I believe that we, as adults,
often forget the power of play. The older we get, the more likely we are to
play less and work more. This is counter to everything that children need and
want. I know when I look back to my childhood, the memories that stand out are
playing kick ball in the neighborhood, climbing trees with my brother, hide and
seek in the yard and the hours spent in the treehouse.
Here are four of the most
important findings in recent studies on unscripted play (play between peers
that is not interrupted, directed or guided by an adult):
1. Motivation to act
kindly: Play is a choice, and players are able to stop at any time. As
children witness friends leaving or choosing to play elsewhere as a result of
stinginess, bossiness or competitiveness, they quickly realize that it is in
their interest to act kindly.
2. Seeing another’s point of view: Cooperative play requires
understanding and anticipating another’s needs
or feelings. If a child misses the opportunity to relate to a peer, the child
will find himself alone. This solitude and loneliness helps develop empathy and
awareness of the world.
3. Humility: Children play on equal footing, and do not tolerate peers who believe they are
better than anyone else, should always get their way or deserve to win. This
presents an interesting dynamic wherein children keep each other’s egos in check with jokes and insults to yield a
4. Problem solving: Children need to learn and practice how to make decisions, especially in a
conflict situation. During play, there are always disagreements and
confrontations that require conflict management, problem solving, self-control and self-regulation. When there are no adults to intervene and
referee, children are forced to come to an agreeable solution by working
It is so amazing to witness the many positive and healthy outcomes as a result of a natural instinct to play.
Above all, this drive is the manner in which nature ensures that we learn how
to function and thrive in a social context. I suppose a fifth benefit of note
is that we understand what it means to interact with others as human beings in
life—certainly worth encouraging in children!