Friday, November 21, 2008

Experts say: Let them play

I was glad to see this article in Wednesday’s Ledger-Enquirer. It’s a report from the Wonderplay conference in New York, where early childhood educators gathered to discuss play and how to restore its prominence for children across the country.

Experts cited in the article say children on average spend 8 to 12 hours fewer engaged in free play than they did in the 1980s. It’s a good reminder to limit television and video games and to consider whether, when we haul our kids around to umpteen organized activities, we may actually be doing a lot of work and spending a lot of money in order that they can learn less and have fewer opportunities to be creative and independent.

Here are a few quotes in case you don’t make time for the article:

Among the speakers at last week's Wonderplay conference Y was Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, a Temple University psychologist who contends that lack of play in early childhood education "could be the next global warming."

Without ample opportunity for forms of play that foster innovation and creative thinking, she argues, America's children will be at a disadvantage in the global economy.

"Play equals learning," she said. "For too long we have divorced the two."

Psychologist and author Michael Thompson contends that diminished time to play freely with other children is producing a generation of socially inept young people and is a factor behind high rates of youth obesity, anxiety, attention-deficit disorder and depression.

Many families turn to organized sports as a principal non-school activity, but Thompson noted that this option doesn't necessary breed creativity and can lead to burnout for good young athletes and frustration for the less skilled.

Vivian Paley, a former kindergarten teacher at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools and now an author and consultant, argues that the most vital form of play for young children involves fantasy and role-playing with their peers.

"They're inventing abstract thinking, before the world tells them what to think," Paley said in her speech to the conference. "It gets them thinking, 'I am intended to have my own ideas.'"

She worried that preschools, in the drive to prepare students for the academic challenges ahead, are reducing the opportunity for group fantasy play - and thus reducing children's chances to learn on their own about fairness, kindness and other social interactions.

Also in the article, Thompson cites some key factors that are robbing children of some of the playtime they once enjoyed:

-Parents' reluctance to let their kids play outside on their own, for fear of abduction or injury, and the companion trend of scheduling lessons, supervised sports and other structured activities that consume a large chunk of a child's non-school hours.

- More hours per week spent by kids watching TV, playing video games, using the Internet, communicating on cell phones.

- Shortening or eliminating recess at many schools - a trend so pronounced that the National PTA has launched a "Rescuing Recess" campaign.

- More emphasis on formal learning in preschool, more homework for elementary school students and more pressure from parents on young children to quickly acquire academic skills.


April said...

It is one of the things I love most about homeschooling and that I think is most valuable: all the time Jasper and Lucy have to play. And I can be respectful of their ideas for how to spend their time - and I get to watch the amazing "learning" they bring from the play, along with an intense vitality and these beautiful surges of creativity (well sometimes mixed in with comments like "I'm going to tell on you." But Lucy and I did spend lots more time in classes and such when she was young, largely because I wanted community and company of other adults. There I said it...

Annie Addington said...

It must be a joy getting to watch Jasper and Lucy craft their own curriculum to a large extent. I need to visit your blog and see how the homeschooling is going for you. Life's been so hectic I'm way behind on my blog reading these days....

Grace said...

Yes, I agree with April. Homeschooling offers a wonderful opportunity for siblings to engage in hours of free play. Ella is gone to Granny's this week and I wondered what kind of play Aubry would want to do all by herself. Currently she is playing with little people and singing - has been for the past 30 minutes. And I am enjoying coffee and catching up on the Mother Load!
Seriously, you can hear the cooperation and give and take and figuring out solutions when the girls play without any interference from Mom and Dad. I have started to say "work it out" whenever they call my name (unless someone is hurt or crying of course). And I would say 4 out of 5 times they can work out a solution together.