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4 things your children are learning through play

May 11, 2015

There is an old saying that Child Life Specialists hear and say often: “A child’s play is their work.” It is no secret that children love to play. Play is a child’s way of learning about the world around them. It is fun, but also allows them a safe and familiar way to process information and experiences on a day-to-day basis. Children can engage in multiple types of play, either by themselves or with their friends. The benefits of play are necessary components for the positive growth and development of children regardless of age or gender.

Socialization skills

Play is a wonderful social opportunity for children. It teaches them how to interact with their peers and learn social rules such as turn-taking. It can also facilitate learning through mimicking or modeling. Providing opportunities for children to engage in play with others is a vital part of their development at all ages, but just as important is for the play to be fun. “Play dates” with other children are a great way to encourage socialization. Even when a child is a patient in the hospital, playtime with other children who may be going through similar experiences can be very therapeutic as they are often seeking experiences that feel “normal,” and play is normal and necessary to a child. 

Processing their thoughts and emotions

Children encounter many new experiences and challenges in everyday life. Play can be a useful tool to help children make sense of their world in a way that feels safe to them. Child Life Specialists frequently utilize play to assess a child’s level of understanding of a medical procedure, for example. During those times, children are able to play through their experience with hands-on interaction which can demonstrate either their understanding or their misconceptions of real events. In day-to-day life, parents are encouraged to watch and participate with their children during play. Play is a language that children use to communicate and a great deal can be learned from watching a child play or from letting them lead you in play.

The benefits of play are necessary components for the positive growth and development of children regardless of age or gender. Lendy Chapman, CCLS

Problem Solving

One of the most important tasks a child can and needs to learn is how to problem solve. This can encompass many things, such as how to fix something the child built that did not work the way they had intended it to, but it can also include how to work together with a friend in creating a new game or working out a disagreement. When a disagreement is noted between your child and a friend during their play, they are being provided with opportunities to learn to compromise or handle disagreements in a constructive manner. The problem solving skills that are learned through play can be considered the foundations of the skills that children will need to be successful as they navigate towards adulthood.


A child’s imagination is an amazing thing to see in action. Play opens the door for a child to express their imagination whether through dramatic play, art, building toys, and the like. When a child is able to engage in creative play, it encourages them to “think outside the box” and potentially consider new activities or ideas they never had before.

With the onset of summer ahead of us, this is a great time to encourage your children to play—alone and with their others. While many families have very busy schedules during the summer, time may be much less structured, allowing more time for children to engage in activities of their choosing. And remember- play isn’t just for the children!

Engaging in play with your kids is a great way to encourage bonding and allows you a window into their world.