The Importance of Play

February 2019

by anna rogers

“Play is often talked about as if it were a relief from serious learning. But for children, play IS serious learning. Play is really the work of childhood.”

– Fred Rogers

Often as parents, we fall into the trap of categorizing our children's play and our children’s learning into two separate silos that don’t interact or overlap. Playtime is separated from learning time in our homes and in our schools. While many of us value play as a means of releasing energy and providing entertainment to our kids, we might fail to see the plethora of other benefits play offers. In fact, we may even be restricting something that our children desperately need for well-rounded learning.

Benefits of Play

According to the American Academy of Pediatrics in an August 2018-released clinical report (The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children), children need play to optimize their development. “Play is not frivolous; it is brain building. Play has been shown to have both direct and indirect effects on brain structure and functioning,” the report explains.

Beyond providing an outlet for energy, fun, and friendships, play is essential to laying the foundation for future success. “The benefits of play are extensive and well documented and include improvements in executive functioning, language, early math skills (numerosity and spatial concepts), social development, peer relations, physical development and health, and enhanced sense of agency,” the report details.

Incorporating Play

This research is cause for celebration! Play is a necessary building block for our kids’ academic and emotional intelligence. It’s through play that the best learning happens. Armed with this information, parents and educators can emphasize incorporating play into daily routines at home and at school. 

It’s tough to pin down an exact definition of play, in part because its only limitations are kids’ imaginations. There are many types of play – outdoor and indoor, self-directed and guided, solitary and cooperative – and all of them are beneficial. Integrating a balance of different types of play within our lifestyle will yield well-rounded learning for our children.

It may be helpful to do a quick assessment of how our children are spending most of their time. Are they constantly around other kids in school, daycare, or afterschool activities? Carve out some time for self-directed, solitary play at home to balance that out. Does a child prefer to play alone? Nurture that passion, but also schedule some play dates to encourage cooperative play. Are kids spending all their time indoors? Make an effort to bundle up and head outside for some fresh-air playtime.

Billings offers many avenues for children to play, both indoors and out. One spot that offers fantastic, guided play designed to engage children in exploration, discovery, and learning is Wise Wonders Children’s Museum.

Wise Wonders

The museum’s mission is to “engage curious, creative and scientific minds in a playful, nurturing environment,” supporting “education through exhibits that focus on learning through play.”

Kelli Toohill’s vision was to bring a children’s museum to Billings that focuses on playing together with family and friends and enjoying childhood. She hopes it will be a place that says to kids: “Please touch. Be yourself. Don’t be in a hurry to grow up.” And that, it is.

From the water exhibit to the bubble wall to the augmented reality sandbox, everything is designed to be touched and explored and imagined. A grocery store gives kids a chance to interact in social roles and pretend to be adults (without all the responsibility!). Legos serve not just as colorful building blocks for towers and monsters, but as tools that teach spatial recognition and fine motor skills. An air tube exhibit piques scientific interest into air flow and vacuums. The museum is a space for families and friends to come together, disconnect from the outside world, and marvel at new discoveries.

For Toohill and the amazing staff at the museum, it’s the interactions with families that fuel their passion and commitment to the constant evolution and improvement of the museum. 

More Than a Museum

Wise Wonders Children’s Museum has become a staple in the Billings community, working with individuals, businesses, foundations, and the educational system to bring the gift of learning through play to our community’s kids.

Exhibits have been built and donated by individuals and sponsors. The museum is partnering with Rocky Mountain College and MSU-Billings. Volunteers, including retired teachers, are bringing their gifts and insights into the museum. Fifty families who cannot afford a Wise Wonders membership have been gifted them through donations. And Wise Wonders is hoping to join the Downtown Billings ArtWalk to showcase children’s artwork.

Wise Wonders has recently added a fire engine exhibit, built by a Roundup resident and then painted and wrapped by local firefighters. The exhibit honors Captain Erdmann, a Billings Fire Department firefighter who died in April 2017. Projects like these and many others make the museum a special place for the Billings community.

“It’s been an amazing adventure with the children’s museum,” says Toohill. “So many people come together to make this happen.”

For more information on Wise Wonders Children's Museum, visit wisewonders.org.

Originally printed in the pages of Simply Family Magazine’s February 2019 issue. 

Check out the digital edition, here

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