What Is Play?

Some Thoughts

“Play is:

    • A complex set of behaviors characterized by fun and spontaneity
    • Play can be sensory, neuromuscular, cognitive & any combination of the three.
    • Play involves repetition of experience, exploration, experimentation, and imitation of one’s surroundings.”

~ Linda L. Florey 1981

“Play is the universal language of childhood. It is through play that children understand each other and make sense of the world around them.”

Play Scotland

“Play is often overlooked as the key that helps unlock the door to learning.”
~ Mary Reilly 1974


What is Play?

Description: Patty Obrzut, Assistant Director of Penrickton Center for Blind Children, defines the essential role of play in Active Learning.

Play-based Learning

Young girl playing with things that have wheels.
Young girl playing with things that have wheels.

The importance of play-based learning (as is found in Active Learning) is discussed in this article, “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children”, by Michael Yogman, Andrew Garner, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health, Council on Communications and Media, with the American Academy of Pediatrics.

Play-based learning can be accomplished in a variety of ways in Active Learning including:

    • small group activities that have been appropriately adapted to meet the learner’s individual needs as described in the Individual Education Program (IEP),
    • independent exploration and discovery in Active Learning environments that utilize perceptualizing aids, and
    • within interactions with adults (or even peers) who use the treatments of offering, imitation, interaction, sharing the work, and consequences.

Center on the Developing Child

The Center on the Developing Child (Harvard University) website has some valuable information on the importance of play and adult-child interactions in helping children’s brain development. Children who are visually impaired and/or deaf may suffer chronic stress because of their inability to understand the world around them and what is about to happen. Even interactions with caring adults can be difficult for these children, especially when many of their early interactions involve medical procedures that are painful or confusing. Play, at the child’s developmental level, helps to mitigate the impact of this stress. Dr. Lilli Nielsen was aware of this issue when she developed her approach, and now brain science is validating her hypothesis.

These videos from the Harvard Center on the Developing Child helps explain why play is so important to all humans, Play in Early Childhood: The Role of Play in Any Setting and Building Babies’ Brains Through Play.

Collage of What is Play