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Publication #FAR0603

The Importance of Play1

Suzanna Smith2

Figure 1. 
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Adults who watch children at play may think of it as having fun, goofing off or letting off energy. Yet play is actually how children learn and is essential to their healthy cognitive, social, and physical development.

Play stimulates every aspect of a child's development. Motor skills such as walking, kicking, or skipping are strengthened by sliding and running, by jumping rope, or playing ball. Children develop their fine motor skills and eye-hand coordination with art work such as finger painting and coloring.

They build their thinking skills with games that require strategy and planning to reach a goal, making choices, or solving problems, such as board games, puzzles, and models. Even making mud pies teaches children about measuring and mixing.

Playing with other children also helps youngsters develop social and interpersonal skills as they take turns, share their toys, and work as a team. Plus, they have the added benefit of the sheer joy of being with a friend. Play helps children develop confidence as they learn new things. What parent can forget a child's look of pride as she or he finally masters a task?

Playing with your child can also build your relationship as you both enjoy each other's company and have fun together. As adults, we often forget that we too still have permission to play. Play is what childhood is about, so give children reasonable freedom to explore, provide interesting playthings, and play together often.

Listening, learning, and living together: it's the science of life. "Family Album" is a co-production of University of Florida IFAS Extension, the Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, and of WUFT-FM. If you'd like to learn more, please visit our website at

To listen to the radio broadcast:



This document is FAR0603, one of a series of the Family Youth and Community Sciences Department, UF/IFAS Extension. Broadcast as program 168 and published February 2008. Revised May 2008. Reviewed January 2015. In the interest of time and/or clarity, the broadcast version of this script may have been modified. Visit the EDIS website at


Suzanna Smith, associate professor, Department of Family, Youth and Community Sciences, University of Florida, and executive producer, Family Album Radio, UF/IFAS Extension, Gainesville, FL 32611.

The Institute of Food and Agricultural Sciences (IFAS) is an Equal Opportunity Institution authorized to provide research, educational information and other services only to individuals and institutions that function with non-discrimination with respect to race, creed, color, religion, age, disability, sex, sexual orientation, marital status, national origin, political opinions or affiliations. For more information on obtaining other UF/IFAS Extension publications, contact your county's UF/IFAS Extension office.

U.S. Department of Agriculture, UF/IFAS Extension Service, University of Florida, IFAS, Florida A & M University Cooperative Extension Program, and Boards of County Commissioners Cooperating. Nick T. Place, dean for UF/IFAS Extension.