Play Changes the Connections of Neurons in the Brain, Researchers Say
The neural changes that result from play help wire children’s brains to successfully regulate emotions, make plans, and solve problems, according to researcher Sergio Pellis of the University of Lethbridge.
A recent article on the KQED blog Mind/Shift reports that free play is key to helping children develop social skills. Through unstructured play, children learn how to develop their own rules, negotiate conflicts, and find solutions to problems. This is what prepares children for life, love, and even schoolwork, says Pellis.
It might seem obvious that playing with others creates learning opportunities for how to handle future situations. But it’s not as simple as just “learning.” Free play can literally change our genes! We tend to think of genetics as static and unchangeable, but exposure or lack of exposure to certain things during childhood can actually turn some genes on and other ones off. Scientists aren’t yet certain which genes are affected by play or how the process works, but it seems pretty clear that unstructured free play is nothing to scoff at.