Where does Play sit on Maslow’s Hierarchy of Needs?

Those who are unaware of the benefits of play may well not include it at all. Indeed many of the policy makers for the current government don’t seem to recognise play as anything other than frivolous.

Self Actualisation

If we look at the top row then every single aspect of self actualisation comes through play. For children, play is the ultimate expression of self actualisation and through play they develop their true sense of self and address issues such as morality, creativity, spontaneity, problem solving etc. This must mean that play sits firmly on the tier below this.


Wait a minute though. Play also underpins all of the examples given for esteem. Play is crucial for developing self esteem and confidence, achievement and respect in ones peer group. It is no coincidence that recent studies have shown a marked decrease in children’s self esteem and confidence alongside a corresponding decrease in play opportunities. So clearly play must sit directly beneath Esteem in the pyramid?

Love/ Belonging

Hang on though. Through play we form friendships some of which last a lifetime, interact with our family and yes we explore sexual intimacy. Play must therefore be included in safety on the second tier.


Ok you can see where this is going now because even when we get as low on the hierarchy as Safety we still see play underpinning every aspect throughout. Physical safety is underpinned by developing appropriate responses to risk. Play teaches risk management strategies that enable children to cope with real life danger. Play also builds stronger bones, bodies and cardiovascular systems allowing us to survive as adults. Play is an evolutionary imperative linked to life expectancy. It is not just physical safety though. Play is essential for children developing their own ethical and moral codes. Play is a major factor in physical and mental health and most importantly play gives children a unique sense of emotional security.

We recently worked with a child who for a variety of personal traumas was selectively mute. He would however speak freely with our team when wearing his superhero cape and being a superhero because he felt emotionally safe to do so.

So in a society which does not value or recognise play it is clear that play is an underpinning factor for the whole spectrum of children’s well being. As important as food or warmth? Maybe not, but a child will continue playing until they are literally blue with cold because to them play takes precedent. In primary schools children will skip lunch when they can get away with it in order to have more play time.

Maybe this is what the pyramid should look like?

If you want to know more about play check out our other articles or book one of our award winning training courses.

If you are as passionate about play as we are then check out our play champions section.

Article by Ben Kingston-Hughes (Managing Director of Inspired Children)


What is the Point of Play - Part 1

What is the Point of Play - Part 2

What is the Point of Play Part 3

Where Play sits on the Hierarchy of Needs

Is Homework Damaging Children?

More coming soon!

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