Can play make children smarter, stronger and kinder?

How can play empower children to become smarter, stronger and kinder? Find out in this impactful article from Tools co-founders Dr. Elena Bodrova and Dr. Deborah Leong.

The challenge


What we heard from teachers and administration at after implementing Tools at

Can play make children smarter, stronger and kinder?


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The process

Committee search to choose the right curriculum

Selection of Tools of the Mind curriculum & professional development

Tools training and implementation for all relevant staff

Teaching and learning review and outcomes

“Making Play Smarter, Stronger, and Kinder: Lessons from Tools of the Mind” by Dr. Elena Bodrova and Dr. Deborah Leong was published in the American Journal of Play. Because we’re dedicated to sharing anything and everything that may bring more much-needed play to the world, we are sharing some excerpts here straight from Dr. Bodrova and Dr. Leong’s article:

To make children “smarter, stronger, and kinder,” as appears in Sesame Workshop’s mission statement, we also want their play to become smarter, stronger, and kinder.
We have noticed that it has grown harder and harder to persuade school administrators and even some classroom teachers that learning through play is the right kind of learning—and often the best kind of learning— for young children. 
Make-believe play, according to Vygotsky, has three distinct features: children create an imaginary situation, take on and act out roles, and follow a set of rules determined by these roles. Each of these features is important in developing the competencies necessary for children’s success in school and beyond. 
Counterintuitive as it may sound, Vygotsky argued that make-believe play is not spontaneous but contingent on players abiding by a set of rules. This makes play the primary context for young children to develop self-regulation because they are now driven not by their need for instant gratification prevalent at this age but by the need to suppress their immediate impulses. As Vygotsky explained, “A child experiences subordination to a rule in the renunciation of something he wants, but here subordination to a rule and renunciation of acting on immediate impulse are the means to maximum pleasure”
A child’s ability to engage in complex play scenarios constitutes one sign of mature play. Children, however, often lack the background knowledge required to build such scenarios. Even to play something so common as “hospital,” children need to know what hospitals look like and who works in them—what their titles are, what each of them does, and so on. To build this knowledge, Tools of the Mind teachers use field trips, guest speakers, books, and videos. 
To scaffold children’s transition from real to imaginary actions with objects, Tools of the Mind teachers start by modeling how to pretend. Younger children learn how to use a familiar object in a pretend way: for example, a pencil becomes a magic wand, a rocket, or a baton. Children take turns making a pretend gesture with an object, naming its new function, and sometimes making sounds associated with whatever this object now represents—counting down, for example, to the blast-off for a pretend rocket.
To support children’s ability to regulate their pretend—and, later, real—emotional behaviors, Tools of the Mind teachers use specific strategies, such as group dramatization when a teacher reads an episode in a familiar book and children act out this episode expressing the emotions of the characters while using appropriate intonations and facial expressions. By looking at each other and listening to their peers during such group dramatizations, children learn to read each other’s emotions and understand their meaning.

We hope this has got you thinking about the value of play and how you might incorporate more mature play into your program. Inspired by the idea of making children smarter, stronger and kinder? Head over to the American Journal of Play to read the full article now.