Is Playing More Important than Studying?

Shows children playing in a field to illustrate the topic of the blog posts

The most effective kind of education is that a child should play among lovely things.


The quote could have been taken from debates about education today, where playing and studying are pitted against one another. But the origin of this quote is the Greek philosopher Plato who lived in 400 BCE.

Plato was not wrong about the importance of playing. Scientific evidence suggests that playing positively affects the developing child’s brain. We use our frontal lobe to develop good social skills. The frontal lobe is also the site for advanced thinking like reflection, imagination, empathy, and creativity. Social playing develops and strengthens these skills. Playing moreover teaches children to stop, look, listen, and feel. They become less impulsive and better at understanding other people. Kindergarteners who get to play a lot become more accommodating have better self-control and working memory than children of the same age whose kindergarten is more school-like.

The teacher and artist James W. Findlay thinks we should redefine IQ. According to Findlay, there is also a Play-IQ, or PIQ, playing that makes us smarter. In other words, playing itself is not a form of intelligence, but it puts all kinds of intelligence in motion. Playing involves physical activity and advanced thinking. Children explore the unknown when they play and use their imaginations to explain the new concepts they encounter. Playing also activates the whole body: children use language, movement, senses, and thoughts. Children are social when they play, handle chaos, and engage their emotions. As it turns out, playing is not a new phenomenon. Anthropologists have found that people in the stone age played as well. Playing builds culture and fights conflicts.

Playing with grownups can also be educational. We know this from a recent scientific study from England that looked at the effects of informal playing and educational playing. The scientists ensured that visitors to museums, libraries, and the like could explore science in a playful way. Families could play by mixing oil and water, pour food colouring in milk, or investigate if something floats or sinks. The parents completed a survey afterward, and the responses were very positive. The whole family had fun exploring science together in a playful way.


  1. Can Play Diminish ADHD and Facilitat the Construction of the Social Brain? J Can Acad Child Adolesc Psychiatry, vol 16, 2 May, 2007
  2. Play Intelligence, J. W. Findlay, University Press of America, 2015
  3. Play-Based Science Learning Activities: Engaging Adults and Children With Informal Science Learning for Preschoolers. Science Communication, vol 37, s 405-414, 2015

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