching a TV, computer or video screen.
- Instead of having fun and working off stress running
around during recess, millions of kids have either lost
recess or had it cut to make time for preparation for
standardized tests that involve boring rote learning.
- Between 1981 and 1997 homework for 6-8 year olds tripled!
- More parents mistakenly believe play is a waste of time.
- Schools are cutting playtime for their students. Much
of this is due to the "No Child Left Behind Act."
By cutting playtime for students, education is
simultaneously cutting both the joy of learning and the
motivation to learn. This runs counter to the definition of
play for children, which emphasizes the self-reinforcing
relationship between learning and play.
Notes, regarding the definition of play for children and
the influence of technology on children's brains:
- Along with this pattern of decreased playtime, note that
child suicide is becoming more common, and at earlier and
- Sexual content on TV and on other technological devices
destroys children's childhoods by causing them to want to
grow up to soon and want to assume adult roles they are not
Understand how ads are psychologically designed to control
our youngster's minds by
to view the video.
- Subliminal ads (content the brain senses but you don't
like sexual suggestions,
etc.) on TV
probably have a tremendous effect on youngsters' sensitive
vulnerable brains. Think about how tunes that we haven't,
consciously, listened to have gotten stuck in our adult
brains. Children are probably ten times more sensitive
Regarding the definition of play for children, points to
take home are:
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- Play characterizes childhood. It's been said that a
child without play is no child at all.
- Children learn by playing. Their brains are programmed
to learn by playing and to play to learn. Education should
take advantage of this fact, instead of working against it.
- Play initiates learning and stimulates more learning.
- Play is enlivening, improves mood, decreases obesity and
- Play decreases youngster's stress by allowing them to
vent and express their emotions.
- Parents who play with their kids or enjoy their
youngster's play, recontact their inner child and enjoy the
health giving benefits of play.
- Mental disorders are frequently associated with an
inability or decreased ability to play.
- Play is associated with creativity and imagination.
- Most human learning probably occurs by five years of
age. Learning is associated with unstructured play.
Forcing children into
during that period
of time does not increase intelligence and may interfere
with programmed, unstructured play related learning
that is associated with creativity and imagination.
- To increase learning before and after age five, make
more time for play and encourage your kids to play.
- Schools must change their approach to education to take
into account that play and a
positive emotional environment
enhance learning and that rote learning and boredom impede
learning. The present dominant federal educational
leadership is flawed and directly antagonistic to the
positive learning principles.