The Importance of Play for Children

Girls and boys, come out to play,

The moon doth shine as bright as day;

Leave your supper and leave your sleep,

And come with your play-fellows into the street

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Play is vitally important to children. The singing game quoted above dates from at least the early 18th century, a time when most children worked all day. Here, they are exhorted to leave their supper and sleep in favor of playing in the moonlit streets.

 Children have played since ancient times. There are Biblical descriptions of children playing in the streets, and of Wisdom playing in the world at the dawn of creation. In ancient Egypt, the tomb of the boy Pharaoh Tutankhamun was filled with treasure and playthings for the young King’s final journey.

Children play in the midst of war. During World War II, Anna Freud was in England, caring for children who had experienced air raids, were separated from their mothers, and had varying experiences of disruption and loss in their family lives. But Freud writes descriptions of children playing joyfully in bomb sites and throwing bricks retrieved from crumbled walls.

 Children play when there is nothing to play with. Ella Lyman Cabot (1921) relates the story of settling her three-year-old daughter for an afternoon nap. Tiptoeing back an hour later, she was met with merry sounds. Mystified, she opened the door and found that the resourceful tot had removed a lacing from one of her shoes and had transformed her right foot into a spirited steed racing at great speed, controlled by shoe-string reins.

 Play is essential for the child’s development. In 2011 the developmental and relational importance of play was reaffirmed by the American Academy of Pediatrics.



Cabot, E. L. (1921). The art of play. In Seven ages of childhood (pp. 28-39). Boston and New York: Houghton Mifflin Company/The Riverside Press Cambridge. Retrieved from

Freud, A., & Burlingham, D. T. (1943). Children and war. New York: Medical War Books/ Ernst Willard.

Milteer, R. M., Ginsberg, K. R. American Academy of Pediatrics Council on Communications and Media  Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health (2011). Pediatrics; originally published online December 26, 2011; DOI: 10.1542/peds.2011-2953   Retrieved at

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