The Importance of Physical Play

It is no wonder toddlers need to nap. Tom is a constant ball of energy, every moment he is awake. He bounces and climbs and runs around. He dances, pounces on his blankie and, just when you think he’s going to stop for a moment, he’s off again, marching down the corridor whilst kicking a balloon and singing his own peculiar version of head, shoulders, knees and toes (he can’t do any of the words and only manages ‘knees and toes’ and ‘mouth of the movements). I love every moment of it.

I had a perplexing conversation with a mum I know a few months back. She was lamenting that her 18 month-old son didn’t yet have the attention span to sit through an entire tv show. I tried to be sympathetic (because I’m a pushover), but what I was really thinking was ‘why?’

Why would she want her kid to sit still? I couldn’t be prouder that mine is in perpetual motion. Granted, a bit of peace and quiet is nice sometimes and if Tom was a less good sleeper I might feel differently. He’s pretty good at independent play too (RIE completely to credit for that), so it’s not too overwhelming.

And anyway, physical play is pretty damn important. Despite the scary figures on childhood obesity, I hope that most of us don’t have to worry too much about our kids being fat at Tom’s young age (he’s currently 17 months old). But encouraging physical play, ideally outdoors, is a way of building good habits right from the start.

There are a bunch of other benefits too. Physical play helps kids to learn about their bodies – what they can do and what they can’t. They develop their muscles and gross motor control. They learn to judge risk. They develop better balance and coordination. And they gain important experiences that teach them about the world – because, despite all our intellect and our technology, humans are still physical beings in a physical world.*

Physical play with other people can also be really important. Tom loves to be chased, to be picked up and spun around, to use me or Mr Techno as a climbing frame. He loves when we pretend, very gently, to wrestle with him. He loves me nuzzling him with my head. He isn’t great at giving kisses still but will rest his head on mine and stare into my eyes in a physical motion that is just as loving.

There’s a great exploration of this in Larry Cohen’s book ‘The Playful Parent‘. I didn’t necessarily love the book – it mainly explores play as therapy and seemed to miss some of the joy of playing just because, not because it is a teaching moment or a way to work through big feelings. Though of course play can do both those things too. But I did like most of the book and it had some really thought-provoking things to say about the importance of ‘rough-housing’ – there’s a summary here.

So hurray for running, jumping, wrestling and dancing. And for what they teach our kids.

*Sources and further reading: (warning: opens a PDF) (Another PDF)


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13 thoughts on “The Importance of Physical Play

  1. I agree, children need to be moving, exploring their world, having fun and learning through their own discovery. My son never stopped as a toddler and even now at nearly 8 he doesn’t often sit still.
    Thanks for sharing with #LetKidsbeKids


  2. Completely agree that kids need more physical play. In fact, the more the better! I am so glad there are more people like me who advocate for outdoor play over gadgets.

    (Stopping by from the #LetKidsBeKids Linkup)

    Liked by 1 person

  3. Ah, a Mummy after my own heart. We try to get outside as much as possible as well. It’s amazing how much more independent play my toddler will do out of doors. Inside he’s much more likely to include Mummy/Daddy in his games, which is fine but it’s nice to see his self confidence grow outside. He’s off to playgroup in Sept and I’m so glad they emphasise outdoor play. They take them all outside for 1 hour every day whatever the weather!


  4. Totally agree. Fresh air and physical play is so much better than constant cbeebies and playing on ipads. It’s a bugbear of mine when you go out and kids are sitting at the table with a phone or tablet to keep them quiet.


    1. Ah. I have to say I mind it less in restaurants when it is not really acceptable for them to run around – it can be a long time for little people to sit still. Having said that, a good run around in the park beforehand does wonders for behaviour when they are required to “be good”


  5. Of course physical play is important and I love that my boy is SO active but I can see the other side too a little. It can be exhausting at times (especially when pregnant), but I would rather him run around than sit in front of the TV (though it is my handy helper for getting the washing done). Thanks for linking up to #MarvMondays. Kaye xo


    1. I cant even imagine being pregnant with an active toddler running around – no wonder you are exhausted! We don’t do tv but do put on some music and a slideshow of pictures (of the toddler) which has the same effect…


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