Monday, July 19, 2010

Play: It's More Than Just Fun and Games

The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children
We've all heard the criticisms: kids watch too much tv. They play too many video games. They're over-programmed and don't get outside enough. But is it really true? And why does it matter?

According to David Elkin, author of The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activites Lead to Healthier, Happier Children, our moms and grandmothers had some things right. Our kids are too plugged in and it's impacting their development.

For centuries, kids used play to develop social skills, hand-eye coordination, and even academic skills, like math. As an example, by playing with blocks children develop concepts of addition and subtraction, size, length and location. And among the most important life-skills developed through play is called "executive function," the ability for a child (or adult) to self-regulate his or her actions. Children with developed executive function do better in school and in life. Perhaps because of the changes in play, this important cognitive skill is diminishing in children.

According to NPR, "A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.

"Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."

So play is important. But what is play, exactly, and how can we support it as parents? According to Elkin, it's unstructured, unscheduled, and flexible. It's not as much a toy as an activity, or a healthy balance between the two. It's make-believe and what can look like "doing nothing."

So play a game of freeze tag with your kids. Spend a day pretending you're princes and princesses. Your kids will thank you for it.

1 comment:

  1. This is SO TRUE! I just saw a kid in a canoe. Beautiful lake. Gorgeous day. You would think he would be fishing or something, right? Wrong! He was playing a video game. Whatever happened to enjoying the great outdoors?!