Community Event: Let the Children Play! Learn Just Why Play is so Important


With Spring in full swing, and Summer right around the corner, you’re probably spending time outdoors. Hooray for fun in the sun and hooray for you! Outdoor play is incredibly critical to your child’s development and to learn why, join us right here Tuesday, May 8th from 5:30-6:30 PM PST // 8:30-9:30 PM EST to talk about the importance of play, especially outdoor play, and making the most out of this time. Caroline McGann, Occupational Therapist, is an expert in this area and will lead the discussion.


What's your favorite outdoor activity?

will ages will be talked about?


Hi @beccadare, thanks for your question and interest in this event! The general discussion will be relevant for all age groups, skewing towards babies and toddlers. If you have a question about a particular age group, or activity, please post it here and we’ll be sure to address it. We hope to see you back here during the event! :blush:


Hello, Starling Community! I’m very excited to be talking about one of my favorite topics Outdoor Play. Let me provide you a quick introduction: I’m a pediatric occupational therapist who received my Master’s Degree from University of North Carolina, Chapel Hill. I have been practicing occupational therapy for nine years, and have worked in a variety of settings (private clinic, public school system, DODEA federal school system, and developmental day centers). I also consult with newly hired OTs to help transfer classroom learning into clinical practice. I live in Richmond, VA with my loving family (husband, 4 -year- old daughter, 2-year-old daughter, 6- month- old daughter, and dog). I love blending my knowledge as an occupational therapist and a mother of 3 free spirited girls to engage children in their meaningful occupation of play.




Hello Caroline! Thank you so much for being here with us today!! This is such an important topic, one that I’m happy we’re talking about today. I mean, most of us as parents know play is important, but to truly understand why just underscores that importance!


@beccadare, I hope you circle back now that we’re live! Please be sure to post any specific questions you have!


Types of Play and Importance of Play

Before we jump into outdoor play, I wanted to give a little background information on the topic of play. Play can be defined as “any spontaneous or organized activity that provides enjoyment, entertainment, amusement or diversion” (Parham and Fazio, 2008, p. 448). Play is one of a child’s major occupations. Play allows children to explore their environment and grow from engaging in rich sensory experiences. Research has shown that children who participate in play frequently hit gross developmental milestones earlier, experience higher achievement in school, and develop healthy habits for adulthood. A comparative study of 11,000 third graders found that those who participated in more than 15 minutes of recess per day behaved better in the classroom and were more likely to learn than their peers who had little to no recess opportunities. ( Barros, Silver, & Stein, 2009).

Barros, R. M., Silver, E. J., & Stein, R. E. K. (2009). School
recess and group classroom behavior.
Pediatrics, 123
431–436. Retrieved March 22, 2011, from http://pediatrics.
Parham, L. D., & Fazio, L. (2008).
Play in occupational
therapy for children
(2nd ed.) St. Louis, MO: Elsevier.




Skills Developed through Play

  • Imagination
  • Creativity
  • Confidence
  • Problem Solving
  • Adaptability
  • Interacting with Others/ Understanding Social Situations
  • Processing Emotions


I never correlated play to healthier habits in adulthood – wow! That’s really pretty cool!

Also, it’s so wild how many research studies are coming out reinforcing the importance of play/recess in school, ESPECIALLY in pre-k and kinder, yet it seems like there’s more academic related activities added and less and less free play and choice time. Are you seeing that as well?


@Cmcgann, your littles ones are adorable. :heart_eyes::heart_eyes: I love how each girl is pointing at different things, totally how it works right? Our children are often fixed on different things at the same time, especially at picture time! :rofl:


Yes @jami I agree we are finding parents are really having to advocate to have more recess and free time for children during their school day


That’s my and my brother’s daughters chasing what they believe to be a giant octopus stranded on top of the swing set…


All the pictures posted are of my children playing. Luckily I had a lot of pictures to choose from :wink:


I love it @cboggiano!! Are they pretending the person at the top of the swing set is the “octopus”? :octopus:


Ironically, I don’t have all that many pictures of my kids playing outside. I’ll tell myself it’s because I try to keep my phone away. I swear they play outside a lot though :slight_smile: It’s one of my favorite things about great NC weather.


And yes, their 22 year old cousin trapped on top of the monkey bars is their pretend octopus. My brother Jon’s yard is more or less like a playground for little kids.


@cboggiano I love the climbing wall and the trampoline. Great outdoor equipment for children


Two Types of Play

  1. Structure play: a child follows directions or rules (ex. puzzles, board games, team sports)
  2. Unstructured play: a child can do what interests them (playing on a playground, dressing up, etc)

Key Take-ways:

  • find a balance between the two types of play
  • Toddlers should spend at least 1 hour in free, unstructured play and 30 minutes engaged in adult led, structure play each day