Decades of research by professionals in the field of child development have helped us to understand the power of play. Play time is an essential part of a child’s development and childhood growth. It is crucial for developing social skills, building a sense of self, and supporting a child’s mental health. Play therapy can be a great resource for children who are trying to overcome challenges related to overwhelming emotions, traumatic experiences, and interpersonal relationships. Play therapists can provide children with the space to process strong emotions through an intervention that meets them where they are developmentally.
Below are a variety of play therapy quotes that open our eyes into the world of play. These quotes discuss the importance of play and explore how play can support a child’s development. Along with the famous quotes, there are tricks and thought exercises to help you engage in your child’s play in new and creative ways.
“Play is a child’s work and this is not a trivial pursuit.” – Alfred Adler
While it may look fun to adults, childhood play contains serious learning and work. When children are playing, they are learning about themselves and the world around them. They are learning language, building relationships, and practicing motor skills. Play is a safe way for children to learn and practice these skills prior to using them in real life situations.
Allow yourself to feel open to the idea that there is more to a child’s play than just fun and games. What can you see as benefits of play outside of simply free time for your child? What do you believe they are learning through their play?
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“Children need the freedom and time to play. Play is not a luxury. It is a necessity.” -Kay Redfield Jamison
In times of stress and when schedules are busy, time for play can seem like something that can be postponed for tasks like homework, sports practices, and art classes. While academics and structured activities are also important for development, free play is an essential part of a child’s development. Allowing children to play freely allows them time to develop skills while also taking a mental and physical break from the more structured part of their days. This can help to alleviate stress and allow time for self-expression.
Think about your own family’s schedule. Does your family prioritize free play as a part of development? Where are times in your family’s life to allow for an hour of free play a day?
“Enter into children’s play and you will find the place where their minds, hearts, and souls meet.” -Virginia Axline
Play supports all facets of growth. Virginia Axline, one of the pioneers of play therapy, reminds us that play is an important window into a child’s world, from their cognition to their emotions. Allowing ourselves to observe children play is a great way to learn more about them. It gives us a view of their thoughts and feelings, as well as what they think of themselves and the world around them.
Allow yourself to examine your child’s play. What do you notice? Do they play independently or ask for interaction with others? Are they elaborate in their storytelling or do they tend to have shorter and more sporadic themes? Do they talk about real life scenarios or fantasies?
“Toys are children’s words and play is their language” -Garry Landreth
Labeling emotions is a language-based skill that takes time and experience. Using toys and play is a wonderful way to engage children in sharing what they are thinking and feeling when their language skills may not fully be developed yet. In more traditional play therapy, the toys that a child chooses and how they use these toys can provide insight into what a child wants and what they may need.
When playing with your child, note what toys they pick. Do they pick one or two specific toys or do they choose a large number of toys to play with? What are the toys like? Are they animals, people, objects? What are they building or what story are they expressing?
“Play is an adventure. It isn’t a chore. There is no right way to play.” -John Gottman
While playing, kids are creating their own world. This world is often free of societal norms and what is “right or wrong.” A lion figurine could be a doctor instead of a wild animal in the jungle. A pirate character can be a kind and lonely person who is desperately looking for a friend, rather than a tyrant looking to conquer foriegn lands. There is truly no correct way to play. Allowing time for children to stray away from norms allows for increased creativity and development.
While it can be tempting to stick to what you see as the “right way” to tell a story, allow yourself to become engulfed into your child’s story. Remind yourself that there is no correct way to play and stop yourself from attempting to reframe the story in a way that seems to make sense. If you feel brave, try yourself to expand out of your norms and to get creative with storytelling.
“It is a happy talent to know how to play.” -Ralph Waldo Emerson
Knowing how to play, while natural for kids, can be something that some children struggle with at times. This difficulty can happen after a lot of structured time and lack of available time to play early on in life. Play, much like learning to ride a bike or playing an instrument, is a skill that must be practiced and fostered. Allowing kids time to play consistently and in a variety of ways supports their ongoing interest and excitement about play.
If your child is having difficulty with free play or is wanting more structured or cooperative play, allow your child more opportunities for play in shorter time intervals. Provide your child with a variety of types of toys to engage with. Play with your child at first, if that is what they would find helpful, but allow them to lead play and get creative.
“Whoever wants to understand much must play much.” -Gottfried Benn
Play skills can get rusty without practice. As adults, we often do not have time to incorporate free play and activities into our daily routine. This lack of time to play can make it difficult for us to remember and understand what play and free time feels like.
In order to better understand your child’s play, make sure that you take time to play. You most likely will not be playing with a train set or dolls, but spend time doing something that is creative and freeing for you. What do you notice about your own thoughts when you give space to have free time? What do you see yourself gravitating towards or enjoying? What do you see as themes in your own processes during this time?
“Play is the highest form of research.” – Albert Einstein
Along with teaching and experiential learning, play is another way that kids learn boundaries, rules, and how the world works. In play, children are often acting out potential real life situations. Kids often create storylines with characters which they then act out to see what happens. A concrete example could be two children playing with a toy kitchen and toy food, baking for a pretend birthday party. Both kids are running around the play kitchen trying to complete the dessert when suddenly, they run into each other and the birthday cake they made lands on the floor. The children learn through this experience that running in a kitchen can be dangerous and can lead to mistakes.
What do you notice your own child learning when you observe their play? Do they tend to stick to narratives that are more safe or do they explore situations that are outside of normal day to day activities? How do you see them change their play based on something that they have learned in a real life scenario or in play?
“When you are free, you can play and when you are playing, you become free.” -Heidi Kaduson
While play is experiential, important for development, and essential for learning, it can also provide a space of healing and comfort. When children are struggling to share feelings or talk about an event that has happened, they often turn to play. Play can act as a form of communication for kids to tell someone what happened or what they are feeling on an unconscious level. Play can also be an escape for kids and a way that they can disconnect and calm down when feeling overwhelming feelings.
When your child is feeling upset, anxious, or frustrated, see if they will play. If they do, what types of toys do they choose to play with? What type of play do they engage in? Is their play activity sharing a story or does it seem more soothing and abstract? Ask your child how they feel after they play. Make note of changes that you see in your child before and after they engage in play. What do you notice? If your child does seem to struggle with intense emotions while playing, it may be helpful to reach out to your child’s pediatrician or a play therapist to help you better understand and interpret your child’s play.