The Social and Emotional Benefits of Play

Bullying is on the rise. A shocking number of incidents in school cafeterias and schoolyards and on the Internet as “cyberbullying” take place daily. It shows up at home among siblings too.

But let’s not throw up our hands in despair. There are many things that can be done to reduce it. What is bullying? A push, a shove, name-calling or shunning are all forms of bullying when used to gain power and control over others.

Barbara Coloroso in her book, The Bully, the Bullied and the Bystander, believes that one of the ways of reducing the threat of bullying in our schools and homes is to encourage kids to get involved in activities with their peers that promote creative, responsible and prosocial behaviour.

As parents, we can help our kids to seek release of their pent-up frustration and boredom through play. Bullies often feel bad about themselves. They may be hurting inside. We must find positive ways to help them fill that emotional hole.

When kids are involved in interests and activities that engage them, they are less prone to seek release through antisocial behaviour such as bullying. Among other things, play helps them develop empathy as kids negotiate the parametres of a game.

A child who wants to be a friend invites others into his world. This is in direct contrast to a bully who tries to boss kids into doing what he wants them to do by using “or else” scare tactics.


Boy in window









The Cognitive Benefits of Play

Play is a hot topic in today’s world. There is a wealth of research material available by experts in their fields including psychologists, pediatricians, and academics on the subject of play.

They all agree that children learn through play. Play leads to successful learning outcomes. It opens new windows that lead to growth and development.

One of the most important benefits is that it helps children acquire cognitive skills. Mental smarts help children make sense of the world around them. Children who lack sensory experiences can’t form ideas or work with concepts. This is why it is important to provide children with a rich environment.

Playing games helps to train the brain in the areas of focus and memory. For e.g. customer role-plays in a pretend bank or store are helpful. Children learn math and develop their problem-solving skills.

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

For more information visit:
AAP Gateway –
Advanced Search: Pediatrics/January 2007/volume 119/issue 1/author Kenneth R Ginsburg

Psychologists tell us that “healthy brain development” is based not on the increase in the number of brain cells, but plasticity or the brain’s ability to strengthen neural connections at its synapses (the tiny gap between two nerve cells). It forms the basis for learning and memory. The good news is that the stimulation provided by play helps to increase this plasticity.

Unfortunately, life has speeded up so much that playtime has shrunk. We may be also partly guilty in our eagerness to see our children achieve academic success. Let’s remember: Playtime is not a waste of time.



Liv is a dance artist and lives in Orillia.  That’s a charming little artsy town north of Toronto. She also likes to sing, but let’s not go there. Her solo performances always get rave reviews. At thirty-six, she’s a real live wire and a glamour girl to boot. Liv even wears her fancy baubles to bed. She is effervescent with energy, affable and charming. We asked Liv the secret of her sparkle.   She said, “I woke up one morning and decided to murder all the people in my life who killed my joy,” she winked mischievously and laughed, “Dahlin’, if you must know. For me life is fun and games. I con my friends to play card games, board games, snookers, and anything else. You name it, I play it.”

Tree House











The exhibition at the Varley Art Gallery of Markham in Unionville, Ontario, by artist Jennie Suddick entitled “Of Nails and Rope Ladders” draws upon the inspiration nicknamed The Tree House Project. Visitors to the McKay Art Centre contributed to her project through collaborative sketching and discussion last March. The participants were encouraged to sketch their own childhood dreams of outdoor play areas, both real and imagined.  The result is a display of exquisitely crafted miniature outdoor fantasy play areas that are a delight to explore from now till January 10, 2016.

The Tree House Project also offers us a chance to reflect on our own childhood experience, and take a trip down memory lane to a land where nature was a place of full of wonder. If you had the freedom to create your own play area, what would your hangout look like?












When was the last time you sat down and really enjoyed your food? We gobble, consume, devour, wolf down, or demolish our food. All these words denote hurry sickness. We are always in such a rush and eat on the run. We don’t relish what we eat, or chew it slowly. The aroma and flavour of food totally escapes us. Pity. We don’t even let others enjoy their food.

“You’d even eat the leg of the kitchen table if you could, ” my new roommate said to me after she had just tempted me with luscious home-cooked pasta. I had licked the plate clean. When she offered me a slice of pie, I crumbled inside and just shook my head. Leisurely sitting down to enjoy one’s food and one’s company is the perfect recipe for zest. It helps in escaping from life’s stresses.











Stress is rampant today.  We all go through stress in our everyday lives. If we can’t cope with something, it causes stress on us.  Stress destroys everything if we allow it. This is because we respond to events with our bodies as well as our minds.

However, the way in which we respond to stress is determined by our beliefs and imaginings. The mind-body connection makes a huge difference in how powerful the trigger is. This is why play is so important.

Play has an effect on our mental outlook so that our perception of the stressful event changes, and so does our body’s reaction to it. Another benefit is that when we play we can entertain our serious and our playful sides, and become more malleable.

Unlease the Child in you

We often associate play with children. When you hear someone say, “He likes to play.” You know it’s not meant as a compliment. And we are even more critical when someone plays with real objects like stuffed animals. Ha-ha. My husband’s story pops up into my mind. One day at age eleven, his dad took away all his furry friends and gave them away to a charity. The reason? “It’s time to put away childish things.”

But there’s a difference between being childish and child-like. Children are full of energy and enthusiasm. They are curious and full of adventure, and they like to play. I just feel less adults would go around wearing an armour of triple steel if they stayed in touch with their inner child. This ability to play nurtures our soft side and makes us more tolerant of others.



If you said “YES, ” you’re right. The psychologist Jean Piaget opened a window for us on a child’s cognitive development. His ideas have changed how we view the child’s world and our methods of teaching children. A child moves through four stages (sensorimotor, preoperational, concrete operational, and formal operational). We know now that when children are allowed to play, they move more quickly through these stages.

In parts of the world where children lack opportunities to play, there is evidence that the absence of stimulating activities stunts a child’s growth. The result is that a child can be more easily conditioned, and is less likely to act spontaneously as an adult. For more info visit:



We are always in a hurry to do something or go somewhere. Wouldn’t it be nice if we could just enjoy the ride? Well, there is an excursion train in Tottenham that allows us to do just that. The little town is just north of Toronto, and the train tootles back and forth on the same tracks. If you look outside the window, you’ll even see a sign that says, “NOWHERE.”

The steam whistle lures you into a forgotten era when life was slower, and its sound was an invitation to travel to exotic places.  Once on the train, time becomes a river that meanders, instead of a linear event that hurls us into the future. For more information visit:



Listen, smell, touch, taste and LOOK. Get a whiff, smell the coffee, hug someone close to you, talk to a stranger, open your eyes wide and look around you. What do you see? Look deeper. Get closer. Get out of your head space and into your body. It’s all about becoming more aware. In the hurly burly of everyday life, we often forgot the simple axiom that Sensory Awareness = Dynamic Awareness.

Experience life through the senses: it will help to renew your smile.