Wednesday, February 3, 2016

The Benefits of Play on Whole Child Development

Today, many decisions impacting children focus exclusively on their cognitive development or development from the neck up. However, developmental experts Patricia Weissman and Joanne Hendrick endorse a whole child perspective that pictures the child as being made up of five distinct selves – cognitive, creative, emotional, physical, and social. This developmental domain approach underscores essential elements across multiple environments that children need in order to thrive. One of these essential elements is play, and recent research supports the benefits of play on whole child development.

Interactive exploratory experience, both features of play in unstructured social environments, enhance cognitive understandings. According to Anthony Pellegrini, professor emeritus at the University of Minnesota, different types of play foster social competence. That includes respect for rules, self discipline, aggression control, problem-solving skills, leadership development, conflict resolution, and playing by the rules.

When provided with frequent opportunities to play, children develop self-determination, self-esteem, and the ability to self regulate – all vital elements of emotional development. Active physical play builds strength, coordination and cardiovascular fitness and moderates childhood obesity and its associated health complications. Children engaging in pretend play exhibit a greater capacity for cognitive flexibility and creativity across the lifespan. 

In Bloomsburg University’s College of Education, we value these play interactions. We are lucky to have on staff Dr. Michael Patte, who has a number of publications which focus on play. Most recently, Dr. Patte and some colleagues published the book International Perspectives on Children's Play with Open University Press. Dr. Patte also recently penned a piece on the decline of unstructured play for the National Toy Industry.

Weissman and Hendrick (2013)
Action for Healthy Kids (2008)
Pellegrini (2009)
Barros et al. (2009)
Centers for Disease Control and Prevention (2010)
Russ & Fiorelli (2010)

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