Give Young Children Time to Play

It's a simple concept, worth repeating.

Children Have the Right to Play

As simple as that idea may seem, it’s not always easy to achieve. In an era when societal and educational pressures threaten experiences that contribute to healthy development, play sometimes takes a back seat. As educators, it's important to remind ourselves that play helps to nurture children’s self-discovery and promote authentic joy in learning.

This was the message of “Cultivating Play-Friendly Communities,” a Lesley early childhood innovations workshop, which focused on how to infuse play into the school day without sacrificing learning.

David Ramsey, program director in the Boston Public Schools Early Childhood Department, stresses that play is a fundamental right of all children. As our country’s youngest citizens, children deserve safe, enjoyable play and play spaces. Benefits of play, besides pure enjoyment, extend into cognitive, social/emotional, language, and physical development.

Summer Compass children playing outside under colorful parachute


Nancy Carlsson-Paige is a Lesley professor emerita and the author of several well-known books on childhood, such as Taking Back Childhood, and a website called Defending the Early Years. She urges teachers and parents to remove obstacles to play, including various modes of technology, so that children have unfettered access to their own imaginations. Technology has its place, but so does freedom from it, she advocates.

Ways to Foster Children's Play

It may seem counterintuitive, but sometimes it’s not easy to just let children be themselves at play. Here are a few ways to foster creativity:

  • Make time. Realize that play is important to children’s physical, mental, and emotional development, and make time for it.
  • Make space. Let children play on their own. Be nearby, but not with them unless invited. As mentioned above, don’t interrupt or intervene--unless it’s a safety issue.
  • Limit electronics. Electronics have their own place in play and learning, but allow for some time when children can interact only with their imaginations and other children.
  • Provide materials. Have blocks, cardboard boxes and tubes, cloth, and other simple materials that can be made into new things.
  • Let them get messy. Sometimes the best play is the messiest play. Mud, paint, sand, water, bubbles…let them go!
  • Recognize that work is going on. As children play, they are learning. Listen for new ideas and developing skills that you may be able to reinforce later.
  • Sometimes, you play, too. Take some time to play with children. Start a story and let them continue it, or help build something. Mostly, show an interest in what they’re doing, and ask questions.

In short, children are naturals at play—so let them play!