Early Literacy Research Library (ELRL) - Article

The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children

Yogman, M., Garner, A., Hutchinson, J., Hirsh-Pasek, K., Golinkoff, R.M., COMMITTEE ON PSYCHOSOCIAL ASPECTS OF CHILD AND FAMILY HEALTH; COUNCIL ON COMMUNICATIONS AND MEDIA; Baum, R., Gambon, T., Lavin, A., Mattson, G., Wissow, L., Hill, D.L., Ameenuddin, N., Chassiakos, Y.R., Cross, C., Boyd, R., Mendelson, R., Moreno, M.A., Radesky, J., Swanson, W.S., Hutchinson, J., Smith, J. (2018) The Power of Play: A Pediatric Role in Enhancing Development in Young Children. Pediatrics, 142(3), e20182058.,

Access: FREE/Open Access

Publication year


study description

Clinical Report.

core topic(s)

Early Relational Health , Pediatric Primary Care

Population Characteristics

Medical Providers , Toddler/Preschool

Exposures, Outcomes, Other

Child Development (general) , Disparity/Adversity , Mental Health , Play , School Readiness and Educational Outcomes , Technology and Digital/Screen-Based Media


This clinical report provides pediatric providers with the information they need to promote the benefits of play and to write a prescription for play at well visits to complement reach out and read.


Childhood play.

outcomes evaluated

Childhood development.


Pediatric primary care.


Topics Discussed: Nature of learning and play; Categories of play [Object play; Physical, locomotor, or rough-and-tumble play; Outdoor play; Social or pretend play alone or with others]; Development of play; Effects on brain structure and functioning; Benefits of play; Benefits to adults of playing with children; Implications for preschool education; Modern challenges; Role of media in children's play; Barriers to play; Role of pediatricians.




Children need to develop a variety of skill sets to optimize their development and manage toxic stress. Research demonstrates that developmentally appropriate play with parents and peers is a singular opportunity to promote the social-emotional, cognitive, language, and self-regulation skills that build executive function and a prosocial brain. Furthermore, play supports the formation of the safe, stable, and nurturing relationships with all caregivers that children need to thrive. Play is not frivolous: it enhances brain structure and function and promotes executive function (ie, the process of learning, rather than the content), which allow us to pursue goals and ignore distractions. When play and safe, stable, nurturing relationships are missing in a child’s life, toxic stress can disrupt the development of executive function and the learning of prosocial behavior; in the presence of childhood adversity, play becomes even more important. The mutual joy and shared communication and attunement (harmonious serve and return interactions) that parents and children can experience during play regulate the body’s stress response.


At a time when early childhood programs are pressured to add more didactic components and less playful learning, pediatricians can play an important role in emphasizing the role of a balanced curriculum that includes the importance of playful learning for the promotion of healthy child development.


Not discussed.