The Benefits of Play, Part 3: Cognitive

Spring has sprung on the calendar, even if the Dotson Back 40 is still covered in snow. The warmer weather has us itching to move our bodies and start playing hard again. In doing so, we will use all parts of our bodies and minds.  

Cognitive Benefits of Play-Childrens Museum of Southern Minnesota

In this third and final installment of our series on all the many benefits of play, we will focus on the brain benefits of playing. In January, we looked at social-emotional benefits, and in February, we looked at the physical benefits. 

In the first five years of life, children’s brains are developing more than they do at any other point in life. As caregivers and curators of play for children and the community, we are so lucky to have many opportunities to enrich the growth of these little minds. 


The cognitive development of children’s brains covers many things, and has some overlap with the social-emotional components from part one. Our bodies and minds are endlessly fascinating in the ways in which they interact for the benefit of each other. 

  1. Improved concentration: Improved cardiovascular health can also help to improve children’s concentration and focus. When the heart pumps blood more efficiently, more oxygen is delivered to the brain, which can help to improve cognitive function and learning.
  2. Improved mood: Engaging in physical activity through play can also improve children’s mood and mental health. Physical activity promotes the release of endorphins, which are natural mood-boosting chemicals in the brain, reducing feelings of stress, anxiety, and depression.
  3. Language development: Play also plays a crucial role in language development in young children. Through play, children can practice and develop their language skills, including vocabulary, grammar, and syntax. 
  4. Increased creativity: Play provides an opportunity for children to engage in imaginative play, which promotes outside-the-box thinking and storytelling skills.
  5. Concept development: Through play, children can learn about cause and effect, problem-solving, spatial awareness, and other essential cognitive skills. 
  6. Neural development: Play helps to stimulate the brain and in every activity, connects neurons to build the power of the brain. 

Cognitive Benefits of Play-Childrens Museum of Southern Minnesota


As caregivers, we all want our children to grow up happy and healthy. Using play to help develop cognitive function is probably already a part of your routine. Here are some ways to foster growth: 

  1. Provide a safe and nurturing environment: The first and most important step in helping young brain development through play is to provide a safe and nurturing environment for children. This includes play time and all the time. 
  2. Encourage exploration: When children play, they are exploring and learning about the world around them. Encouraging children to explore in a safe and stimulating environment can help to promote curiosity and confidence. Providing age-appropriate toys, games, and activities can also help to encourage children to explore.
  3. Provide a nutritious diet: Nutrition is an essential part of brain development. Providing children with a balanced and nutritious diet will fuel their hard-working bodies while they play. Foods that are high in omega-3 fatty acids, such as fish, nuts, and seeds, have been shown to be particularly beneficial for brain development. It’s also important to limit sugary and processed foods, which can have a negative impact on brain development.
  4. Limit screen time: Excessive screen time can also have a negative impact on brain development. Research has shown that too much screen time can lead to attention problems, reduced cognitive function, and delayed language development. It’s important to limit screen time for young children and encourage other forms of play and exploration.
  5. Be a positive role model: As caregivers, we are our children’s first and most important role models. Children learn from the behavior and actions of those around them. Modeling healthy explorative play regularly will not only be a beacon for the children, but will have all the above benefits for YOU!

We will continue to center the power of play in all that we do at the Museum, because above all else, play is fun! 

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