The Impact of Creative Play on the Brain

When it comes to learning, one size does not fit all. While sitting at a desk and completing daily worksheets may work for some children, others require a more creative, hands-on approach.

Learning doesn’t have to be boring. In fact, it shouldn’t be boring! It’s important to balance your child’s time between learning and play, intersecting the two activities to stimulate their developing brains. By incorporating stimulating, creative activities or games as part of your child’s daily routine, you are building a foundation for later learning and cognitive development.


Creative play is important for healthy brain development 

Our brains are constantly growing and developing. 75 percent of the brain develops after a child is born, between birth and the early 20s. During this time, creative play stimulates the brain to develop connections between nerve cells. These neurological connections are what help children develop gross motor skills (running, walking, jumping, and coordination), and fine motor skills (manipulating small tools, writing, and detailed handwork). Additionally, creative play during the adolescent years and into adulthood further promotes connectivity in the frontal lobe, which plays a critical role in planning and decision making.


Creative play improves intelligence, learning, and memory 

Studies have shown significant relationships between play and divergent thinking. Divergent thinking produces creative ideas by enabling the brain to explore the various possible solutions for any given scenario.

For example, in a study on children 6 to 7 years old, 52 children were split into two groups. The group of children who played with salt-dough was significantly more creative in craft activities than the group assigned to a structured exercise (copying text from the board). Later on, psychologists observed that pretend play, in particular, was related to subsequent divergent thinking improvement.


Creative play stimulates creativity and imagination 

Creativity is the ability to “make-believe.” This ability takes our minds to places where no one has gone before. Studies have shown children who are inspired to use their imagination are more creative later in life. It’s important to note that creativity isn’t limited strictly to the arts. Creativity also helps individuals discover innovative and new methods, and helps people invent a new product or solution to make life easier or more entertaining.


Creative play develops the brain’s executive functions 

Executive functioning in the brain allows us to plan and organize, to manage time and attention, to decide what’s appropriate and not appropriate, and to remember details. Executive function also helps growing children master their emotions. It allows us to learn from our past experiences to understand what to do in the present. 

At the center of executive function is the frontal lobe. Essentially, creative play exercises the frontal lobe. All of these skills are central to self-control and self-discipline. Children who have a well-developed executive function do well in school, get along well with others and make good decisions. 


Creative play improves cognitive development

Research shows that children who engage in pretend have more sophisticated relationships with others. A University of Miami study found evidence to support the connections between cognitive ability and creative play. The study, led by Doris Bergin, found that when children are deprived of play, it hinders their ability to develop social skills, problem-solve, and thrive academically (i.e. math, science, and literacy). The study also found that children who play with their parents:

  • Exhibited greater levels of cognitive ability and imagination compared to children who did not play with their parents.
  • Developed stronger friendships, positive mental health, and experienced a stronger family connection compared to children who did not play with their parents.

Encouraging creativity doesn’t have to be expensive. In fact, simply using your imagination to transform an old box into a spaceship can lead to hours of pretend learning and fun! 

Contact the educational professionals at the Brain Workshop to learn more about how you can stimulate your child’s brain while developing their capacity to learn to grow.

The Brain Workshop

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The Brain Workshop