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There’s no aspect of childhood development that the simple act of playing doesn’t shape. Tinkering with a toy promotes dexterity and abstract thought. Dress-up and role play improve language and social skills. Rough-and-tumble games hone motor skills. In a 2018 clinical report, the American Academy of Pediatrics said play—more than school—develops the brain’s capacity to learn. But today’s overscheduled kids get less of the former and more of the latter.
What’s more, parents should get in on the action. “The mutual joy and shared communication and attunement . . . that parents and children can experience during play regulate the body’s stress response,” said the report. But before you go plugging “play with kid” into your jam-packed calendar, consider that the report used words like “spontaneous” and “joyful” to define the act. Play shouldn’t be a chore, and you’re probably already doing more of it than you know. All you’re missing is a little intentionality.