Discovery Play

Why play is important for kids

Play is powerful. In the early stages of life, it serves a vital developmental role. And, in all ages and stages of our lives, play is a resource we turn to–to build relationships, take a break from the stress of grown up life, and make memories. Paradise Park’s mission is to be the premier destination for safe, clean, family-friendly fun. At the heart of that is playing together. This blog explores why “play” is worth investing in for little ones.

We partnered with local play therapist Natashia Symes, M.Ed., to help us share some insights into why play is so essential to the growth and development of our children. Maria Montessori said, “Play is the work of the child.” For young kids, play is their full time job. That’s what they are supposed to be doing. It is how they learn everything, from problem solving to empathy. So how can we as parents build upon that idea, and provide opportunities for them?

Paradise Park: Why is it important for parents to play with their kids?
Natashia Symes, M.Ed.: Connection. First and foremost it is a golden opportunity to connect. Play is fun and when parents and kids have fun together they bond and develop a relationship that creates mutual respect and cooperation. Parents who are connected with their kids have more influence with them. Having more influence means that children are more likely to listen and learn. Aren’t we all more likely to listen and learn from people we feel a strong connection with? Aren’t we more likely to be cooperative and even go out of our way to help others if we feel a connection with them? This is why taking the time to play with your kids is not only fun, but beneficial! Kids learn so much during play, and when parents engage in play with their kids they learn that they matter! They feel seen and heard. Parents can learn about their children in play. Young children communicate within play in ways they cannot otherwise due to their level of cognitive and verbal development.


PP: How does “play” benefit our kids’ developing brains?
Natashia: Play offers kids the opportunity to try out ideas, make mistakes, negotiate and problem solve. It also allows them to navigate social relationships and develop empathy. Practicing these skills facilitates development in the prefrontal cortex, the area of the brain responsible for executive function. This part of the brain is responsible for regulating emotions, problem solving, prioritizing, time management and impulse control to name a few.


PP: How does play contribute to their development?
Natashia: Play, specifically free play (i.e. unstructured, child directed) not only offers opportunities to practice the skills listed above, it also helps them build resilience that they can later apply to real life situations. Free play is a safe place to try out different roles and play out different outcomes. In play, children build language skills as well as learn to cooperate with others. They learn to cope with emotions like frustration when things don’t go their way.


PP: What are the different stages of play?
Natashia: Sociologist Mildred Parten recognized six stages of play in the beginning years of development: unoccupied play (infancy), solitary play (3-18 months), onlooker play (early toddler), parallel play (toddler), associative play (around age 3), and cooperative play (around age 4).

In these early stages of the important work of play, babies develop from moving their bodies without purpose, just because it feels good, to exploring objects… to learning language and how to relate to others by observing other kids playing… to playing alongside other toddlers while watching, mimicking, mirroring and discovering the concept of “mine” and “theirs” … then at around age 3 beginning to engage with peers in play with similar goals but no rules… to around age 4 interacting with common goals and more structure and rules, learning to give and take and how to cooperate.

PP areas designed for these stages:
Infant Toddler Room, Miniature Play, Water Table,
Pretend Village, Block Play


PP: Are there different kinds of play, and why are they important?
Natashia: Sensory Play, Pretend or Dramatic Play, Constructive Play and Physical Play are all examples of different types of play.

Sensory Play – This play stimulates the senses. They feel, smell, taste and so on. This helps to develop an understanding of cause and effect as well as fine motor skills. Sensory play can also create curiosity and lead to interest in science and art.

PP areas designed for sensory play:
Cooking Station, Art Studio, Water Play, Face Painting,
Dinosaur Dig, Playful Kinetics, Adventure Time

Pretend or Dramatic Play – This play allows kids to try out different roles, refines language skills, and offers opportunities to build empathy by seeing things from the perspective of others. Children use their imaginations and practice problem solving.

PP areas designed for pretend play:
Pretend Village, Miniature Play, Block Play,
Performance Room, Foam Factory

Constructive Play – This play facilitates the skill of using materials to build something unique. This can be done alone or with others. It’s benefits are: learning to cooperate and work as a team, using imagination, helping them to create a plan and adapt when needed, staying focused and completing a task. Constructive play develops fine motor skills and sets the stage for learning math.

PP areas designed for constructive play:
Block Play, Art Studio, Dinosaur Dig, Foam Factory

Physical Play – This play helps to build gross motor skills as well as test limits and learn to follow rules (when playing games). Physical play relieves stress and can help shift moods when a child is upset. Children learn to cooperate and respect boundaries as well as set boundaries with others.

PP areas designed for physical play:
Tunnels and Ball Pit, Foam Factory,
Outdoor Play Garden, Jr. Mini Golf

* * *

Every day we open the doors to Paradise Park with the vision that our guests will make memories, create connections with each other, and enjoy safe, clean, fun in a family-friendly environment. When looking for things to do in Kansas City, our Discovery Play area is designed to accomplish so much of what Natashia describes for kids and the grown-ups who care about them. We see it every day. Come on in and explore more with your little ones in our Discovery Play center, our version of a children’s museum.

Natashia Symes, M.Ed., is a Registered Play Therapist, a Licensed Professional Counselor and mom of three with both a personal and professional understanding of all the benefits. She specializes in individual play therapy with children ages 3-12, as well as art and sand tray therapy to children, teens and adults. If you’d like to work with Natashia, find out more at

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