The Value of Play


I have been spending a lot of time lately thinking about what my core values are—the things that get me up each morning, that keep me authentic, that drive the work that I do. While whittling through a list of what felt like a hundred words such as “authenticity,” “balance,” “trustworthiness,” and “wisdom” I was able to settle on innovation and justice as my #3 and #2 values, however nothing else on the list seemed to connect. Frustrated with the process, and without second thought, I opened an app on my phone and began to play a game. Then it clicked.


I use the word play a lot, adopting the tagline-of-sorts of community development through learning and play. It is something you have probably seen in previous columns and across my social media accounts. But what would it look like to fully embrace play as my #1 value? After all, play is not a word you find on a “100 Core Values List,” and definitely not a word I have seen in the context of leadership.

Maybe that is the problem though. At some point in our adult lives we are told not to play, as if it is an activity reserved only for our littles. When we consider all the benefits of play, it seems as though we are doing our adult selves a disservice. Through play, children learn about themselves and others, about how things work and about the world around them. We learn the fundamentals of social interaction—how to approach those different than us, agree upon rules, and share in an experience, no matter our differences. We learn the harder lessons in life through play too -how to approach conflict, how to be rejected from playgroups, and how to lose. These are things we, as adults, all could benefit from.

Play in itself is learning—and one of the most natural ways a child can expand their understanding of content knowledge and promote key skills for school readiness, such as problem solving, imagination, and creativity.  So much so, that there is a movement to incorporate play into STEM and several resources sharing how we can do so as parents and educators. After all, “play is the highest form of research,” a quote from Einstein that I frequently share with others.

Play is as much of a science as it is an art. We are excited to be joining the festivities of COSI Science Fest and offering two play based science events. The first event on May 1st will be our Science Family Fun Day for SSEL families and neighbors. The second event on May 2nd will be our Back to School: The Science of Play event where adults can come together and learn all about the benefits of play during a child’s development by playing themselves.

I invite each of you to join me in benefiting from play.

For the good of South Side,

Colin McGinnis

CEO, South Side Early Learning