Play is Essential for Creativity, Innovation and Problem-Solving for Kids of ALL Ages

Good quality play enriches a child's life and lays a foundation for children to become creative, engaged, lifelong learners. Constructive play also allows adults to experiment, create, innovate, problem solve, find out what works, makes mistakes, and build bonds with one another.

Paulette Donnellon is the President of the San Diego County Board of Education. She’s on a mission to help educators understand the value of play and to preserve it in our schools. She’s also on a mission to help educators have fun, as she proved at this year’s National Gathering in Dallas, Texas. In this video, her message is bold, and perhaps not as obvious to education leaders as it once was. Children (and adults) learn through play. It’s part of our children’s natural development, and a wonderful way to engage them. In fact, play is a human right.

“Children are born to learn and on average, 98 percent of our three-year-olds have genius levels of creative thinking,” said Donnellon. “And then we start going to school. And guess what happens? Fewer than three percent of us retain those skills by the time we're 25 years old."

“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity and physical, cognitive and emotional strength and play is important to healthy brain development. It's also through play that children at a very early age engage and interact with the world around them.”

Young children develop many of their social skills through play. These include language skills, emotional relatability and creativity. And play helps to nurture imagination and give a child a sense of adventure.

“Play is not only natural, but it's essential for optimal child development,” said Donnellon. “In fact, play is so important that the United Nations’ High Commission for Human Rights recognizes the right of every child to engage in play time. Play time is essential for healthy development."

“Play-based learning is a great way to encourage children to use play. Not only for fun, but also as a tool for growth. There are five characteristics of playful experiences, as researched by the Lego Foundation. These include joyful, meaningful, iterative, actively engaging and socially interactive.”

“You've heard the saying that laughter is the best medicine,” said Donnellon. “Think about how great you feel when you participate in something you really enjoy. That's what play is all about. When you play, you have fun, and when you have fun, you laugh. Recent research has found that laughter is a powerful, readily available and cost-free way to boost your mood and psychological wellbeing. Although I think we've known that for a very long time. That's what makes play worthwhile. Joy is at the heart of play, both enjoying a task for its own sake in the momentary thrill of surprise, insight, success, or success after overcoming challenges."

“Recent research again shows how curiosity and positive experiences are linked to learning. When teachers use activities that make learning engaging and fun, students are more willing to participate and take risks. Having fun while learning also helps students retain information better because the process is enjoyable and memorable and joyous. It comes with the power of surprise. For example, if we're playing a board game and we're in last place, but guess what? You roll the dice just right and you're placed in first place that makes it a joyful moment for you.”

“Meaningful is all about making sense of those playful experiences, when a child can relate new experiences to something already known in play,” said Donnellon. “Children often explore what they have seen and done or noticed others do as a way of grasping what it means. By doing so, they can express and expand their understanding through a variety of media symbols and tools. If you could, imagine a two-year-old counting when asked to count to 10 by his parents. He counts one, two, three, four, five, six, seven, eight, nine, 10. Then the parents give their two-year old a high five and the child feels proud to have given the right answer. But when that child is given five objects, like pieces of fruit such as grapes or blueberries, and asked to count them, that child cannot come up with an answer. So, we need to make it meaningful for that child. The same thing happens with the alphabet song we all are very familiar with. So meaningful play ensures that knowledge is fully understood by the child and can be used to make connections with other known knowledge, aiding and further understanding.”



This is just a bit of the wisdom passed along in the video. But be warned, the audience had loads of fun and so did Donnellon. In fact, you may have so much fun watching this video that you’ll forget you are learning. But you’ll remember as you apply this to your own school or district. When you watch, we dare you not to smile. In fact, you may experience chuckles, chortles, giggles and even a guffaw or two.

To enjoy, click on the video below. Have fun!


Recent Articles


If you want to get the students back, you need to wow them. And herein lies the best that is yet to come

Charles Sosnik

While overall brain size is generally correlated with cognitive functioning, the size of various brain regions is actually more important

Betsy Hill