“So, what have you been up to this summer?” I asked my young patient during her health supervision visit. The response was refreshing and one we as pediatricians love to hear:

“Hmm…” she said as she smiled over at her younger sister and mother, “just playing with my sister!” When I asked what they like to do together, they both excitedly shouted “play house,” “dance party,” and “dress-up.” Throughout the visit, the girls frequently chatted back and forth, took turns putting my stethoscope around their necks, and laughed when I asked each of them to say “ahhh.”

This scene beautifully captured the power of play. Play is spontaneous, joyful, and filled with discovery. Playtime is a cornerstone of childhood development, and its importance is something that we should discuss with our patients. But just what about play is so important?

Undirected play allows children to create their own worlds to...

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