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Benefits of Play

Children of all ages want and need to spend time with parents and friends, why not use this time in an activity that is loads of fun and works your brain, which is a muscle after all – playing with others!

We have a plethora of articles documenting the value of play on our Importance of Play webpage.

Just a few highlights include:

One of the things we've learned over the years is that the brain is like a muscle. The more it exercises, the more it can do. In fact, in this study, researchers found that playing board games twice a week increased the brain speed scores of elementary students by a staggering 27 - 32%! Does this mean that playing games will turn kids into geniuses? Probably not, but those numbers are tough to discount.

To make matters more interesting, two studies in the journal Cognition (one from MIT and the other from UC-Berkeley) indicate that in some situations direct teaching is actually inferior to experiential learning. Outrageous, right? It turns out that children who are playing develop a stronger sense of creativity and inquisitiveness, exactly the things we need our students to have. Here's the Slate article all about those studies.

Play isn't just for elementary school, either. Take a moment to watch this TED Talks presentation, where Dr. Stuart Brown does a great job of showing us that play is for all ages, that it does a lot more than just help us exercise our brains. From his TED bio: “ Dr. Stuart Brown came to research play through research on murderers -- unlikely as that seems -- after he found a stunning common thread in killers' stories: lack of play in childhood. Since then, he's interviewed thousands of people to catalog their relationships with play, noting a strong correlation between success and playful activity. His book Play describes the impact play can have on one's life.”

Those benefits often come in surprising ways. For example, here's a research-based article by Dr. Sarah Itzhaki about shyness and how playing can help a student break through into a world of self-confidence and self-esteem.

Playing board games can help grandma and grandpa, too! A study by Rush Alzheimer's Disease Center confirmed that regular game-playing and puzzle-doing (as well as other thought-provoking activities) were shown promote mental stimulation that dramatically kept memory function (as well as language function, attention span and spatial ability) performing at a higher level. The risk of developing Alzheimer's disease was shown to be reduced by 47 percent for people who did these activities the most often.

Finally, Scholastic adds to the importance of play in a recent article:

“…board games can teach important social skills, such as communicating verbally, sharing, waiting, taking turns, and enjoying interaction with others. Board games can foster the ability to focus, and lengthen your child's attention span by encouraging the completion of an exciting, enjoyable game. Even simple board games like Chutes and Ladders offer meta-messages and life skills: Your luck can change in an instant — for the better or for the worse. The message inherent in board games is: Never give up. Just when you feel despondent, you might hit the jackpot and ascend up high, if you stay in the game for just a few more moves.

Board games have distinct boundaries. Living in a complex society, children need clear limits to feel safe. By circumscribing the playing field — much as tennis courts and football fields will do later — board games can help your child weave her wild and erratic side into a more organized, mature, and socially acceptable personality. After all, staying within the boundaries (not intruding on others' space, for example) is crucial to leading a successful social and academic life.”

Study after study (there are many more than what is referenced here) has confirmed that play is good for everyone. From preschools all the way up through nursing homes, educators and caregivers are using play to engage the mind and fire the imagination.

Are you all pumped up to go play now? Hope so! You can also give the gift of play on all occasions and can last a lifetime. Game Inventor and avid game player Kim Vandenbroucke writes about her favorite games in The Game Aisle

This article was first published in ASTRA's WooHoo News.

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