More Information on the Benefits of Play

Girls just want to have fun but so do kids!

Here at Abolish Work we not only want to non-vigorously oppose work (vigor is too much effort for us) we also want to non-vigorously talk about alternatives from time to time. We’ve highlighted play via the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky here and here as well as some research from a Boston Globe article  and finally a friend of mine, William Gillis, had some things to say about play which we highlighted here.

To add to this collection I want to highlight yet another link my friend Outcide Cat showed me.

This article puts the spotlight on the benefits that play can do, specifically for children.

Some of the data seems speculative and somewhat untested due to ethical limits that they face (i.e. not being able to reproduce an experiment with kids that they do with rats) but it’s interesting food for though anyhow.

Here are some particularly cool excerpts:

Play and exploration trigger the secretion of BDNF, a substance essential for the growth of brain cells

Again, no one has figured out an ethical way to test this on humans, so the evidence comes from rats: After bouts of rough-and-tumble play, rats show increased levels of brain-derived neurotrophic factor (BDNF) in their brains (Gordon et al 2003). BDNF is essential for the growth and maintenance of brain cells. BDNF levels are also increased after rats are allowed to explore (Huber et al 2007).

Which means, if true, that play is pretty much vital for us having our brains operate in a more efficient way.

Language and the benefits of play

Studies reveal a link between play–particularly symbolic, pretend play–and the development of language skills. For example:

Psychologist Edward Fisher analyzed 46 published studies of the cognitive benefits of play (Fisher 1999). He found that “sociodramatic play”—what happens when kids pretend together—“results in improved performances in both cognitive-linguistic and social affective domains.”

A study of British children, aged 1-6 years, measured kids’ capacity for symbolic play (Lewis et al 2000). Kids were asked to perform such symbolic tasks as substituting a teddy bear for an absent object. Researchers found that kids who scored higher on a test of symbolic play had better language skills—both receptive language (what a child understands) and expressive language (the words she speaks). These results remained significant even after controlling for the age of the child.

Anyone who has ever been a kid and has played probably remembers making up fake languages for fake lands or inventing secret codes between friends or making up false words to convey something silly. Whatever the intention and goal this seems highly plausible to me.

The conclusion is also rather helpful:

Playful experiences are learning experiences

Finally, lest anybody doubt that kids learn through play, we should keep in mind the following points.

1. Most play involves exploration, and exploration is, by definition, an act of investigation.

It’s easy to see how this applies to a budding scientist who is playing with magnets, but it also applies to far less intellectual pursuits, like the rough-and-tumble play in puppies. The animals are testing social bonds and learning how to control their impulses, so that friendly wrestling doesn’t turn into anti-social aggression. Play is learning.

2. Play is self-motivated and fun.

Thus, anything learned during play is knowledge gained without the perception of hard work. This is in contrast with activities that we perform as duties. When learning is perceived to be arduous, our ability to stay focused may feel like a limited resource that is drained over time (Inzlicht et al 2014). And it’s hard to achieve a state of flow, the psychological experience of being totally, and happily, immersed in what you are doing. Play is an obvious gateway to the state of flow.

3. These arguments aside, there is also empirical evidence that kids treat play as a tutorial for coping with real life challenges.

All around the world, children engage in pretend play that simulates the sorts of activities they will need to master as adults (Lancy 2008), suggesting such play is a form of practice. And when kids are fed information during pretend play–from more knowledgeable peers or adults–they take it in. Experiments on American preschoolers suggest that children as young as 3 understand make distinctions between realistic and fanciful pretending, and use information learned from realistic pretend scenarios to understand the real world (Sutherland and Friedman 2012; 2013).

The takeaway? Giving children play-breaks and making children’s academic lessons more playful isn’t mere sugar-coating. It might be a way to enhance kids’ natural capacities for intense, self-motivated learning.

They also provide sources at the bottom and some other suggested links so check it out and happy slacking!

One thought on “More Information on the Benefits of Play

  1. Pingback: The Mother of all Work - Abolish Work

Leave a Reply

Your email address will not be published. Required fields are marked *