Using their minds: Children are becoming less resilient and less able to think because they may have been play-deprived
KUMON classes, judo lessons, football training every day. We are parents of hothouse children, but why can't our children just play?
Some schools are even reducing recess because there's too much to learn in a day. Some parents are sending children to pre-schooling schools where they teach children how to be at school even before they've learned to play. And need I mention all those children from one to three who sit all day long before "mind developing" programmes that dazzle their childhood minds with the bright colours of the rainbow?
Is play important? Google, the Internet giant, introduces play into its corporate culture, they believe it promotes productivity. They take it even further in Kaboom: when their Washington staff walk through the door in the morning they see a slide and a tyre swing. They also have play blocks to sharpen their imagination, a football table, ping pong, kazoos and arts and crafts materials.
Children who are free to play will grow up into better adjusted adults.
"We all know children need to play -- that doesn't mean adults can't play, too!" says Kaboom's chief executive officer Darell Hammond. But then Kaboom has a stake in play; they aim to save play for America's children.
"Our mission is to create great playspaces through the participation and leadership of communities. Ultimately, we envision a place to play within walking distance of every child in America," they say. What a noble idea.
We are so into ourselves that we outsource the bringing up of our children to other people. You want a child to grow up into a mathematics professor? Well, take him to a maths tutor. You want your boy to become a world class footballer? Well, take him to master classes by Maradona from the age of two. Go one step further than that and you'll be wanting your daughter to sing like Madonna. Oh yes, there's a lady next door who'll coach her every day.
"Do you know," a father would say. "When I was small we had nothing to do so we invented games and played follow the leader, and we imagined situations that we wove into our games and we made rules and we lived in a very different world."
What's wrong with learning? Nothing at all, but play is learning, don't you know? This is what most child psychologists are saying today, and it is echoed by some corporate people too. Our children are becoming less resilient, less adapt in social situations and less able to think because they have been play-deprived, and when they play they have been adult-led, not left to fend for themselves to think on their own.
Infant babbling is a form of play, says David Elkind, professor emeritus in child development at Tufts University in an article in Greater Good magazine. It is the child playing out the sounds they need to learn the language of their parents. "Socio-dramatic play activates resources that stimulate social and intellectual growth in the child, which in turn affects the child's success in school," says psychologist Sara Smilansky.
In enlisting their imagination, formulating rules, recognising the characters of other people, in their unconscious reading of the situations they are in, the children are doing more than being at play. They are learning skills that they will be able to transfer to their latter day problem solving.
"[P]roblem solving in most school subjects requires a great deal of make believe, visualizing how the Eskimos live, reading stories, imagining a story and writing it down, solving arithmetic problems, and determining what will come next," says Smilansky.
Why do we send our children to play schools? Why, to play of course, not to turn them into teeny weeny Einstein mini terrors. There's much wisdom in play that frees the child's imagination. There's evidence too that a child that had a background of play is more emotionally stable, is able to bond better, and is less anxious when he grows up in this wide world.
Anxious parents produce anxious children. Children are now being forced to start early because parents want them to grow up into high achievers and "reducing time for the type of imaginative and rambunctious cavorting that fosters creativity and cooperation", as the magazine Scientific American says so succintly in an article entitled The Serious Need for Play.
The article cites the findings of Professor Stuart Brown, a psychiatrist at the Baylor College of Medicine in Houston. Brown has found from his studies that 'free play' experience in childhood leads to better adjusted adults who are more socially adept, cope better with stress and have cognitive skills such as problem solving.
"The consequence of a life that is seriously play-deprived is serious stuff," Brown concludes.
Why worry when your infant child is playing Scrabble and beating the computer at chess? That may hone them in some brain skills, but they may grow up as a very anxious child who do not fit in well at school. Free play with no a priori rules is needed too because that's where they learn to respond creatively.
And that translates into better life skills.
Wan A. Hulaimi | email@example.com New Straits Times Columnist Sunday, November 04, 2012