Play is fun and important. Play allows children to try on new roles, rehearse new skills, and learn about their personal capabilities and limitations. It encourages children to learn social rules and the difference between fantasy and reality. Play is also one way children learn to communicate. While your child is playing, he or she increases play-related speech, sentence length, and vocabulary.

Play activates the “seeking system” in the brain, triggering the basic impulse to investigate, explore, and make sense of the environment. The activation of the seeking system brings children pleasure, and pleasure promotes repetition. If we like something, we repeat it, and now neuroscience is confirming repetition’s importance in teaching the brain to work and to learn. Repetition is the key, and play encourages repetition.

When your child repeats and practices an activity, he or she is gaining a sense of control over the environment. As you observe children, you will see the process unfold from early infancy on. Just watch an eight-month-old play with pots and pans in the kitchen. You will see him or her taking the pans and lids apart, turning them around and upside down, banging on them, and trying to put the lids on the pans and take the lids off. This eight-month-old is learning and discovering that his or her movements and actions have predictable effects on the pots and pans and that objects influence one another in predictable ways.

Because children begin to learn the concept of cause and effect at about the age of seven to twelve months, they will spend a lot of time figuring out and experimenting with what causes this or that to happen. They are figuring out what impact they personally can have on the world as they experiment with why things happen—and the question “why” is critical to learning how to survive and thrive.

You can feel comfortable and confident that you are nurturing the healthy development of your child’s brain when you promote and allow time for play. Children are working hard when they play!

Play = pleasure = repetition = learning

More to consider: Real learning . . .

Very real learning occurs during free play. Free play nudges the brain’s energy to be used in a new and different way, and play reinforces the healthy wiring of your child’s brain.