Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” Campaign and the Benefits of Play-Therapy

Throughout the Obama administration, Barack Obama and first lady Michelle Obama have made great strides in helping young people. From young children and school-aged adolescents to college-aged young adults looking to find their place in the world, the Obamas maintained a strong commitment to helping children and families. During the Obama administration, one of the most influential changes was

Michelle Obama’s “Let’s Move” campaign. This campaign encouraged mandatory school recess times and healthy living tips for children and families.

Though the obvious aspects of health and wellness were addressed by this campaign, there were many additional benefits for allowing plenty of recess for young people in kindergarten through elementary school. Among the less discussed but widely recognized reasons for the need to play is the therapeutic nature of play itself.

What is Play Therapy?

The concept of “play therapy” refers to the use of play games in psychological/therapeutic scenarios. Play therapy is presented as a way to understand children and help them grow developmentally, emotionally and physically. In the classroom, students are forced to adhere to a strict guidebook for behavior and outcomes. Students will learn, complete assignments, complete exams and receive grades. There is little room for originality or thought exploration. Through playing, children are more able to express their conscious feelings and thoughts through the play activities than by words alone. Teachers may strive to help young students communicate their thoughts and feelings. However, it often becomes the job of instructors to reach out to children on their level. Through games, more can be communicated than can be said.

Play Therapy as an Evaluation Tool

During play therapy evaluation in the classroom, teachers symbolically interact with children and learn to observe patterns of behavior. The assessment of children through play interaction is a necessary tool to compile reports in potential cases of abuse or neglect. Michelle Obama took a stand during the “Let’s Move” campaign not only for physical wellness but also for the emotional well-being of children and families. Interaction through play is key to cogitative development as well as trauma assessment and recovery.

Play activities serve a vital role in mental and emotional development. These activities also serve as a means of communication between child and caregiver when a child’s communication skills are lacking. The positive use of play therapy to interact with children and understand a child’s perspective is a concept often taught to parents through various schools, day care agencies and safe houses for at-risk children. Working in partnership with teachers and families, more children can get the help they need.

The Role of Symbol Interaction

Symbolic interaction occurs through play by conveying messages children are unable or unwilling to say. Less harmful behaviors like ‘acting out’ or refusing to take part in activities are met with small-scale steps to help a child feel in control.

However, symbolic language is certainly not limited to childhood. Unspoken messages through artwork, theater, behaviors, interactions or other means of symbolic communication exist everywhere. Symbolic thought, for children, often manifests itself in metaphorical artwork and role-play games. For these reasons, it is important for educators to understand the necessity of devoting time to such activities during school hours and recesses. It is equally important for government policies to fully represent the interests of young children who may be struggling.

The Popularity of Play Therapy

Play therapy for children is a broadly used and encouraged psychological and developmental tool. The use of play therapy as a tool to evaluate children in therapy clinics, classrooms, daycares, parenting classes or extensions of other health and human service programs is growing. For children affected by various traumas, the symbolic interaction with peers, parents/guardians and teachers can potentially heal the grief while opening communication. Children tend to speak a similar language of interaction between one another. For adults, even as a parent, interacting can be a challenge. Thus, it often becomes the duty of schoolteachers and counselors to act as a middleman between children and families.

Cognitive development is reflected by a child’s awareness of their surroundings.  Concepts, skills, language and other learned developmental steps. In all classrooms, the staff works to engage children with basic/advanced sensory activities, dramatic play, puzzles, art, music, books, and other hands-on activities. Teachers are trained on how best to deal with an introverted (quiet, removed) child as well as extroverted (aggressive, vocal, attention-seeking) children. Play therapy is then used as a means of evaluation regarding physical and mental/emotional development. An ‘Ages and Stages Questionnaire’ (A.S.Q.) is conducted based on a child’s physical skills demonstrated through play. The Ages and Stages Questionnaire for mental/emotional development is often gauged through behavior and interaction during play.

Dramatic play activities are especially useful in understanding where a child’s thoughts lie, as they often repeat concepts and act out scenarios that mirror their lives. Trauma can manifest itself as an unexpected/unwarned reaction to something. Reactions to scenarios of surprise, arguments with peers or other play interactions are often indicative. The goal of play in context with therapeutic benefits lies in the overall retraining of any negative behaviors, and the healing of any trauma.


The Obamas went a long way to represent the struggles of average schoolchildren and families. School recess is not simply a privilege to be given and taken away based on governmental shifts. By teaching children how to express themselves through play, and teaching parents how to speak the language of interaction, both parents and children do not feel so frustrated. Additionally, the outcome of play therapy is to prepare children for integration into higher education, social interaction and healthier home lives.




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