Does playtime serve a purpose beyond “having fun” or “burning off steam”?Our TimberNook Team attended the annual TimberNook Conference in Greenfield, New Hampshire and had the opportunity to learn more from developmental psychologist, Dr. Kimberley Nesbit, on the importance of play for the development of Executive Functioning Skills in children. Dr. Nesbit explained that scientists have discovered that children’s’ brains are wired to learn through play and in fact have found that play is essential for proper development. Working memory, mental flexibility, and inhibitory control, all skills that are necessary for adult life, are largely developed during childhood through play.
To give a simple example, when children engage in role-play (i.e playing house, superheroes, or cops and robbers) they create complex rules for who they are and who everyone else is and they choose to follow them. This exercises working memory in that the children have to create and remember the details of their own role and remember the complex roles of the children they’re playing with. In addition, they have the opportunity to exercise their mental flexibility when a new child enters their play circle and decides they are going to be a new character. They have to change some of the rules of their game in order to incorporate the new character. Lastly, in keeping the game going, children exercise their inhibitory control. Because play is so intrinsically motivating, children practice their ability to ignore distraction and maintain their focus on the game. In short, play is often viewed simply as a source of fun for children; however, we now know that play is laying a critical piece of the foundation for the development of the adult mind. Tom Hobson, one of the speakers at the conference, summed up the theme of the weekend well when he said: “Play is practice for being human”.