21st Century Kids At Play

Want to have a smarter and happier child? Is it a great tutor who surfs or an expensive private school with ponies? No. Experts say playtime makes kids smarter.

School has begun and the hazy days of summer seem to linger on.

I remember those days as a school girl. Happy to be back in school with my friends.  Happy for my new pencil packs & school supplies. Happy to find out who my new teacher was and what new cool things we might learn – like building mini totem poles or tiny canoes for social studies. But I also remember looking outside and yearning for the freedom of summer vacation. Riding my bicycle, catching frogs, falling in ponds while catching frogs…let’s face it, summertime is just plain FUN.

What’s the best for children in the 21st century? Some say it’s old fashioned play.  Playtime is just as important for children as learning ABCs. Now if you’re reading this, especially if you’re a parent or a teacher, you might think this is outrageous.

But did you know this?

Play is so important to optimal child development that it has been recognized by the United Nations High Commission for Human Rights as a right of every child.[1]

Dr. Clark, a professor of anthropology at Rutgers University suggests that “Playing allows children to act out a new way of thinking about the real world.

Play doesn’t say there is only one way to intepret everything. You can shift meaning around — it’s a loving zebra, it’s a hurtful zebra. It can be kind of limber and ambiguous.”

How many times have you had someone tell you how to do something, leaving you feeling frustrated that you weren’t left to figure it out for yourself. And it also left you feeling small because you had to be told. Right. We’ve all had that happen. This is the world of play for children. There is no “right way” or “wrong way” — there is just play and it’s okay any way that is safe and fun. And it’s not just FUN that your child is getting out of it.

According to Dr. Kenneth R. Ginsburg, MD, MSEd,

“Play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.[2],[3]

It is through play that children at a very early age engage and interact in the world around them.

I wrote in an earlier article about DIVERGENT thinking. That is the ability to see many outcomes for a given question. Take for example, the first math question everyone learns. What is 1 + 1? You will quickly say 2. You learned to follow the rules very well. So did I. But to a child who is given this equation without instruction, the answer might also be “11” – and your little one would be right. There are two numeral ones. But it could also be the beginning of a picket fence. Or place one digit across the other and you have a letter “t” or “T” or X marks the spot…

You see how unsupervised play can lead to a myriad of possibilities. What your child is doing while playing is what some “learning scientists” call Deep Thinking. It all sounds new and 21st century, but it’s as old and as natural as child’s play since the beginning of time.

The research on the importance of play could fill volumes, even libraries full of volumes. So why do children, especially in America, continue to lose “play” hours as the decades progress? Are we too busy to let our children play? Are schools too busy trying to keep up with rigorous testing to give kids self-directed time? The questions as to why are also numerous, but the fact remains: kids have less time to play.

Now before you check your calendar to try to “schedule in” playtime in an already jam-packed list of things to do (which is another story for another time), consider some easy things.

Let them paint “pet rocks” in the yard. Let them “read” to the dog. Let them find roly-poly bugs in the garden while you make dinner.

I hear the sound of tots on the run
Things to see, explore and do
Playtime is, for mom & dad too!”

Catherine Malcolm is the co-founder of FeeFiFoFun, an emerging children’s entertainment and publishing company. We are “Big artists for little artists” creating experiential art and content to inspire children of all ages. The award-winning team of artists, designers and writers who make up FeeFiFoFun are world renowned for their work with Pink Floyd, The Beatles, Blue Man Group, Cirque du Soleil and otherswww.feefifofun.com

Teacher recommended Flutterby Butterflies http://tinyurl.com/feefifofun
New! Make Me Music http://tinyurl.com/makememusic

***Kickstarter Staff Pick: Flora’s Lost Hop http://tinyurl.com/loc8hop 
featuring legendary Beatles Illustrator, Alan Aldridge.

[1] Office of the United Nations High Commissioner for Human Rights. Convention on the Rights of the Child. General Assembly Resolution 44/25 of 20 November 1989. Available at: www.unhchr.ch/html/menu3/b/k2crc.htm
[2] Mahoney JL, Harris AL, Eccles JS. Organized activity participation, positive youth development, and the over-scheduling hypothesis. Soc Policy Rep.2006;20 :1– 31 Medline
[3] Eccles JS, Templeton J. Extracurricular and other after-school activities for youth. Rev Educ Res.2002;26 :113– 180 CrossRef

The App-Ed Revolution

Written By Catherine Malcolm

What’s the buzz in the school carpool line?

Common Core State Standards.

Yes, it’s as dry and un-appealing as it sounds, but every parent and every student in 48 states is affected by this new initiative. And while the Core Standards (CCSS) debate continues, we continue to drop to the back of the class in the global rankings.

“U.S. students, who once led the world, currently rank 21st in the world in science and 25th in math,” Newsweek reported in 2011.

The Huffington Post headline yesterday read,

“U.S. Students Still Lag Behind Foreign Peers, Schools Make Little Progress In Improving Achievement.”


CCSS is a hot topic in parenting and teaching circles. Everyone wants what’s best for their little budding brainiac. But does it work? Many, like Sir Ken Robinson (acclaimed educationalist) and most of the elite private schools in the world might disagree.

Not only is the CCSS initiative based on an old paradigm of teaching and testing; production line education at its best produces conformity. When the early educators and curriculum developers designed our current system, conformity in society was what everyone wanted. “Follow the leader!” they said, and everyone did. The handful of creative thinkers who dared to step outside of the box became pioneering entrepreneurs. And everyone else conformed, and followed. While knowing how to get along with the group is as necessary as learning one’s ABC’s, that kind of “teaching to test” fails us when we try to stand out or even stand up to the new global dynamic.

The major problem with the CCSS initiative is what it leaves out. The arts are not extra-curricular, they are essential educational experiences that nurture true visceral relationships between the student and his/her curriculum. It helps to foster divergent and critical thinking whereas CCSS promotes group-think and let’s be honest, rote memorization. It’s not dynamic and it’s not 21st century.

Schools shouldn’t be factories with children on an assembly-line toward jobs that no longer exist.  To compete in today’s society, with technology, social media and communication at it’s most powerful in the history of our world, we must create a new educational paradigm.

We need a model that embraces the arts and its ability to nurture divergent thinking. A curriculum that uses the tools that we have at our disposal, tools that the authors of our old educational system couldn’t even have imagined. We need teachers who are given the chance to nurture critical thinking and creativity, and a support system to allow those possibilities to grow.

Sir Robinson said of education, “Teachers will tell you, ‘don’t copy!’ – it’s cheating.  But when you leave school, it’s called collaboration.” Sure, some kids cheat.  So do some adults. But that’s not the discussion. Children learn from each other and even when they “borrow” another’s answer, sometimes they might just learn something.

A study published in the book Break Point & Beyond illustrates the need for change in our current educational system.  A longitudinal study tested children for “Divergent Thinking” (the ability to think critically and creatively about a problem).

The first group showed a remarkable 80% scoring at the GENIUS level. How old were they? Kindergarten level. These same children were tested 5 years later. The same children. The same test. The genius level scores dropped to 50%. Five years following…down to 15%. While the educational system cannot be laid blame for all of the decline, it certainly can’t be left outside the margins of cause and effect.

In the last 5 years, with the rise of mobile communications and “smart phones” there is a growing trend toward parents sharing “play” time with their children on apps, some of which are labeled “educational.” Even some “entertainment” apps have shown to encourage a child’s intellectual and creative growth. While apps for children, especially in the educational market is the fastest growing segment in this market, there’s a lot out there that are simply “product.”

The growth of good, high quality apps that help to support what schools are doing, and better yet, NOT doing, is small. App developers have an opportunity to really make a difference, not just in the world of mobile games, but to effect change in our fragile educational eco-system. Great developers could a “game changer.”

Great app development is expensive and labor intensive, while many apps released are either free or cost less than a cup of coffee at Starbucks. Which is now 10 cents more this year than last. Less than that cup of coffee. Imagine that for a moment. You’ve just experienced divergent thinking. Now imagine what a good app could do for your child…or maybe even you.

Here’s an excerpt of Sir Ken Robinson’s discussion of our current educational crisis and what he believes are key points of inquiry.        http://bit.ly/EduNOW