The Importance of Play

As a therapist and a mom of young children, I know how much children love to play and how much they need it. According to a journal article published by the American Academy of Pediatrics, “Play is essential to development because it contributes to the cognitive, physical, social and emotional well-being of children and youth.”¹ Play helps kids to learn how to interact with others and learn about the world around them.

As a kid, I remember playing for hours. I played at home and outside with the neighborhood kids. The pace of life was slower and our days had less structure. However, between our present day hectic, over-scheduled lifestyles and the dramatic increase in the availability of screen time, today’s kids are finding it harder to find time to play.

Our hectic and over-scheduled lifestyles

The pace of life in our culture today leaves little room for free play. Between work, extra-curricular activities and sports, it seems like every moment of the day is scheduled. It’s hard to give our kids enough time to play, let alone spend quality time with them.

Too much screen time

Screens are everywhere in today’s culture. Almost everyone has a smart phone, tablet or other streaming device. As a result, our children always have access to apps, games, movies and shows. As a parent, I understand the temptation to allow young children to be entertained by a screen. We all need a few moments of quiet on occasion and to be able to be productive. However, too much screen time is harmful to our kids. It’s also not a substitute for playtime. Check the American Academy of Pediatrics’ recommendation for appropriate screen time.

How to start giving your kids the right amount of playtime

Making play a priority for your children doesn’t necessarily require you to change your lifestyle. Simply take one or two of the ideas below and try them out. Just a few small changes could make a difference in your child’s development.

Limit your schedule

Try pairing down the number of activities your family participates in after work and school. Purposely limit screen time to emergencies only during their playtime with you. Let them gaze into your eyes and see your the excitement of your face more than the screen of your smart device.

Provide unstructured time

Leave part of their day open to just be spontaneous and play. It’s also important to let your children play independently. If you’re always providing them with an activity, they won’t have the chance to learn how to self-entertain and use their imaginations.

Play with your kids

Your children need you and they crave your attention. Playing with them builds a bond between you.
Limit screen time. Children need play much more than screen time. They need you to set limits for them.
Go outside. Make it a point to take the kids outside regularly. You can visit your local park, or simply go and explore your backyard.

How to play with your kids

Playing with your children not only helps their development, it also brings you closer together. Here are some ideas for playing with your children.

  • Play pretend. Just let their imaginations run wild and play along.
  • Build a fort. All you need is blankets and furniture. You can even throw in a flashlight and pretend you’re camping together.
  • Play games. Hide and Seek, Red Light, Green Light and Simon Says were some of my childhood favorites.
  • Go on a walk and pretend to be on an adventure. You can pretend to do anything from exploring the jungle to running from a bear.
  • Bake cookies and let them help. It may take longer and be messy, but it will be time well spent.
  • Play a card game. Even if they are too young to follow the rules, they’ll have fun!
  • Just be silly. Make funny faces or start a pillow fight. Do something silly and see what happens. Your kids will love it!

Children need playtime for proper development. I invite you to join me in making an effort to slow down the pace of life, to start saying “no” to other obligations and make playtime a priority.

– Charity Ritter LISW-S

1. Ginsburg, Kenneth. (2007). The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds. Pediatrics, Volume 119(Issue 1), Retrieved from


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