A "Prescription to Play"

Our Blog: Word on the Sidewalk

A "Prescription to Play"

April 28, 2020
posted by Justin Triemstra

Editor’s note: During this time of uncertainty, play is more important than ever. For more resources to help your family continue #PlayingAtHome, please visit radioflyer.com/playingathome.


Pediatricians have always taken an active role in promoting and advocating the importance of play. In 2018, the American Academy of Pediatrics published their clinical report on the importance of play in childhood entitled: “The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children.”, which has pushed the conversation even more to the forefront of our discussions with patients and families. Some pediatricians have even started writing ‘prescriptions to play’ to enhance active lifestyles in children with the hopes at reducing childhood obesity and limiting the use of passive screen time.

Over the next few blog posts, I will highlight the following three benefits of play from the perspective of a pediatrician with a specific focus how play builds gross, fine, social, and emotional development. I look forward to sharing my perspective over the next year on this important topic.


1. Pretend Play, Scaffolding, and Neurodevelopment

As children grow from infants to toddlers, the structural level of play develops along with the child’s developing brain. When a child engages in play, active learning occurs, especially in supportive, nurturing settings. Children learn and master a variety of skills, which then they build upon, or the scaffolding of play. Balancing parental ‘serve and return’ play with unstructured exploration are both essential aspects in child development. We will explore these different theories of play development and how they related with the child’s neurodevelopment in my next post. 


2. ‘Rough and Tumble’ Play

You may be asking yourself, is a pediatrician really encouraging ‘rough and tumble’ play? Yes! (well, to an extent…). Recent research has shown that guided physical play, in a safe environment, allows for children to explore communication, negotiation, and emotional balance skills which builds emotional intelligence while learning their own risk taking limits. While this type of play needs to occur under the close observation of a caregiver or guardian, it can allow a child to set and understand their physical limits.


3. Outdoor Play

Depending on the location, type of home, and season of year, outdoor play may not be possible or limited. However, as a whole, pediatricians encourage outdoor play when it can occur in a safe, supportive environment. Outdoor play encourages active lifestyles which improves physical health and can lead to a healthy lifestyle reducing the risk of obesity. In this post, we will explore the importance of outdoor play and active lifestyles on a child’s gross and fine motor development.


Justin Triemstra, MD

Spectrum Health, Helen DeVos Children’s Hospital

The views in this article are my own and are for informational and educational purposes only and does not constitute medical advice.