Perceptions of Play

Neil Gordon
June 10, 2015
two children look out from within a structure they've made out of cardboard boxes and blankets

Play matters. Play Matters.  We strongly believe the former but not everyone does. And so to bring awareness it, we’ve named this blog the latter.  Why? We want a forum to share ideas about play:  both what we know and what we continue to learn about why play matters to the healthy growth and development of our kids.

When we look at definitions of play, almost immediately we see a problem. For example: play (verb): “to engage in activity for enjoyment and recreation rather than (emphasis added) a serious or practical purpose.” Or this one: play (noun) synonyms: “amusement, entertainment, relaxation, recreation, diversion, distraction, leisure.”

Perhaps society’s limited view of play is what leads many to make a distinction between play and education. Common perceptions are that a person (usually a child) is either playing or doing something important and serious—but not both at the same time.

We beg to differ, and think it is time for us to strive—for the benefit of our kids, our future—to have a commonly understood, widely held, deeper definition of play.

Through this forum, we will share our ideas and the ideas of others, as well as some concrete examples and stories that will help us build a better, deeper definition and understanding of play. We’ll also look at our work around providing STEM and STEAM experiences to children and families at the Museums and in classrooms, what that means, and why it’s important.  We’ll talk about early learning and what sorts of play and interactions are most important for “brain building” for ages zero to three.  We’ll relay what we learn when we observe children playing at our museum. We’ll discuss nature and the outdoors, and why it is imperative for children to play and explore outside.

The common thread throughout all of this seemingly varied content will be learning through play. Our goal is to change the perception of play so that it comes to occupy a central, critical place in the lives of families and children.  Because it matters to their health, well-being, and success.

We hope you will join the conversation, making it that much richer and helping us reach our goal that much sooner.

Next post: Why Play Matters--A Lot

photo of CEO Neil Gordon standing with treehouse in background
Neil Gordon

I joined the museum in September 2009, and feel lucky to serve this terrific community of kids, families and supporters. After serving as Budget Director for the City of Boston, my museum career began in 1995 at Boston Children’s Museum, where I served as Executive Vice President and Chief Operating Officer. My priorities for the Discovery Museum include supporting kids and families to play and learn together; expanding outdoor learning; increasing access for underserved populations; and building upon our year history to create a museum for the next 30 years.


We firmly believe in the fundamental value of play for children—and families—to support emotional, developmental, and social health and well-being. This blog will explore why play matters, and touch on all aspects of our work to encourage play and support early STEAM learning.