October 2022

What types of playing boosts learning?

In one recent paper, we’ve delved into the link between specific activities and learning. There’s some promising research – but more is needed.

  1. Physical play

There’s some evidence that outdoor play between lessons can help school children learn and concentrate more when they get back into class. And that physical play might also help some children manage their emotions and do better in cognitive lessons, such as maths.


  1. Play with objects

We’ve seen a link between playing with blocks and other objects, and problem-solving. In some studies, very young children who play with objects also have slightly higher language skills at 22 months, and older children who play with blocks seem to be better at reading than those who don’t. But, lots of these studies were small, and nearly all of them were with children under the age of 7.


  1. Symbolic play (or word play)

These studies look at whether songs, word games and repeating sounds, as well as writing and drawing, boost learning.

Unsurprisingly, language play seems to help children hone their language skills and playing with music in particular might give children’s communication skills the biggest boost.

  1. Pretend play

Even though we’ve seen lots of studies on pretend play, we haven’t seen a lot of conclusive evidence. But there is some data to show that fantasy play can help boost working memory. Hopefully we’ll see more studies in this area soon.


  1. Games with rules

Most of the research we’ve seen looks at computer games designed for learning STEM subjects. But we also know understanding and negotiating rules in physical games gives children an ideal opportunity to practise their social, cognitive and emotional skills. And some smaller studies show board games, such as snakes and ladders, helping children improve their counting skills as they move across the board.


There’s a lot of evidence out there, but also a lot more we still need to learn. To take a closer look at the research on those five types of play, browse our research library.

Explore the research