057: What is the value of play?

Does play really matter? Do children get anything out of it? Or is it just messing around; time that could be better spent preparing our children for success in life?

Today we talk with Dr. Stuart Brown, founder of the National Institute for Play, about the benefits of play for both children and – I was surprised to find – adults.

This is the first in a series of episodes on play – lots more to come on outdoor play (and how to raise kids who love being outdoors), risky play, and imaginative play.


Bjorklund, D.F., & Brown, R.D. (1998). Physical play and cognitive development: Integrating activity, cognition, and education. Child Development, 69, 604-606.

Brown, S. (2009). Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. New York, NY: Penguin.

Christakis, D. A., F. J. Zimmerman, and M. Garrison. (2007). Effect of block play on language acquisition and attention in toddlers a pilot randomized controlled trial. Archives of Pediatric and Adolescent Medicine,161 (10), 967-971.

Csíkszentmihályi, Mihály (1990). Flow: The psychology of optimal experience. New York: Harper and Row.

Duckworth, A.L. (2016). Grit: The power of passion and perseverance. New York, NY: Scribner.

Elkind, D. (2003). Thanks for the memory: The lasting value of true play. Young Children 58(3), 46-51.

Lancy, D.F. (2015). The anthropology of childhood: Cherubs, chattel, changelings (2nd Ed.). Cambridge, U.K.: Cambridge University Press.

Also published on Medium.


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  1. Megan on February 15, 2018 at 1:09 AM

    Another great episode! I guess I’m embarrassed to admit I might be one of *those* adults, but I’m still not completely clear on what ‘play’ is for grownups, aside from rough-housing or digging in the sand ourselves. Looking forward to clarifying my understanding of this in future episodes. Keep up the great work!
    (Feel totally free to delete this comment if it’s not the most appropriate place for this feedback!)

    • Jen Lumanlan on February 19, 2018 at 9:25 PM

      Megan, I think “play” for adults is whatever you find fun! That might be rough-housing and digging in the sand, but it might also be cooking or reading or playing video games or mountain biking. In an ideal world, your “play” and “work” will significantly intersect…LMK if you have any other questions!

  2. Amy Cox on October 19, 2018 at 1:29 PM

    Just found your site and podcast. Really enjoyed this episode. I have 4 kids, ages 7 girl, 3.5 yo b/g twins and a 15 mo old. It is hard to play with them. I tried to do 10-15 mins of individual “mommy time” but it was chaos. If i try to sit with one child to play the others get jealous and chaos again. So, I just don’t play and it bothers me. Any tips on managing play with multiple kids?

    • Jen Lumanlan on October 23, 2018 at 3:25 AM

      Hi Amy – that definitely does sound challenging! Part of it is likely that you are trying something new and they’re protesting the change – if it were to become more of a routine, there would likely be less protestation. Do you have support around you who could take some of the children (partner, neighbors, children’s friends…) while you spend quality time with one of them – even if it’s just a short walk around the neighborhood? You can make this easier on yourself by not just thinking of “play time” as quality time: time spent cooking dinner together or doing laundry together is quality time too if you’re chatting and laughing and playing and enjoying each other’s company. Hope this helps…

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