Kids play less, but imagination soars

Despite less time for free play, children play more imaginatively, according to researchers who’ve tracked children’s play for 23 years.

In an analysis published in May 2011 in the Creativity Research Journal and posted online last month, researchers from Case Western University in Cleveland found elementary school children in 2008 were significantly more imaginative and took greater comfort in playing make-believe than their counterparts in 1985 despite having less time either during or after school for free play.

Children ages 6 to 10 are videotaped for five minutes each while playing with three blocks and two hand-puppets, reports Ed Week. Researchers analyze each child’s imagination, emotional expression, actions, and storytelling.
From BigStock

Children who rate highly in imaginative and emotional play “show better coping skills, creativity, and problem solving than students who rate low on the play scale,” according to Sandra Russ, a psychology professor who co-authored the study.

Children average eight fewer hours of unstructured playtime each week than they did 25 years ago, according to David Elkind, a professor emeritus of child development at Tufts. That excludes video games or organized sports. He blames overprotective parents.

Russ thinks children are finding ways to “sneak in” pretend play. “Children are resilient,” she said. “It’s possible they are playing more than we think they are, that they’re squeezing it in somewhere during the day, at night, when they’re not being taken to sports or dancing class.”

About Joanne


  1. SuperSub says:

    The beauty of imaginitive play is that all you need is an imagination and time without interruption, so like Russ I doubt the amount of time has decreased.

    • Stacy in NJ says:

      You also need inspiration. And that’s why despite less alone time and more distractions kids’ play has become more imaginative. The modern world exposes them to incredibly creative stimulation via media and technology, and it feeds their imaginations.

  2. Maybe for some the reduced play time is spent exposing them to more things. The afternoon that we didn’t spend in the sand during our beach trip was spent touring a battleship…and much subsequent play incorporated battleships. The more things that a kid has seen or read about, the more ideas that they can incorporate into their play.