The Benefits of Play



There’s been a lot in the news lately about the benefits of play. And out of all of the exciting trends in education, I have to say this is one of my favorites.As a health teacher, I have long expounded the virtues of play to my students, my admin, and a countless number of parents.

Is one student acting out in class? Does the group seem stressed and overworked? Are things getting a little stale in the classroom? Play is the solution!

While play is normally associated with elementary school, current studies—and personal experience—says that adolescents need this free time, too. To prove this to my students, I sent them on a research hunt. Here are the questions that I provided, along with some answers (and links!) the kids came up with:

1. What does the word “play” mean to you? 

To get out and exercise for fun!

2. What is the difference between structured and unstructured play?

Structured play has a set of rules with specific objectives. Unstructured play is open ended with unlimited possibilities.


3. List at least two of your favorite structured ways to play.

Basketball, soccer, ultimate Frisbee, badminton, track/running, swimming, hockey, tennis


4. List at least two of your favorite unstructured ways to play.

Playing tag, building sand castles, skateboarding, trampolines, just running around


5. Much research has been done on the benefits of playing in nature.  List at least three reasons why being outside is beneficial.

Being in nature improves your eyesight. Lower rates of nearsightedness are related to time spent outdoors.

Outdoor playing increases fitness levels and builds active, healthy bodies.

Children with views of and contact with nature score higher on tests of concentration and self-discipline. 


6. What are some of the various benefits of play?

Physically:ItImproves balance, fine motor skills, fitness levels, increases levels of Vitamin D

Mentally: It relieves stress, improves creativity, reduces ADHD symptoms, improves test scores

Emotionally: It increases levels of happiness, self-expression, self-confidence, enjoyment

Socially:It builds leadership skills, turn-taking, conflict resolution, collaboration, friendship


7. Research what Finland is doing when it comes to play in school.  List at least three ways they incorporate play into their school day.

Students get 15 minutes of playtime for every 45 minutes in class.

They have recess outside- no matter what the weather is like.

They have only 2.8 hours average of homework per week. (Students in the U.S. have 6.1.)


8. Find three new places you could go to play in our area:

(Answers will vary.)


9. Make a list of the resources you used to complete this questionnaire.

(Answers will vary.)

Now that students (or your children!) understand the benefits of play, it’s time to put their research into action. Here are three ways to do it:

  • Take your students on a short field trip to the local elementary school and organize a play date with a kindergarten PE class.
  • Have students create a poster describing their favorite way to play. Tally up the most popular activity, and play as a class.
  • Have students conduct an interview with some of the adults in their lives about their favorite ways to play, then take part in the activity.

Getting teens out of their heads, off their devices, and onto the field can remind them how much fun it can be to just go out and play.

Amy Lauren Smith teaches Middle School Health at the Shanghai American School and has a passion for curriculum that is current, relevant, adaptable, and shared. This post originally appeared on  

Have an article you’d like to share with our community? Please contact us so we can get it published! No article, no problem… we’d still love to hear your ideas for future contributions.