Edward M. Hallowell, M.D. is the coauthour of Driven to Distraction. He also wrote The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness.
In Chapter 5, The Childhood Roots of Adult Happiness: A Reapeating Cycle of Five Steps, he explains a program he says can help children to thrive. (and it continues through life) The cycle has five points 1. Connection 2. Play 3. Practice 4. Mastery 5. Recognition
Below is the brief introduction to what he has to say about play. (pg. 62-63)
"The "work" of childhood is play. Many children these days spend too much time rushing from one "enriching" activity to the next (lessons of all kinds, tutors, tournaments, and so forth), without ever doing the single most enriching activity ever devised :play.
When I was a child, after school I was able to do something that is now nearly obsolete. It was called "go out and play."
As a parent try never to forget that a child at play is a child at work.
Priscilla Vail, a happy adult who is one of the the great experts on learning disabilities in the country, told me that when she was a little girl, she was often left alone, since she was by far the youngest. Her siblings were not around, and her parents were often quarreling. She remembers learning to enjoy her own company and learning how to play alone. She says that talent has been of immense value her entire life.
Play builds imagination. Play with other children teaches skills of problem solving and cooperation. Solitary play also teaches problem solving as well as the possibilities inherent in solitude. A child who learns to play alone will never be lonely. Play teaches the ablility to tolerate frustration when you don't get it right the first time as you build your building or try to ride your bike, and it teaches the all important ability to fail.
In addition, when you play in your mind, you daydream. The capacity to dream daydreams is a special talent most children have, and it is a crucial one. We chart our courses in our dreams. Dreams also can lead to or reinforce belief. The stronger your ability to play in your mind-- to dream-- the greater the likelihood that your beliefs won't begin crumbling as you grow older.
Dreams and beliefs , then are the fruits of sustained play.
Play generates joy. Play becomes its own reward. In play the child enters that sate of mind Mihaly Csikszentmihalyi calls flow. In flow humans are at their happiest, forgetting where they are or even who they are. Play, at best, introduces a child to the world of flow. The more a person can find activities in which he can get into a state of flow, the happier that person will be day after day. We plant the seeds of flow in childhood, in play."