Sisters 7-year-old Charlotte and 9-year-old Emmarain Hoogendoorn have ferocious imaginations. When they needed a place where they could fully immerse themselves in their creativity, their parents created them a special playroom.

“We cleared out the space and we thought, ‘Well, they’re Lego people, they’re artists, they’re creators, they love imagination play. And they like to have a big wide-open space,'” says the girls’ mom, Christie Hoogendoorn. “So, we put together a room that allows them a place to do everything they love.”

The girls can spend hours together in their playroom, playing with dolls, building things with Legos, crafting and drawing, all activities that are beneficial to their health in multiple ways, says Dr. Pilar Bradshaw.

“Play is important for their social development and emotional development, and we also think it’s really important for their cognitive development, as well,” says Dr. Bradshaw.

The amount of time that kids spend playing each day has been declining for decades. To help remedy that, Dr. Bradshaw and her staff have started to issue “prescriptions for play” to families at well-check-ups, to encourage at least one hour of hands-on play daily.

“Now that technology has been here for a while, we’re starting to see more and more studies that show that learning everything on screens, in two, flat dimensions, doesn’t have the same impact on your brain,” says Dr. Bradshaw. “Kids need to use their hands and their senses and interact with one another.”

Different types of play
According to the American Academy of Pediatrics, different types of play are beneficial to kids in different ways:

  • Toys and object play: Babies use their sensory-motor skills when playing with toys—banging, squeezing, even mouthing a toy helps them figure out that it’s solid or hollow, hard or soft. When preschool-age children use objects in play, they develop abstract thought and concepts like symbolism. It can also teach them about sharing and taking turns.
  • Physical play: When children use their whole bodies in play, like on the playground, it helps develop their motor skills, prevent childhood obesity and build emotional intelligence.
  • Outdoor play: Playing outside allows kids to use all their senses to build skills like spatial awareness and balance. It can also improve a child’s attention span.
  • Pretend play: When children experiment with different social roles, they learn to cooperate. Dress up, make believe and imaginary play also encourage creativity and build more complex communication and language skills.

Engaging in play, from building and drawing to pretending and make-believe, also helps children learn problem-solving, teamwork and how to think in new ways.

“And they’re happy when they’re playing together,” Christie says. “It’s not always perfect; sometimes they argue and there are messes and marker and paint on the walls, but they’re also having a lot of fun.”

Technology and screens are a part of life for kids and families these days, but the key, Dr. Bradshaw says, is to find balance and to understand that play is serious business when it comes to a child’s health and development.

“Give them age-appropriate tools that they can build with, that they can paint with, that they can draw or color with, because what you’re going get out of it is a much happier, healthier, cognitively sharper kid.”

To learn more about the benefits of play, click here.