What is The Forgotten Value of Play?


“Play is the highest form of research.” ~ Albert Einstein

What? Does that mean that all those little kiddos running around with bath towel capes and muddy feet are mini-scientists, making discoveries and creating new possibilities?

Apparently so!

Case in point? Finland has vaulted to the top of the educational pyramid, in part by honoring the value of play.

Have you seen the short video going around about education in Finland? It talks about how, for so many years, students in Finland and the United States were pretty much neck-and-neck as far as achievement. Then Finland started taking off, while the United States continued on its same, mostly flat-lined path.

How did they do it? What was their secret ingredient?


Yes, that thing we may dismiss as ‘being for kids’. It has become what we may try to squeeze into our day, in between all the other ‘important events’ of the moment.

Students, staff, and administrators alike all remarked on the amount of time students have for play. Their school days, depending on the grade level, may be three or four hours long. They are given very little, if any, homework. The reason being that students are expected to occupy their time with play because, in play, children learn on a totally different level.  


Playtime is precious. Play builds brain pathways for thinking, creativity, flexibility, empathy, and many other lifelong skills.” ~Heather Shumaker


Research shows that play is essential to brain development.


When children play, they experience life and all it has to offer. They make decisions, follow through, experience consequences, tweak ideas, work together, show compassion, build confidence, start over, express their thoughts and problem-solve. They lead others, construct knowledge, apply skills, adapt to conditions, challenge themselves, process emotions, take risks, connect with nature, and manage stress. They read, write, speak, count and calculate.

Oh! And they have fun and laugh!

Feeling the desire to climb a tree? You can simultaneously learn about physics and study insects and leaves.

Looking to play a card game? Develop number sense and understand conditionality in game rules!

Is it make-believe time? Imagine situations and build environments within which to role play and problem-solve.

Developing your heart, your mind and soul through play provides a resilient, sound foundation upon which to cultivate your life.

So, somewhere along the line Finland decided that “less is more”.

Less formal, standardized education means more personalized, individualized and experiential play education.

And that, apparently, means more successful students.


Play builds the kind of free-and-easy, try-it-out, do-it-yourself character that our future needs. ~ James L. Hymes, Jr.


Now when you think of it, when you think about all of those qualities that play nurtures and encourages, are those not the very qualities that we ‘grown-ups’ value in one another?


That is the beauty of play. Its ripples reach far into the future.

And play does not need to stop once you reach a certain age.

Pop quiz!

When is the last time you played? What is it that you played? And with whom did you play?

If your answers are ‘never, nothing, and no one’ then you owe yourself a play date.

Grown-ups continue to benefit from play.

Playing during your childhood had set the foundation, and playing as you continue to age draws upon and enhances that foundation.

Dr. Stuart Brown explains, “Play is something done for its own sake. It’s voluntary, it’s pleasurable, it offers a sense of engagement, it takes you out of time. And the act itself is more important than the outcome.”

Of course, some of the playing you do now may look a bit different, but the purpose is the same: build community, sharpen your mind, invite creativity, and explore possibilities.

So, come on, put away that electronic gadget, step away from your work and grab a friend or two.

It is time to bask in the glory of play.

It is time to add to the ripples of play already pulsing through your life.

It is time to bring on the magic!


Because you deserve the benefits of play.


Do you realize the immense impact that play has on relationships in your life? Relationships with yourself, loved ones, friends, and co-workers?

Here are a few things that a play date can do for you:  


Relieve stress: Playing invites you to be ‘in the moment’ and takes your mind off of what you are worrying about. Plus, it is fun! And when you are having fun your body releases endorphins, which promote a sense of well-being. Who does not enjoy feeling that all the world is right in that moment?!


Enhance social skills: Playing often involves others. Together, you explore the intricacies of communication, collaboration, competition and community, learning to navigate the path towards thriving relationships. The more proficient your social skills are, the more thoughtfully you embrace and negotiate your relations with others.


Deepen connections: Playing allows for you to interact with others on much different levels than while at work or while being seen as a title (ex: mom, teacher, uncle, etc.). You have the opportunity to see others, and for them to see you, as a unique individual, outside of the box that you are used to seeing them in, and that you are used to being seen in. Playing together can nurture trust, empathy, confidence, and compassion in ways that are not always possible within the confines of work or titles.


Boost energy: Playing gives your brain a break and encourages you to think outside of the box. This freedom to ‘let things go’ allows your brain to imagine and create at will, which rejuvenates energy and excitement.

Sounds like play is just the thing to give yourself - and your relationships with others - a sparkle they may be missing.

Give it a try!

No matter your age, you may surprise yourself with how sharing a joke, a kickball game, or a tea party shifts your day.


“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play is serious learning.” ~ Fred  Rogers, Mr Rogers of “Mr. Roger’s Neighborhood”


Agreed, Mr. Rogers!

And may I amend that quote not to include just children, but children of all ages?

All people need to have some fun with the serious learning of play.


All people need to remember the value of play.

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If the sun is shining, my Crosstrek is calling me to fill up her tank, throw open her sunroof, and head for the back-roads. With wind in my hair, I smile at everyone I see. Grace smiles back at me (even through the trees).