Problem Solving

Bring Back Play!

Greg Richmond asked:

As a teacher I value and respect the importance of formal education and academic achievement in today’s world. However, the pressures, both personal and societal, are forcing parents to make their children grow up too fast. One example of this is the decreasing importance placed on self-initiated play. The importance of play is recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as “a right of every child.” 1. Throughout history play has had its importance. Children in primitive tribes would play hunting games to prepare them for their role in their community. Squires would play games to develop the skills needed in warfare essential to becoming a knight. Today self-directed play still has a crucial role to play in training our children to be valued members of our society.

The problem is that, in today’s society, the importance of self-initiated play is being devalued. Parents today are under pressure from all directions.

Factors that have affected our attitude towards free play

a) Providing for the family

Economic pressure has necessitated that both parents have full employment and, with the break down of the extended family, children are farmed out to educational facilities at a much earlier age.. Single parents have been forced into the workforce and again their children have to be cared for in child-minding facilities.

Parents often drop their children off at 7:00 am, work all day and pick them up at 6:00 pm. Parents often arrive home too exhausted and irritable after a hard day at the office’ to participate in their children play activities.

As tough as it can be parents need to a balance and allow the time to be a participant in their child’s play because not only can it be fun and develop a bond but it also presents an opportunity for the child and the parent to explore important social issues in a comfortable and fun environment.

b) Expectations on Parents

All parents have a desire to see their child become successful and the early message they receive is that to be a good parent requires giving your child all the skills and aptitudes from the earliest age. It is essential, parents are told, for their child to be well balanced and high achieving from an early age. Academic success is seen as a measure of personal success.

Parents often feel that their success as parents is measured by what they give their children. Consumerism and the desire to be a successful parent has lead to a “keep up with the Jones’s” mentality which may place families under financial difficulty and means that parent’s down time is often spent running their children from one organized activity to another.

Self-directed child’s play has many benefits to the child’s development as a successful member of society.

Benefits of child-driven play

a) Developing social skills

Play is the training ground to teach children how to accept and work within a framework bound by norms and rules. When playing, children develop their own set of rules, boundaries and expectation. It allows children to explore concepts, break rules and suffer the consequences and learn the importance of connecting with no fear of adult reprisal or criticism. Children learn to accept others, resolve conflicts and develop an understanding of the role relationships play in society. Play allows children to explore new experiences and to put themselves in someone else’s shoes’, so important to understanding different points of view.

b) Activating imagination and creativity

Self-directed play allows the child to explore any world they wish, be in any situation they wish and come up with creative solutions to problems. Child are more likely to think outside the box’ when involved in play activities. Play is often one problem solving experience after another.

c) Learning self-regulation

“It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate.”2. Studies have shown that the ability of children to self-regulate and control their behaviour has decreased over the past 40 years. Psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says that these “results were very sad.” Because self-regulation is a more reliable predictor of school success than IQ tests and poor self-regulation is associated with poor behaviour, drop-outs, crime and drug use.

Self-talk is an important strategy used in maintaining mental health. When playing self-talk is usually an important feature of the make-believe. They learn to organize their world through self-talk and to express their feeling without any embarrassment. This is a precursor to developing self-regulation and mental stability in one’s life. “Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. Essentially, because children’s play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids’ toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren’t getting a chance to practice policing themselves.”3. When children have that opportunity play freely the results are clear: “Self-regulation improves.”4.

d) Physical Development

The physicality of play, particularly with boys, allows children to burn off’ that excess energy and contribute to managing behaviour as well as the obvious health benefits associated with being active.

Could it be that many of the social and behavioural problems children seems to experienced by children and adolescents would be alleviated or at least reduced by something as simple as allowing children to play without adult interference and organization?

As children become more conditioned to organized play be it through sport, dance, school or computer games it may be that, rather than, encouraging development, we are suppressing it.

Bring Back Play!

1. American Academy of Pediatrics

The Importance of Play in Promoting

Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child

Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd, and the Committee on Communications

and the Committee on Psychosocial Aspects of Child and Family Health

2. Curriculum Learning

An Electronic journal for leaders in education

28 July 2006 

Volume 4 Issue 24 

The importance of play

 Deidre Thian

3. Curriculum Learning

An Electronic journal for leaders in education

28 July 2006

Volume 4 Issue 24 

The importance of play

Deidre Thian

4. Curriculum Learning

An Electronic journal for leaders in education

28 July 2006

Volume 4 Issue 24 The importance of play

Deidre Thian

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