Why is play important to early childhood development?

Children’s work is to play! Play is needed for healthy development. Research shows that 75% of brain development occurs after birth. Play helps with that development by stimulating the brain through the formation of connections between nerve cells. This process helps with the development of fine and gross motor skills. Fine motor skills are actions such as being able to hold a crayon or pencil. Gross motor skills are actions such as jumping or running. Play also helps your child to develop language and socialization skills. Play allows children to learn to communicate emotions, to think, be creative and solve problems.[1]

Play takes many forms. However, researchers identify the following key characteristics pf playful experiences supporting development:[2]

Play is joyful. Children that are playing are often smiling and laughing. Play may at times be frustrating and challenging when one is trying to figure out who gets the first turn and when one can’t make a block building stay up; however there is an overall feeling of enjoyment, motivation, thrill and pleasure.

Play is actively engaging. Children that are playing become deeply involved in what they are doing, which combines physical, mental and verbal engagement.

Play is iterative. Children play to practice skills, try out possibilities, and discover new challenges, leading to deeper learning.

Play is socially interactive. Play allows children to communicate ideas and to understand others through social interaction.

Parents and other adults in a child’s life have a role in promoting play for healthy development. The organization, Raising Children, suggests a number of ways to engage children in play. for example, for babies, you could use objects of different sizes and colours to encourage a child to reach out and grasp. For toddlers, they may enjoy playing with safe objects encouraging physical activity like boxes, containers, pillows and balls. Music is also a great way to introduce different sounds and rhythms.

Although it has been proven that play and interaction are important components of ECD, children in the Middle East and North Africa (MENA) region are missing out on important opportunities to develop socially and emotionally, and are at a substantial disadvantage compared to other regions. Parents’ engagement in activities that promote learning is an important support of cognitive development, and an important indicator of parenting practices and the social-emotional engagement of parents with their children.[3] Early social and cognitive engagement among young children in Dubai is more likely given that approximately 28,000 young children are enrolled in formal early childhood education and care.


[1] Anderson-MacNamee, J.K. and Bailey, S.J. (2010). The Importance of Play in Early Childhood Development. Montana State University Extension.

[2] UNICEF (2018). Learning through play. Strengthing learning through play in early childhood education programmes. UNICEF, New York.

[3] El-Kogali, Safaa, and Caroline Krafft (2015). Expanding Opportunities for the Next Generation: Early Childhood Development in the Middle East and North Africa. Directions in Development. Washington, DC: World Bank.

Leave a Reply