Tuesday, February 10, 2009

The Importance of Play

Someone sent me a link to an article that they thought I might find interesting for the blog. Usually I pass by these e-mails, but this one had to do with the importance of imaginative play in normal development. It caught my attention and I decided to check it out. If you are interested you can locate it here- The Serious Need for Play. It was actually quite interesting and I found myself nodding in agreement as I read the article.

Now I have a bunch of swirling thoughts so I am going to try and make heads or tail of them.

Having spent time as a teacher I have strong views on the importance of academics. However, in my few short years as a teacher I saw the amount of free play in schools drop dramatically. I saw the elimination of recess in some schools. I also saw Kindergarten teachers totally cut play time from their classrooms. Why? Schools are trying to spend more time teaching academics to keep up, make adequate yearly progress, etc. Very sad.

Kids learn through play. I believe that when you don't allow kids adequate time to be kids- to engage in play that is not defined by rules, parents or teachers, they are stunted physically, emotionally, socially and even academically. Yup! If you want kids to do better in school, they need to play more. This means less time spent being endlessly disciplined, less time on repetitive dittos, less time spent completing homework that has been proven ineffective. Instead, let's get our kids out and playing. And while I am on a roll- let's get the adults out of work an playing more too.

As a teacher I felt like the kids came to me to solve every single problem they had with other students. It is like they couldn't work out anything on their own. They needed an adult to tell them what was right and wrong. My answer usually was, "And what do you want me to do?" I know it sounds harsh but I believed they could probably figure it out on their own if they took a minute to think. I truly believe this results from not enough unsupervised play. When adults step in for every little issue, kids don't learn to figure things out on their own. Here's a thought...picking your nose is gross...and you will figure that out when other kids give you weird looks. Seriously, do we need to tell kids it is gross. It is important to share. Really? You need to tell kids it isn't nice to take toys from other kids. My guess is they will figure it out when nobody wants to play with them anymore.

I remember taking a class on play in college. We watched a documentary on preschool in Japan. What I remember most is that the teachers did not step in when the kids were having a conflict. They let the kids work it out themselves. The kids actually engaged in problem solving without the teacher telling them exactly what to do. Imagine that. Here is an interesting article relating to how discipline in America and Japan differ. This article focuses on how kids in Japan work together to work out problems and do not depend on their teachers.

Kids today spend a lot of time in school like settings. When they are out of school they participate in team sports, classes, lesson, etc. My guess is the other time is spent in front of the TV, computer or a video game.

Whatever happened to just letting kids play and making sure nobody was killing each other?

So this is a jumble and while I am not entirely sure play would solve the social issues I witnessed, I do think it is key component for healthy social development.


jumbleberryjam said...

Thanks so much for the great article links! I was just musing over at my place about similar issues today. I so want to help my DS (26 mo.) learn to play on his own, but so far, it's been a struggle. Will keep trying, though! :-)

Lori said...

the removal of play in kindergarten was an issue I had with a few principals and why I left one of the schools I taught in. while I agree with a majority of what you are saying, I think there is a time and place for adults to help children problem solve. I feel it is through play and these types of interactions as well as a positive role model who assist children with positive ways to problem solve that we create children who look for ways to work together and compromise.

When children are exposed at a young age to positive means of problem solving then they are more likely to utilize these skills as they get older not only in peer situations, but also in jobs

(sorry didn't mean to blog hog, but I just felt I'd add my 2 or 10 cents)

MoziEsmé said...

Good topic! Wanting to have a genius kid myself :), I'm constantly looking for ways to integrate education into play - like discussing colors of the toys, or giving the dolls emotions as I talk through play scenarios.

But ultimately she needs to figure things out on her own, and she's stubborn enough that she won't learn until she DOES do it on her own.

I guess I'm thinking I should be providing some guidance - "nose picking is not hygienic" - and then lay off and let her figure it out herself without constant nagging.

Tracy said...

Playtime is absolutely a necessity for children's development. Like Lori I agree that at times adults should step in to help children problem solve. NOt necesarrily tell them what to do buyt guide them towards good decisions.

Example: Madison was having a pretend conversation with her school friend Ashley on the phone. I overheard her calling her a CHICKEN HEAD in a loud, harsh voice. Chicken head really? Anyway I calmly walked over and I asked if I could speak to Ashley's mom on the "phone" I then apologized for how Madison was "speaking" to her daughter because those weren't kind words. Madison definately got the point. We then talked about the situation because I wanted to make sure there wasn't anything going on at school that needed to be adressed.

Danielle said...

Lori, I def. agree. I think the focus should be on why certain behavior is not acceptable and it is the role of adults guide children. However, too often the focus is on consequences. Don't hit or you will get a time out- as opposed to dont hit because it hurts and makes someone fee bad.

coffeeandpajamas said...

Nice Blog you've got here. I've add your Blogroll logo on mine! :)

Interesting perspective on education methodologies between America and Japan. I agree with you that children should be allowed to be children. Let them play, let them solve their own problems...people learn best by doing and experiencing.

I spent my first 11 years of life in Hong Kong where the education programs are extremely intensive. I'm not sure how much play time we got, at school or at home. And I may be wrong about this, schools in Asia (including Japan) very much focus on learning and studying, not playing. Children in America probably gets a lot more play time than Asian children. I remember when I was in kindergarten, I had exams on English and Chinese (written, reading and oral), Math, Music, etc...I was even graded on Playtime.

Anyway, I don't really have a point here. I can't say which education system is more effective and I've lived through both. I think whether a person succeeds or not in life (professionally or socially) has a lot to do with influences from other people (eg. teacher, parents, friends, etc.) but not so much by the education system. Japan may have a harder working population, but that doesn't mean they are better than North Americans. They are simply different.

Andrea said...

Yes, yes, yes! I agree! And I think...no, I know :) that this one of the reasons that I'm loving the idea of homeschooling my kids...not that public school is bad, but there is just so much MORE you can do when you only have a few kids to teach. (and when they're you're own kids and you know how they learn, etc. it's easier too)...and since you can cover the teaching part faster, in turn you should have m more time to play and do fun stuff. :)

Marcy said...

I've been blessed with a kid who entertains himself really well, and so we spend most of our days with him playing and me just watching. I notice that sometimes he really liikes having me nearby even if he's not interacting with me, but I try to just be an observer and let him explore (and it's FASCINATING watching the things he comes up with!). I've also tried to set up our home so he can play freely without me having to swoop in and take away things I don't want him playing with.

I sometimes feel guilty that I'm not spending more time doing directed activities (singing songs, naming objects around the house, etc). But it does seem like letting him explore at his own pace, without unnecessary interruptions, is so good for his overall development-- and let's not forget the possible impact on developing concentration! (How easy is it to learn how to concentrate if you're getting interrupted all day long?)