At Fremont Christian School, our early education program is intentionally modeled on a play-based framework. Walk outside mid-morning and you’ll hear the joyful shrieks of elementary students engaged in games on the elementary playground or field. Even our secondary students are given time during brunch and lunch to play basketball, volleyball, soccer, or other physical activities on the secondary field, in addition to the option to participate in our school’s athletic teams after-school.
Playtime at school has many educational benefits besides enjoyment and downtime from learning. Current research not only validates the benefits of play but confirms it is essential for a child’s physical and intellectual growth. Here are some of the key benefits of play in your child’s development.
Encourages Brain Development
Some crucial areas practiced during play include social skills, language abilities, learning, and locomotor development (movement). In a research study published in the Brain Research Bulletin, rats who were allowed to play for even 30 minutes daily had increased production of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF), a key molecule involved in both learning and memory. Physical exercise in humans has been proven to have similar positive effects.
Improves Physical Health
It’s already widely known that exercise reduces the likelihood of obesity and unhealthy body mass index (BMI) levels. Studies also show that children who are physically active are more likely to carry that habit into adulthood.
Reduces Stress & Disruptive Behavior
Children who played, particularly under the supervision of a caring teacher, showed a marked decrease in the stress hormone cortisol, according to a 2017 article in Prevention Science. An article published the following year in Neuroscience & Biobehavioral Reviews underscored additional health benefits: “[Play holds] great promise for both preventive and treatment strategies directed at psychosocial problems of children with chronic or life-threatening diseases.” In other words, play helps in the development of children who have serious diseases.
Just as in sports, play helps build relationships and strengthen social skills. Children learn how to work together and communicate in order to achieve common goals. They also form bonds through their shared experiences, whether it’s celebrating the completion of a puzzle or consoling each other over the loss of a baseball tournament.
Promotes Academic Skills
To tie it all back to schooling, playtime also has a positive influence on grades and test scores. Playing pretend improves language skills, while construction play has shown to improve math skills and problem-solving abilities, to name just two examples. “Children who were in active play for one hour per day were better able to think creatively and multitask,” a 2018 study published in the American Academy of Pediatrics stated. The study showed that physical play in 7- to 9-year-olds resulted in increased focus, cognitive flexibility, and executive control (skills that include memory, flexible thinking, and self-control), all of which are crucial for excelling in the classroom.
If all that weren’t enough reason to set aside time for play, remember: It’s fun!
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