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Play exerts a powerful influence on the developing brain

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In play, anything is possible. A cardboard box becomes a spaceship. A blanket becomes a cape. A pool becomes the ocean.

To a child, play comes naturally and pretending is easy. That’s important. Children’s brains depend on play to develop their prefrontal cortex, a part of the brain that helps with executive functioning — skills that are tied to creative thinking, appropriate risk-taking and cooperation. It’s important that the play be self-guided. Children whose sets of blocks come with instructions will be less able to flex their creative muscles.

However, children don’t play as much as they did 50 years ago, according to the American Journal of Play. They’re more likely to spend time in front of screens or on structured activities like sports or homework. 

On Thursday, host Angela Davis spoke with two guests about the importance of unstructured play time. Dr. Nathan Chomilo is a pediatrician and medical director for Reach Out and Read Minnesota, a nonprofit that incorporates books into pediatric care. Dianne Krizan is president of the Minnesota Children’s Museum, which has recently renovated its space to focus more on open play.

Use the audio player above to listen to the segment.

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