Value of Play
By Rae Pica
Isn't it ironic that a country whose constitution allows for the
pursuit of happiness now feels a collective guilt about the very
idea of anything fun? How did this happen? When did we begin placing
so much priority on productivity and so little on leisure or on
having a good time? Even given the Puritan work ethic, life in America
has become so unbalanced that one side of the seesaw is pretty much
why must we insist that our children, who by their very nature are
playful, share these particular values? Why are we so anxious for
our children to "act like adults?"
wait, you may be thinking, kids play plenty these days. They play
T-ball, soccer, even tennis
these are forms of play. But the true definition of the word, as
it applies to children, is that it be child-directed, open-ended,
and intrinsically motivated. It also focuses more on the process
than the product, which cannot technically be said about T-ball,
soccer, or tennis, where homeruns, goals, and points are typically
if we really must have "product" - that is, results -
from our children's activities, play has plenty of that to offer,
too. For one thing, many experts believe the adult personality is
built upon the child's play. According to Playing for Keeps, all
of the skills children need to develop into functioning, productive
adults originate from play. These skills include literacy, mathematical
reasoning, creativity, and social skills. Among the social skills
learned, the experts tell us, is the ability to share, cooperate,
negotiate, compromise, make and revise rules, and take the perspective
we can see the value in such benefits - that these abilities will
serve our children better than the ability to name the states' capitals!
But, if that's not enough benefit derived, Joan Isenberg and Mary
Renck Jalongo, authors of Creative Expression and Play in the
Early Childhood Curriculum, argue that play
" enables children to explore their world;
" develop cultural understandings;
" helps children express their thoughts and feelings; and
" provides opportunities to meet and solve problems.
play enables children to deal with stress and to cope with fears
they can't yet understand or express. Today's young children are
exposed to so much so early and must cope with much more stress
than their predecessors ever did. Play gives them a necessary emotional
release and helps them make sense of everything they're experiencing.
And as Playing for Keeps points out, when young children act out
emotion-laden scenes in their play, such as reassuring a doll that
mommy will return, they learn to cope with fears and gain the self-control
that will bring them to the next state of development.
in Education Week, master teacher Sheila Flaxman states that
today's young children are controlled by the "expectations,
whims, and rules of adults. Play is the only time they can take
control of their world." She goes on to state: "The almost
daily media reports of out-of-control young people should be our
warning that something is amiss in early childhood." Indeed,
retired psychiatrist Stuart Brown, founder of the Institute for
Play in Carmel Valley, California, was quoted in Time Magazine
as saying that "play deprivation" can lead to "depression,
hostility, and the loss of the things that make us human beings."
a great many contemporary adult human beings, balance is a word
that has come to symbolize something out of reach. Something desired
but elusive, as we work long hours, tend to families, and spend
what little free time we have as productively as possible. What
used to be considered leisure time (remember lazy Sunday afternoons?)
must now be filled. It doesn't matter whether it's with "recreation,"
chores of one kind or another, or shuttling the children here and
there, just so long as we can say we didn't waste it. "What
did you do this weekend?" has become a question to be reckoned
with on Monday mornings. It demands a smart answer, just as surely
as did our eight-grade algebra teacher.
you're an adult who's been giving balance some consideration - who's
tired of the treadmill - perhaps you find yourself looking back
fondly on what now seems to be an idyllic childhood; back to the
days when time stretched endlessly before you. Back when there were
few demands on that time. And, except for summers, weekends, and
days when the darkness fell too early, there always seemed to be
plenty of it.
today's children have similar memories to cling to when they become
busy adults? Let's make sure they have quiet moments of solitude
- child-initiated and directed activity
a break from the relentless
competition so prevalent in society. Let's make sure they have a
chance to play!
Pica has been a children's movement specialist for 24 years. A former
adjunct instructor with the University of New Hampshire, she is
the author of 14 books, including the text Experiences in Movement,
the Moving & Learning Series, and Your Active Child, written
for the parents of children birth to eight. Rae is nationally known
for her workshops and keynotes and has shared her expertise with
such groups as the Sesame Street Research Department, the Head Start
Bureau, Centers for Disease Control, Nickelodeon's Blue's Clues,
and a number of state health departments throughout the country.
Rae served on the task force of the National Association for Sport
and Physical Education (NASPE) that created Active Start: A Statement
of Physical Activity Guidelines for Children Birth to Five Years.
She is also the author of "Kids in Action," a booklet
of movement activities parents can do at home with their children,
sponsored by Kellogg, NASPE, and the President's Council on Physical
Fitness and Sports. Visit Rae at www.movingandlearning.com.