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How Playing Develops Children’s Social-Emotional Health

Photo: Courtesy of Myles Tan

Playtime is more than just fun and games. In addition to the physical benefits of playing, children can develop confidence and critical social-emotional skills needed for a lifetime of success. Yet today’s youth spend half the time playing as their parents once did. Kids need support getting off of the sidelines and into the game. Parents can advocate for schools to be part of the solution by giving them access to and a platform for safe, healthy and engaging play.

Recess matters

Recess can be the best — or most challenging — part of the school day for kids. What makes recess great is the freedom to play and learn with peers simultaneously. What makes recess difficult is when bullying, fighting and disciplinary action overshadow what should be positive. When school feels like a joyful and fun place to be, it affects everyone. Active students return to the classroom from recess focused and ready to learn. Teachers and principals report fewer bullying and discipline issues, and the overall environment hums with positive energy. It’s not just about giving kids the time to play. It’s about giving them the space to feel welcomed, included and inspired to play with others.

Play is a universal language

Play is the first teacher of critical social-emotional skills, such as empathy, collaboration and inclusion, which children learn and use throughout their education and eventually in the workforce. Kids need the opportunity to develop these skills to build self-confidence, have the courage to try new things, learn to resolve conflicts on their own — even through games like rock-paper-scissors — and identify when and how to respond to social cues so that they carry themselves and engage with peers in safe and productive ways.

Playing also has the power to bridge cultural differences and language barriers among students and school staff to build stronger, more united communities. In order to help kids become the best they can be, parents, schools, school districts and afterschool programs nationwide must ensure that every kid, regardless of race, socioeconomic background or athletic ability, experiences safe and healthy play every day.

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