Why is Play Disappearing?



There are a multitude of social and cultural reasons for why children no longer have the freedom to play.  Some of these problems reside with the family - others with schools.

  • Emphasis on academics
  • TV, videos , computers  (Marketing suggests that if parents buy educational videos and computer programs for their children they will be smarter!)
  • Changes in family structure (Two working parents or single parents.)
  • Hurried lifestyle
  • Organized enrichment activities  (Parents feel pressure to cram their children’s schedules with sports, language lessons, dance, etc.)
  • Dead end toys (These are not conducive to building imaginations.)
  • Adult organized and directed clubs, sports, and “play dates”
  • Safety  (In many areas children don’t have safe spaces to play.)

In schools, play has been replaced with academics.  There’s less time for art, PE, music, and recess so there is more time for math and reading.

Jump! Wave your hat!

Many children’s lives are so structured that they don’t even know how to play or entertain themselves.  BRING BOREDOM BACK might need to be a new slogan for childhood.


Brain researchers, pediatricians, educators, child psychologists, and theorists all agree that we must protect and preserve PLAY!  It is interesting that there is no evidence that children who read at five are better readers than those that learn at six or seven.  Study after study reports that children from play-based classes excelled in reading, math, and social and emotional adjustments.  They also seemed to fare better as adults in work.  (Crisis in Kindergarten)

Brain Growth
When children play, their whole brain is stimulated.  Play is multi-sensory, engaging, creative, and joyful.  (How many of the senses are actually stimulated when a child plays a computer game?)

Dewar (Cognitive Benefits of Play) reports the following:

  • Play improves memory and stimulates the growth of the cerebral cortex.
  • Play and exploration trigger the secretion of BDNR, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells.
  • Kids pay more attention to academic tasks when they are given frequent, brief opportunities for free play.
    (Note, studies show that PE classes are not as effective as recess for cognitive benefits.  PE is too structured, but a recess break can be truly playful.)
  • There is a link between play and the development of language skills.
  • Math skills benefit from play.

John Ratey argues that more physical fitness will lower obesity and improve academic performance.  “Exercise stimulates the gray matter to produce Miracle-Gro for the brain… Dopamine, serotonin, and norepinephrine are elevated after exercise.”  These can help with focus, calming down, and impulsivity.

Ginsburg notes:  “Studies have found that children who engage in dramatic games of make-believe develop stronger language skills, better social skills, and more imagination than children who do not play this way.”

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