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

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[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