We tend to think that when we are "playing" we are giving our brain a break. Not so, say researchers. Play affects the brain in many different ways, and plays a cruical role in the development of children's brains in particular. The vast majority of brain growth occurs in the first five years of life, and play builds those important neuronal connections that will influence memory, learning, emotion regulation, and social intelligence in the years to come.
There are different types of play, and they develop the brain in different ways. Physical, social and interactive play (high energy play) helps develop social intelligence. Children, with the help of their playmates, have the opportunity to made a poor choice and learn from that to make better choices. High energy play can also help develop emotion regulation in children. Examples of high energy play are physical activities such as running, jumping, or rough-and-tumble play.
Creative play can help children with their learning and memory capacities, as well as emotional regulation, social competence, and engagement. In a study of 5-7 year-olds, researchers found that pretend play was positively related to involvement in school activities and interacting with peers. Conversely, researchers found that children who did not get enough free time to play tended to have a more difficult time engaging in school activities.