Neuroscientists, developmental biologists, social scientists, and researchers from every point of the scientific compass now know that play is a profound biological process. -Dr. Stuart Brown, Play, How it shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates the Soul
Early play is practice for life.
Life is hard, we can use all the practice we can get! And the earlier, the better. The key to successfully playing the game of life is through executive functioning skills. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University has a helpful summary of this complex bundle of skills: “Executive function and self-regulation skills are the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully. Just as an air traffic control system at a busy airport safely manages the arrivals and departures of many aircraft on multiple runways, the brain needs this skill set to filter distractions, prioritize tasks, set and achieve goals, and control impulses.” developingchild.harvard.edu/science/key-concepts/executive-function/
Executive functioning skills are essential for success in school, career and without exaggeration- in life! Play seems to be the primary way that children gain and strengthen these skills. Using MRI technology, “researchers have found that play actually develops the part of the brain that enables a child to have executive functioning skills . . . which are essential to academic success and success in the adult years”. 7,4,22 Pretend Play and Brain Growth: The Link to Learning and Academic Success Gesell Institute of Child Development Marcy Guddemi, Ph.D., MBA Executive Director Gitta Selva Director of Programs and Editorial Services https://gesellinstitute.org/products/pretend-play-and-brain-growth-the-link-to-learning-and-academic-success
Alarmingly, statistics show that children are playing less and less each year. Several trends are contributing to this childhood decline in self-directed free time, including increases in structured, adult-led activities, and significant increases in screen-time at every age level. To put it simply- children just don’t have time to play. This significant decline in childhood play has consequences that we are just beginning to understand. In a 2018 statement on play, the American Academy of Pediatrics cautions that “Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function. (http://pediatrics.aappublications.org/content/pediatrics/142/3/e20182058.full.pdf)