Benefits of play

Written by: Wendy Smolen



Time to read 2 min

Play is not just for kids.

The MIT Media Lab has a program called Lifelong Kindergarten, the goal of which is to “cultivate creativity through projects, passion, peers and play.” Mitchel Resnick, who leads the group, was inspired by the kindergartens of yesteryear, the days before kids were required to master the ABCs, math and writing at the age of 5. Kids just played. They collaborated, socialized, experimented, and had a ton of fun. And along the way, they also learned. A playful attitude— a kindergarten mindset— encouraged kids to explore new activities, find new interests and make new friends in a supported environment. According to experts, that playful approach to learning is what makes it so effective.


The benefits of play are important at every age.

As adults, we often dismiss the benefits of play because we’re too busy, or “have to work,” or just don’t remember how to play anymore.

  1. Play reduces stress and helps you relax.

    Playful experiences trigger the release of endorphins, natural mood enhancers.

    A good laugh is often as good as a good massage!


  2. Play fosters creativity.

    Play encourages out-of-the-box thinking and imaginative activity. It can often lead to innovative ideas and collaborative ideation.


  3. Play makes you think.

    Play can enhance cognitive abilities such as problem-solving, decision making and critical thinking. Something as simple as a jigsaw or crossword puzzle can challenge your mind and keep it actively engaged. 


  4. Play reinforces friendship.

    Playful group activities, even if the “group” is only two, create bonds of friendship, strengthen existing relationships, and keep you socially connected.


  5. Play improves skills.

    Play is a fun way to practice. Whether it’s drawing, running, reading, or playing catch, the more you do it, the better you get!


  6. Play keeps you healthy.

    Physical play is exercise for the body. Social play is exercise for the soul. Cognitive play is exercise for the mind. All play helps you feel better emotionally.


  7. Play is a mood enhancer.

    Play releases neurotransmitters associated with pleasure and happiness. One of the things that often keeps adults from playing is the fear of looking silly. But when you’re having fun, you rarely think about “how you look.” A smile is always more fun to be around than a scowl.


So how can you incorporate more play in your already jammed life?

Play with your kids! As parents, we naturally assume that we should be the ones teaching our kids life skills, but when it comes to play, we’re the ones who can learn from them. Kids innately play…until they’re taught not to. The key is to catch them while you can!


But wait! Before you pull out their favorite toys, think out of the (toy) box. How can you nurture play without physical toys? What stories can you tell? Can you teach each other different skills? Can you sing or dance together? Can you cook a new dish? Can you make funny faces? Whether your child is 2 months or 10 years, you can share experiences that make you both wiser and happier.

Once you’re in the play mindset, then pull out some toys. How you play with dolls or blocks or cars may be very different than how your child plays. Watch each other and talk about what you’re doing. See what interests your child and take his or her lead. Use paper and crayons. Toss a ball. Build a skyscraper. Fly a plane. Dress up like a favorite character. And make sure to laugh. The good thing about play is there’s no wrong way to do it. Like a lifelong kindergarten, it keeps you young, creative, connected and happy.