August 31, 2020

How Play Promotes Social Skills and Social Equity

There is a powerful connection between play and social justice. The lessons children learn during play shape their view of the world around them as they grow older. Play helps children develop socially, learn how to get along with others, and see people as equals. 

The Science Behind Play and Social Skills

Dr. Stuart Brown, MD, founder of the National Institute for Play, described how play impacts social development in his TED Talk on Play. It’s a fascinating presentation on the benefits of play. Here are some of the ways Brown describes the role of play in the development of social skills:

  • Play makes you more adaptable to changing situation
  • Social play is the key to making a real, human connection with others
  • Play encourages creative thinking and problem-solving

Play has a profound impact on our brains. It helps us learn how to regulate our emotions, engage in conversations, work through differences, and respect others' feelings.

The Need for Play to Promote Social Equity

Tom Norquist serves on the board of Brown’s National Institute for Play. For three decades, he has studied the benefits of play in the lives of children and adults. As the senior vice president for innovation at PlayCore, he has also invented many of the popular products you find on playgrounds worldwide.

For Norquist, there is a power to play that transforms people’s lives and the society in which we live. Regardless of age, race, or culture, everyone can enjoy play. And playing together breaks down social barriers. 

“It’s natural for all people to be in a playful state together,” says Norquist. “We laugh. We play. We have a good time. That shapes the way I feel about people for the rest of my life.”

Tom Norquist talks about how play shapes our view of the world and promotes social equity


Play As a Change Agent in Childhood Development

In her paper, “Play as a Social Justice Issue in Early Childhood Education,” Britt Kroll explores how children develop cognitive and social-emotional skills during play. Her research found children developed richer social communication skills in playful classrooms. They developed more appropriate social strategies through playful peer interactions. 

Mariana Plata describes how children more effectively resolve complex situations and emotions through play. In her Psych Central article, she says play helps children explore the world and its people. She encourages ethnically-diverse play gatherings with toys and games that represent different cultures and backgrounds. 

Plata also encourages parents and teachers to look for teachable moments during play times to explain the importance of social equity. She recommends discussing the concepts of “bystander” and “upstander.” Through play, children can learn empathy, courage, and a strong sense of social justice. 

Learn More About the Importance of Play

GameTime’s parent company, PlayCore, has a wealth of resources to help you be a strong advocate for play. Whether you are interested in designing inclusive play spaces or encouraging playful physical activity for every generation, we have research and programming to equip you. 

Contact one of the GameTime play experts in your neighborhood to learn more. Let’s work together to create a more equitable, playful, and just world for generations to come.