Tuesday, February 10, 2009

Let them play -- more

Here’s an article worth reading on “The Serious Need for Play” from the January issue of Scientific American. It’s another reminder that research tells us to relax and let kids be kids as often as possible – that when we overschedule and overstructure the way children spend their time it can impede their physical, emotional, social and intellectual development.

It points out that creative play requires higher levels of language use than most interactions between children and adults. (“Studies show that children use more sophisticated language when playing with other children than when playing with adults. In pretend play, for instance, “they have to communicate about something that’s not physically present, so they have to use complicated language in such a way that they can communicate to their peer what it is that they’re trying to say,” Pellegrini explains. For example, kids can’t get away with just asking, “Vanilla or chocolate?” as they hand a friend an imaginary cone. They have to provide contextual clues: “Vanilla or chocolate ice cream: Which one would you like?” Adults, on the other hand, fill in the blanks themselves, making things easier for kids.)

And it reassures moms like me who wonder whether to intervene when the pretend fighting revs up, that even those not-intended-to-hurt punches are a tool for mental and social growth: (“Play fighting also improves problem solving. According to a paper published by Pellegrini in 1989, the more elementary school boys engaged in rough-housing, the better they scored on a test of social problem solving.”)

It also talks about the sometimes dire consequences of depriving children of adequate time for free play.

A few weekends ago, while Rob was visiting his mom in the hospital, Will and Owen and I spent an afternoon playing outside his sister’s house in Atlanta. She lives on a cul-de-sac that has attracted families with a total of 19 young children to the fairly small street. When we went outside, other children were lured out to join us and I realized how much less free play Will and Owen enjoy simply because we live on a busy street with relatively few children. As I watched Will negotiate play with his new friends I saw him learning and growing. If we ever move from our current house, Rob and I want to make proximity to other children and a relatively safe place to play freely with them a priority in our housing search.

2 comments:

Grace said...

I love this post! I am such a proponent of free play. We don't start homeschool in the mornings until E and A have had some time to play whatever they want. Now, they are playing camping! They have elaborate conversations with one another. My Dad commented not too long ago on their vocabulary. Good that this kind of research is being published in mainstream journals. Thanks for sharing.

Tashahart said...

My 3yr old always has free play time when arriving home from daycare, though I knwo they get free range time there as well. She loves that she gets to go to her playroom filled with all her imagination ! I love walkin gin when she doesnt notice and listning to get little conversations with her stuffed animals and how much she's growing just from that !