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The Effects of Physical and Outdoor Play on Young Children's Development

Summer 2010

Funded by Head Start Body Start

Principal Investigators:
Dr. Jeffrey Trawick-Smith, Dr. Darren Robert, Dr. Ann Gruenberg, and Julia DeLapp


Decades of research have shown that play is an important mediator in the development of physical, social, cognitive, and language development of young children (Bergen, 2002; Garvey, 1993; Vygotsky, 1976). In spite of this, play faces threats from many directions in modern American life. Active play is being replaced by passive television viewing and computer use at home; opportunities to play are even disappearing in some schools. With a growing focus on academic achievement, some parents and policymakers are losing sight of the critical importance of active, physical play in the healthy development of young children.

Consistent with its mission of promoting the importance of play in early childhood, the Center for Early Childhood Education received a contract from Head Start Body Start in 2010 to conduct research on the benefits of physical and outdoor play for children from birth to age five. The Center developed an annotated bibliography and a comprehensive literature review on the benefits to children's physical, cognitive, and social and emotional development. The Center also developed research-into-practice briefs featuring field-tested applications for use in early childhood classrooms and links to illustrative video clips demonstrating implementation of practices that promote physical and outdoor play:

See videos on supporting physical play in young children
See more previous studies

The Center would like to thank the early childhood professionals who served on the Teacher Advisory Committee for their ideas and their thoughtful review of all research-into-practice briefs: Claudia Ahern, Kim Bartle, Patricia Gardner, Kimberly Lewendon, Ashlee Marouski, Patrice Ramm, Niloufar Rezai, Jessi Robey.