Why Play Matters—A Lot

Neil Gordon
June 15, 2015
a boy holds a rod with something attached to it by a string over a clear bucket of water, seemingly trying to fish something out

Simply put, play matters because it is how young children learn. It is as simple as that. Not learn in the “accumulation of information” sense, but more holistically, in the sense of finding their abilities and interests, learning about their environment, and sharing their world with others.  

Play is how kids learn skills like exploration, experimentation, and persistence. Play is a chance to try out new situations, materials, or roles, and see what they are all about and how to navigate them. Play is about trying something new, seeing what the results may be, and then trying again to see whether anything changes.

Through play, kids develop skills like feeling their emotions or the emotions of others, understanding the impact they have on those around them, and finding ways to communicate how they feel or think. We are social beings, and play is the way we learn what it means to be part of a social dynamic, to manage our interactions in that setting. How to share, take turns, console, say no.

I could go on:  risk-taking, confidence building, problem solving—all these skills are crucial to leading a complete and satisfying life, and all are rooted in early play experiences.

What we want for kids is great play. Play that is rich, varied, full of experiences: both solitary and with others, with found or repurposed objects, or just with the imagination. Great play is what every kid needs and every kid deserves. The cost to provide it is very low, and the cost of not having it is very, very high.

photo of CEO Neil Gordon standing with treehouse in background
Neil Gordon

I joined The Discovery Museums in September 2009, and feel lucky to serve this terrific community of kids, families and supporters. After serving as Budget Director for the City of Boston, my museum career began in 1995 at Boston Children’s Museum, where I served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. My priorities for The Discovery Museums include supporting kids and families to play and learn together; expanding outdoor learning; increasing access for underserved populations; and building upon our 33-year history to create a museum for the next 30 years.

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We firmly believe in the fundamental value of play for children—and families—to support emotional, developmental, and social health and well-being. This blog will explore why play matters, and touch on all aspects of our work to encourage play and support early STEM learning.