The Benefits of Play


Yours Humanly

February 4, 2020

The Benefits of Play

From the day a child is born, he or she learns about their surroundings through play. Yet, when they reach school age they are expected to sit still and listen for hours of the day. In many school systems across the country, recess is deemed to be a mere perk or a distraction from “real” education– however, the opposite is the case. Many research studies have shown just how much play comes into “play” when it comes to learning.

The concept of school recess (and the controversy around it) can be traced back to the late 1800s, when a philosopher and educator named W.T. Harris argued in favor of recess in school. Even then, people questioned the significance of recess – but Harris believed the “chief use of the recess is its complete suspension of the tension of the will power and the surrender to caprice for a brief interval.” He could see the positive impact recess was having on his students on a philosophical level and advocated for it.

Despite having that wisdom to look back on, articles as recent as 2019 discuss how more schools are considering cutting recess time down drastically or out of the curriculum completely. This is being done in ways like limiting recess to only twice a week or considering P.E. to be the only form of play children need. The main reason behind these recess cuts is the strong emphasis on standardized tests nationally. The grades of students rely so heavily on these strict exams that schools feel that every second of the day needs to be spent on preparation. This pressure has also resulted in schools teaching directly from standardized books, as opposed to using more creative ways to learn. Play does not only need to take place on the playground; studies have shown that students take in information better when they are able to learn in an interactive and engaging manner. The three indicators used to determine playful learning are choice, wonder and delight – when those three are combined, that is when the learning comes to play. Research gathered by Harvard shows that free play and playful learning benefits intellectual, social, emotional, and physical development.

JSTOR wrote about a research study which concluded that “children need playful breaks—not just a change in academic subject or a physical education class—to keep from being overloaded by the cognitive demands of the classroom. A series of field experiments at a public elementary school reached conclusions that wouldn’t surprise any teacher: students were more attentive after recess than before, particularly when the stretch of time they had to spend in the classroom was shorter. This held true even when students were only allowed to play indoors during recess, suggesting that it’s not just pure physical activity that matters, but rather a change of pace.”

Edutopia reported in a 2019 article that some states are leading the way to a brighter future by passing laws that require a 20-minute recess daily for all elementary students. Other states have vaguer criteria but are still taking a step in the right direction. These laws were initially proposed by parents and teachers who have seen firsthand how the decline of recess has affected children.

Yours Humanly believes in the power of play and supports this cause by funding interactive learning tools, such as computers and S.T.E.A.M. programs. We have also recently funded a village’s first playground in Cambodia. Our work isn’t possible without the loving support of donors and volunteers.

Sources: University of Florida – Harvard – TIME – JSTOR – Edutopia

Cleopatra Collier

Cleopatra is a college student in Tennessee studying Interactive Media and International Relations. She loves social media because it brings the world closer together, and loves to do work that involves the same.