The Value of Play

An inviting playground is shown on a sunny day.Play is our human birthright and yet we see a devaluing of play in our culture. We are seeing the erosion of the value of play, especially playing outdoors, manifesting in nature-deficit disorder, a term coined by Richard Louv. The time children and parents could spend outdoors playing is often spent tied to a computer or television screen. This lack of play and connection to nature has resulted in greater incidences of obesity and other physical and emotional disorders.

In our neighborhoods children are rarely seen playing outdoors in yards or parks. Instead, they take part in prearranged after school activities or organized lessons, such as ballet or soccer. Parents clock many driving hours to get their children here and there and when they return home the door closes and remains closed for the rest of the evening. Weekends are busy as well with soccer games, birthday parties, or planned sleepovers. Free play outdoors, such as biking, skating, jumping rope, or skipping down the street with friends is rare. This is mainly due to our busy schedules and priorities that do not involve finding opportunities to play with neighbors in our area.

Some neighborhoods have adequate parks and playgrounds, but many do not. In urban areas working parents are often forced to leave their children to fend for themselves. In these same urban spaces there is not always a YMCA or Boys Club. Many children find themselves going home after school to an empty house with only a television to keep them company.

In our schools recess is often being seen as unnecessary and, in fact, detrimental to our children’s progress. Testing has become all important. How can they achieve high test scores unless teachers utilize all the available time during school hours teaching our children how to test well? Even lunchtime is often shortened to save time for more important matters.

Parents who find themselves working long hours during the day and evenings, are often at the beck-and-call of their work. Some parents with more financial resources can afford nannies, after school care, dance lessons, and soccer, or summer camp, however they are still left out of the play with their children.

As a culture we are also worried about children’s safety. The news is filled with what could happen to our children if we aren’t vigilant. Parents are loaded up with big concerns and worries about their children’s future. Climbing trees, playing outdoors in the rain or snow, playing with the kids in the neighborhood without a structured play date—these activities also appear to be unsafe. Parents want to protect their children, so the door is often shut to these types of play.

A Call to Playful Action:

There are many organizations advocating play for everyone, both children and adults, in rural and urban areas. Many of these organizations are devoted to education about the value of play, and have completed extensive research on the benefits of the subject.

Create playful communities, play outdoors together, and re-connect with nature. The rewards are many for our physical, emotional, and spiritual well-being.

Find Out More:
Kaboom studies and research page
US Play Coalition
The Association for the Study of Play
Children and Nature Network
The National Institute for Play

© Copyright 2011 by Mary Alice Long, PhD. All Rights Reserved. Permission to publish granted to

The preceding article was solely written by the author named above. Any views and opinions expressed are not necessarily shared by Questions or concerns about the preceding article can be directed to the author or posted as a comment below.

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  • Gregory.G

    March 16th, 2011 at 11:23 PM

    I am surprised at how little time our children spend outdoors compared to what we did at their age.Outdoor games and sports and just doing something outdoors was a major thing and we did this for hours at end and it would be great.Kids nowadays know only of a PlayStation of an Xbox and are always online or on TV when they are not ‘playing’.We need to encourage them to play outdoors and not just sit in an air-conditioned room and ‘game’.

  • angie

    March 17th, 2011 at 5:22 AM

    outdoor play and camping really brings a family together. but all this seems to have been forgotten because the only place the entire family goes to nowadays is either for pizza or to a bowling alley.

  • Corey H

    March 17th, 2011 at 9:30 AM

    I am a Recreation Therapist and everything you have written is a huge concern of mine, in both my practice and as a father of 2 energetic young boys. My 3 year old loves to play outside more than anything else. Watching him, it is apparent to me that it is an inherent desire/need for young children to play outdoors. It is so sad that our society has so rapidly begun extinguishing this phenomenon through technology and urbanization. Thank you for your post. It helps me remember to make it an even greater priority to expose my clients and children to as much wholesome, outdoor recreation as possible.

  • Ali

    March 17th, 2011 at 11:53 AM

    I, too, am a recreation therapist and just the other day took some students to the park to just simply “play” and be outside. The energy and excitement I saw develop in the girls throughout the time we were there was greater than that of any other activity we have done in quite some time. The outdoors is refreshing and invigorating! Loved the article, thank you for it.

  • josie

    March 17th, 2011 at 1:17 PM

    anyone who discounts the benefits of play is missing out on a whole lot of fun in life


    March 17th, 2011 at 7:40 PM

    Look at kids-they are just so happy running around in parks and playgrounds…And as they grow into pre-teens and teens this laughter and happiness goes on the decline as all the running around is replaced by computer and console games…There is no substitute to nature and outdoor activities are the best possible way to play and to enjoy your time…

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    March 21st, 2011 at 2:29 PM

    Thank you all for your affirming comments attesting to the value of play and the need for those of us who see the value of outdoor play and spending time in nature to take a stand and advocate for inter-generational outdoor play and physical activity.

  • ron

    March 22nd, 2011 at 3:58 PM

    You need to consider many factors into why kids don’t play outside. If your kid is in the house, it’s a lot easier to keep an eye on them. No parent thinks “I wonder if my son is drinking alcohol” if they rarely leave the house. There’s a good side to it if you don’t live in a good neighborhood.

  • Jeremy

    March 22nd, 2011 at 5:48 PM

    The reason I never played outside as a kid was because of all the delinquents. One thug would be enough to ruin my entire week, and those are the kinds of kids that should be locked in the house instead of the nice kids who mind their own business.

  • Bernard

    March 22nd, 2011 at 6:03 PM

    Cutting out recess is the most ridiculous thing I have ever heard. A school gets plenty of time to teach students. That’s not the problem. The problem is students who are unwilling to learn, unqualified teachers, or poorly-equipped classrooms. The ones that thought that was a good idea need their heads examined.

  • Brianna

    March 24th, 2011 at 7:47 PM

    Even though violent crime has dropped sharply over the years, the amount of paranoia has gone up. It’s perfectly normal to worry about your child, and it’s better to worry about things that aren’t there than worry about when you’ll get them back after a kidnapping happens. I don’t think it’s wise to tempt Fate.

  • Gabby

    March 24th, 2011 at 8:13 PM

    America is a huge country. 2185 children on average are reported missing per day in a single year. We don’t hear about all of them. Not all of those children hit national or international headlines (wish they did!). Parents need to realize that it’s much more common than most assume. Commonsense must prevail. Allow them to play but watch over them too. They are counting on us.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    March 25th, 2011 at 2:53 PM

    Thank you for all your comments addressing concerns about safety in our communities particularly urban settings, the increased incidence in bullying, and urban violence. Many children whose parents work outside the home in urban areas spend much of their time at home watching television or spending time on the computer because their neighborhoods are unsafe to play unsupervised. In these same urban areas there is often a lack of recreational facilities such as the YMCA or Boys & Girls Clubs. Playgrounds are often non-existent or inadequate. KaBOOM! is an organization devoted to creating play spaces for all children no matter where they live.
    In our schools, many are eliminating recess or decreasing time on the playground for free play and movement. My colleague, Steve Dahlberg, wrote recently–and I paraphrase, “I wish all children could experience the joy of learning in such a way that they never wanted to leave school. Recess, free play, and movement are all necessary because they help create a learning environment where each student’s learning and movement style is acknowledged and nurtured. Some of our children have their one meal and a chance to play at school, do we really want to take away the small amount of nurturing and support we offer them?

  • Dale

    March 25th, 2011 at 2:57 PM

    @Brianna–Most kidnappings are by immediate family members. It’s often a disgruntled parent where there’s been a rift. The kids who are at most risk of kidnap I believe are ones with divorcing parents. The amount of children that are kidnapped by a complete stranger is actually a very small minority. We have to let our children breathe!

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    March 27th, 2011 at 11:19 AM

    Thank you Dale. What you write is very true. Turning off the barrage of television news violence assaulting us every day can help us find balance in our daily lives and an open door to the many choices we can make as parents and grandparents so that our children can play safely and with a sense of adventure and freedom to be themselves and explore imaginally while playing outdoors in our neighborhoods, parks, and natural settings.

  • Jodie

    March 27th, 2011 at 4:14 PM

    Physical games are often more entertaining than sitting in front of a screen but do kids believe that!? Growing up, there was a sports center that let you play volleyball or tennis for a few hours at a cheap rate near me. It was great fun.

  • Cherie

    March 28th, 2011 at 3:02 PM

    Kids just don’t want to be outside playing anymore. That’s all it is now sadly. Too many gizmos and gadgets in their bedrooms nowadays. I bet if you asked a class of seven year olds how many knew how to play a traditional game like hopscotch, not even half would say they did. And they wonder why childhood obesity is so rife! Join the dots, people.

  • Mary Alice Long, PhD

    March 31st, 2011 at 12:02 PM

    Thank you all. Just re-posted an article originally posted by Active Kids Club,, about a community in Florida that wants to ban kids playing outdoors in their neighborhood.

    I like what Cherie says, “Join the dots, people”….rising obesity rates, decreased creativity, depression, and more….Lets not throw away what life has to offer, play is how children learn and make sense of the world….parents and grandparents who play find life is lighter, filled with greater ease…lets playoutdoors for ourselves and our communities.

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