Encourage Play Every Day for Good Health

By Zaina Cahill

By Zaina Cahill, Early Childhood & Learning Lab Director, Children’s Village

News Flash: The American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) now recommends that pediatricians prescribe play as a part of young children’s development. These recommendations come as research continues to document the ways in which children benefit from play!

In this latest research, Yogman, Garner, Hutchinson, Hirsh-Pasek, & Golinkoff (2018) report that pediatricians should, “Write a ‘prescription for play’ at well-child visits in the first two years of life,” and, furthermore that children should have many opportunities for play across the early years. In short, the AAP’s recommendations encourage parents and early childhood educational environments to allow children to play every single day! This will help children to develop foundational skills across all developmental domains while promoting fun, exploration of their environment.

Yogman et. al. explains, “Play is a part of our evolutionary heritage, occurs in a wide spectrum of species, is fundamental to health, and gives us opportunities to practice and hone the skills needed to live in a complex world.” As such, the authors document how all types of play benefit children’s development, including play with objects/ toys, rough-and-tumble play, outdoor play, and pretend play. When these play experiences happen regularly, children’s skill levels in terms of executive functioning (a children’s ability to learn), social-emotional skills, language acquisition, mathematics, and their overall physical development are increased.

The AAP documents that play leads to:

  • Sustained attention
  • Successful problem solving
  • Mental flexibility
  • Effective Multitasking
  • Creativity
  • Friendships
  • Better negotiation
  • Cooperation
  • Increased language
  • Clear conversation abilities
  • Counting skills
  • Numeral awareness
  • Strong spatial awareness
  • Healthy weight
  • Healthy Cardiovascular System
  • Strong Immune System
  • Improved coordination
  • Good balance

In addition, children demonstrate lower levels of depression and aggressive behavior. Furthermore, it has been observed that, through play, children organically encounter and internalize new vocabulary, the grammar structures of language, and understanding of scientific skills (like the change in state of matter when a child adds water to dirt to create a mud puddle!).

Who can argue with this impressive list of benefits from one four letter word?!

So how can teachers and families better promote play with the children in their care? The Genius of Play (2019), in their “Play All May” initiative, provided a different play idea for each day of the month that can easily be carried over into any month of the year.

This non-profit organization associated with The Toy Association, also provides numerous play ideas to engage children in all types of creative activity during all types of, and times for, play. This is a great resource whether you’re looking for play suggestions for newborns, infants, toddlers, and all the way up to preteens!

Regardless of what play activities you choose, it is important to always let children play! It will promote better development for them, more enjoyment and fun for the family, and higher learning in the educational environment.


Zaina Cahill, Early Childhood & Learning Lab Director at Children’s Village (Philadelphia, PA) and adjunct professor at Arcadia University, is an NYU (B.S.Ed) and Walden University (M.S.Ed) graduate. Since 2005, she’s worked as a substitute, assistant, lead, & special ed. teacher and as an administrator, with toddler to elementary school children. Zaina holds ECE teaching certification, is authorized to offer professional development in PA, and is a certified Infant/Toddler/PreK CLASS observer. She has presented and spoken at events at the city, state, and national levels. Zaina is a member of the NAEYC Affiliate Advisory Council, the NAEYC Membership Engagement Committee, Exchange Leadership Institute, Becker’s Advisory Council, and the Philadelphia Race Matters and Cultural Competency Learning Circle. In 2016, she was honored at the White House Teacher of the Year event, in 2017, testified at the Democratic Women’s Working Group hearing on “The State of Childcare in America,” and in 2019, spoke alongside Pennsylvania State Senator Bob Casey (D) at the re-introduction of the Childcare For Working Families Act. Zaina has made written contributions to the Becker’s and NAEYC blogs and the NAEYC magazine Teaching Young Children.

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