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Tuesday, July 29, 2014

Play is Meditation for Kids

Photo by Ian D. Keating (Flickr)

Stress catches up to even the most carefree and whimsical of us, so it's essential to have a healthy repertoire of relaxing activities to put the pep back in your step. Many partake in quiet, restful meditation for this purpose. Since most children are unlikely to want to sit still and welcome calming vibes, I like to consider play as their own personal kind of meditation. After all, play and meditation share many of the same benefits.

Meditation expands the mind and preps it for ample learning and listening just as play does. It soothes worries and opens new perspectives to the practitioner much like hanging upside down on the monkey bars can! I am getting ahead of myself, so I'll break down the evidence step by step.

Here are just some ways that play is a form of dynamic meditation for kids:

  • Relieves Stress: Meditation is renowned for its stress-busting prowess. Play has the same power! Children burn off stress and excess energy through play. They can enjoy the release of expressing themselves and moving their bodies. Much like meditation offers the opportunity to diffuse painful, anxious emotions in a safe place, play gives children the chance to work through their experiences in a proactive way.
  • Expands Creativity: Creative expression is beautifully interwoven in children's play. They develop an understanding of how things are connected, what their own individual strengths are, and how to conjure up unique ideas on their own. Imagination blooms as they pretend their way through dazzling "playscapes" and simple objects become new, exciting symbols of their choosing. Meditation also liberates the mind to explore hidden connections that bring more peace and insight into everyday life.
  • Builds Relationships: Play encourages children to discover confidence and compassion in their place beside others. As they interact, share, negotiate and plan, they are establishing essential teamwork skills that will be rewarding throughout life. Certain forms of mindful practice, such as compassion meditation, can cultivate empathy. In this way, both play and meditation nourish the respect and appreciation we bring to relationships.
  • Puts Energy to Good Use: Both play and meditation can encourage us to channel energy in a healthy way. As kids play, they strengthen their bodies and liberate excess energy before it boils over into reckless behavior. Meditation can also establish a more gratifying bond with energy; with more mental strength, we can make better choices on what we eat and what activities deserve our time and effort.
  • Sharpens Concentration: Play is all about putting new concepts to work. It translates abstract ideas into something tangible, thrilling and fun. Not only that, children pay more attention to academics if they are granted regular bouts of free, undirected play. It's a simple truth backed by cognitive science; tasks are much more manageable after our minds receive some reprieve. Meditation is another form of this essential rest as it sorts out messy thoughts and creates a fresh canvas to take back to work.

Both play and meditation offer so many wonderful benefits! They relieve stress, cultivate imagination, sharpen concentration, nourish interpersonal skills and enhance concentration. So the next time your kiddos ask to play outside, try to think of it as their own delightful brand of meditation. How else has play helped your children grow and become more in tune with themselves?

Find more about the author: Kim Hart


  1. I teach first grade, and just about every minute of the day is mandated to be academic. The kids only get one 15 minute recess every day. Brain research has found that kids need to get out and be active at least every 90 minutes in order to process what they've learned.

    I have taught over 25 years, and stick to my "activity time" in which the kids can choose the play they would like to do. It comes at the end of the day, and this time is invaluable because it gives my kids chioces on what they want to do, and time to learn to get along with each other on a project. So, outside or in, play is integral to everyone's well-being.

    When will education listen to the brain scientists?

    1. 15 minutes? YUCK! That's barely enough time to even start a game of Capture the Flag! I'm so glad that you provide activity time for your students. It's SO valuable and it really does help them absorb what they've learned! We need more teachers like you!