Born to Play……!!! A vital Connection of Play and Children’s Health: What the Research tells us

Born to Play……!!!

…born free as free as the wind blows….
My daughter Aubrey was so playful in the Burger Park, Bremen-Germany
She’s really born to play!!!

A vital Connection of Play and Children’s Health:  What the Research tells us


When you see a child is very quiet, alone and not so playful…. What is in your mind? Maybe you will ask the question whether she is ill, sick, or something wrong with her…..

..she didn’t want to play… what’s wrong with her??

Playing becomes one of the important indicators for the children’s well-being. Playing is crucial to children’s healthy physical, mental, social and emotional health and well being, and therefore to their families and to communities as a whole. Children have an inborn urge to play – recent research suggests that playing has an impact on the physical and chemical development of the brain – it ‘influences children’s ability to adapt to, survive, thrive and shape their social and physical environments.

So what will happen if children grow up without play? How does this affect their immediate long-term health, both physical and mental?

The American Academy of Pediatrics expressed concern about the demise of play in a clinical report issued in October 2006. Its recommendation included the following:

  • Pediatrician can promote free-play as healthy, essential part of childhood. They should recommend that all children are afforded ample, unscheduled, independent, nonscreen time to be creative, to reflect and to decompress. Although parent can monitor play for safety, a large proportion of   play should be child driven rather than adult-directed.
  • Pediatrician should emphasize the advantages of active play and discourage parents from overuse of passive entertainment (e.g. television and computer game)
  • Television-the passive entertainment

  • Pediatrician should emphasize that active child-centered play is a time-tested way of producing healthy, fit young bodies.

Many health professionals see the link between the decline of active outdoor play and the rise in childhood obesity. The fact is: most of typical school aged child today spends four to six hours with high-tech media, most of it indoors and less than one hour outdoors in non-sports activities.

Swimming is one of my daughter’s favorite active outdoor play. This is my daughter when she was having the swimming session in Ras Al-Hamra Recreation Center, Muscat-Oman.

The Harvard Heart Letter published data on the number of calories burned by adult of different weights in a wide range of physical activities. An adult weighing 125 pounds playing children’s games like hopscotch or jacks for example, burn 150 calories in 30 minutes.

It is not surprisingly that nowadays, the childhood obesity is on the rise with the less and less of active outdoor play for the children. Since obesity is related with the health problem such as high blood pressure and diabetes, doctors now warn that today’s children may be the first generation in 200 years to have a shorter lifespan than their parents!!

Childhood Obesity

Are you surprised with this fact? Well, there is still another area of concern: the rise of mental illness among children. Even there is no solid research linking the demise of play with this increase, but given the many ways that play strengthens the social and emotional life of children and relieves stress, it is likely that its decline contributes to mental problem.  

I realize how important and how natural the play is to the children. Children need to play because it is natural and it makes them feel good. However, in so many early childhood programs sometimes people forget how to be playful. They were focus on order and routines, appearances and paperwork, agenda, and lesson plans. Free play as a form of children’s expression sometimes diminished for the sake of the targets and goals of the adults (teacher/educator/parent) around them.

The research about the importance of play for young children could provide the knowledge and advice to the significant person who deals with the young children such as teacher and parent. With the knowledge about play, teacher and parent will be able to provide activities that allow the children to develop their good well being and encourage the child’s capacities to blossom. Knowing how young children learn in a variety of domains could reassure the parents that they do not need to spend their hard-earned money on electronic toys and adult-structured class.

Free play at bath time-my son Fernando was so enjoying the water play in Grandma’s backyard-in Singkawang, West Kalimantan-Indonesia.

As a teacher (and parent) myself, I understand that knowledge about the play for young children is very important. However, unfortunately not every teacher/educator understands about the importance. Therefore, educating all the people who involve in child education (principal, teachers, school administrator, parents, etc) to provide knowledge about the play is very important. Therefore, if the key person of child education understands about the importance of play for young children, they can create an adequate and rich play scenario in their environment, which is very beneficial to the young children.

Muscat, Sultanate of Oman

May 2012


Golinkoff, R.M. Play and Learning Research. University of Delaware. Retrieved from

Miller, E & Almon, J. (2009). Crisis in the Kindergarten. Why Children Need to Play in School. College Park, MD: Alliance for Childhood.


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