Play is a child’s work


The following is a guest post by Rachel Turiel of 6512 and growing.

Factoids abound on the benefits of play. Entire books have been written on the subject. Play develops children’s fine and gross motor skills, communication, collaboration, imagination, problem-solving and ability to focus.

Playing allows ideas to synthesize and take root.

I’m more interested in what I can see.

My 9-year-old son has folded up approximately 364 paper airplanes in the past six months. The sound of paper creasing is the very background music of our lives. Cooking dinner now holds the risk of careening airplanes landing in an open pot of soup.

Who am I to say this isn’t worthwhile? With each trial and error his planes become faster, lighter, more enduring, (and necessitating an investment in protective eye equipment for whole family).

While Col’s endless design and crafting binges scratches some unknowable internal itch, I see geometry, engineering, principles of flight, and a child in the flow of his own creativity.


I watch my 7-year-old daughter morph through 10 characters a day. She’s benevolent school teacher, bucking pony, playful puppy, salsa dancer with moves I envy, and strict mom doling out harsh punishments to her misbehaving son (played by her brother).

It’s said that reading fiction engages the reader’s sense of empathy, allowing one to walk another’s path for a few hundred pages. I see Rose’s need to try on different characters, feeling what it might be like to be a orphaned unicorn, a wild horse running free.

I try not to get bent out of shape when the children’s play includes glueing Legos to paper (as it did this very morning), or carting every dress-up item out of the bedroom until our living room has become a bouncy house of leotards and tulle.

There’s a persnickety schoolmarm in me that wants the dollhouse furniture to stay in the dollhouse (as opposed to divvied up among ten purses). But I also want my children to be good at playing.

I know I’m writing well when there’s nothing I’d rather be doing, when my mind is so engaged it’s pinging from one word to the next without even hearing the chocolate singing to me from the pantry.


Col and Rose (and your peeps, too) are in this state 10 different times a day: making magic from the very depths of their own wild mind. It’s sacred. It’s the daily special on the menu of childhood. It’s training for the gift of finding your passion as an adult.

As it’s been said: Figure out your passion, for your passion will lead you directly to your purpose.

I take comfort in the fact that right now my kids need little more than to be turned loose. Turned loose in the yard, at the park, in the woods, at the river, in their own house with their bedraggled collection of toys. Neurons are firing! Profound mental connections span new territory!

But the kids don’t care, they’re just doing their work.

What sorts of benefits to your child’s play have you noticed?

About Rachel Turiel

Rachel Turiel is a freelance writer, managing editor of Edible Southwest Colorado Magazine, frequent contributor to NPR Earth Notes, and longtime parenting columnist for her local paper. She grows food and a family at 6512 feet, and writes about it at 6512 and growing.


  1. Yes! My boys have just discovered the climbable tree in our front yard. They spend hours, literally, climbing with neighbor friends. They are more contented somehow…less whining for food around our house. Play has satisfied something deep in their soul and I love their excitement when they finally come inside!
    Lana Wilkens’s latest post: Quality Time – a middle-class concept?

  2. The importance of play is most definately one of the reasons my daughter will be homeschooling kindergarten this year. We’ve been reading the Betsy Tacy series and she has asked me how girls her age are allowed to go around the neighborhood exploring together. “It’s no fair I can’t!” she has exclaimed. I’ve been reading Peter Gray’s Free to Learn and I find myself nodding throughout. Times have changed, but it’s no reason not to continue to preserve childhood the best we can.
    About toys being in the “wrong” spot…it is a little aggravating 🙂 Recently my older two have been pretending to go on trips and all their toys get loaded into suitcases. The 4 and 10 have been missing from our clock puzzle for days and I’m trying not to care. Ha! They are learning so much, playing,and are hard at work, as you’ve said!
    Amy’s latest post: Planning for Kindergarten at Home, Part 1

  3. “divvied up among ten purses”…. Oh, my! This is my life! I have a daughter who loves to fill purses with random bits. I would love to understand the developmental benefits of this!

  4. This is so funny…I, too, have a child who divvies things up into purses! Its common to find all sorts of random bits in a purse…one piece of duplo, one block, one purple crayon stub, one piece of ribbon, a stone, a pinecone, a tiny car…etc. etc. sometimes we have to hunt in the bags and purses to find the missing toy pieces!

  5. We have a purse divvier too! Drives me crazy but I try to be grateful that so much imaginative play is happening. That and we keep the number of toys we own manageable.
    Steph’s latest post: Looking Beyond Actions

  6. Suggestions though for when this play becomes intentionally hoarding and keeping toys from siblings – not allowing anyone else to play with them.

  7. We had a super hero band play for us last night. We were watching a youtube video of the Lumineers playing and my 4 year old raced to his room, morphed into Captain America and gathered all his shakers, harmonicas and anything he could make a drum out of . He made a microphone out of legos and we all chimed in with the music. The idea sprung from his imaginative and adventurous and amazing mind!
    Mel’s latest post: how to handle your mother-in-law

  8. I’m curious how people handle the proliferation of paper and stuff when you’re trying to live a simpler life. Part of simple living (and schooling) for me is, well, not having a ton of stuff around. Our daughter loves art. In particular, she loves cutting paper and gluing and coloring and whatever else you can think of to do with paper. I’ll be honest. It drives me to the brink.
    Is there a happy medium between – no paper and the forest is yours, cut and color away?

    • Ooh. Good question. We’ve gone through periods of paper-craziness, which bugged me on several levels. 1) the cluttery mess. 2) the environmental waste.
      Couple things we did: we explained how paper is made from trees, which are not a limitless resource, and asked our little artists to use the WHOLE paper, front and back, as much as possible. We also bought little shelving units (thrift store filing shelves) where they could file art-in-progress and finished art. At the end of the week it is each child’s job to go through their shelves and determine what would go into the recycling and what would go into the “keeps” art folder. And yes, there was still a a fair amount of clutter that I chalked up to “nurturing the inner artist!” Also, helpful to remember that, truly, every phase passes. 🙂
      Rachel @ 6512 and growing’s latest post: homelife, classes and other notables

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