We are continuing on with our look at Thomas Poplawski’s “Completing the Circle”, available for free at the Waldorf On-Line Library. Today’s chapter is about the power of play, especially free play. In a world full of enrichment classes and a myriad of scheduled activities for the youngest children, free play is consistently undervalued. The author writes:
“In school and even at home, there has been the unending effort made to give
the child every possible advantage by pushing early academic learning and the
early development of specific skills, this in spite of the fact that educational research
has found no evidence that such early “enrichment” programming provides any
long-term advantage for most children. Only disabled children and those from
deprived circumstance, like those served in the Head Start program, clearly benefit
The author cites that the American school system bias against play may be historically influenced by Maria Montessori’s methods, Puritanism and Freud. Yet, we all know that imaginative play is a huge correlate to verbal fluency, mathematical thinking, and genera thinking. But perhaps most importantly,
“Russ concluded, however, that imaginative play is the tool that every child uses to learn to cope with stress in life and that to interfere with the child’s learning how to play in a healthy manner imperils the later development of emotional regulation and coping skills…..
Brown was asked to investigate the background of a young man who some
years ago shot and killed nineteen people from a tower at The University of Texas
in Austin. He found that the man had a history of not playing in his childhood
and adolescence. When Brown went on to examine the lives of other killers, he
found a similar deprivation in their early years. On the other hand, when he made
a study of individuals who had been awarded the famous MacArthur Foundation
“genius” awards, Brown found, almost without exception, a rich background of
play from childhood to adulthood. He went on to help found The Institute for
Play in Carmel, California, because of his conviction that play is essential for the
development of healthy individuals.”
Children today often have a difficult time playing, both alone and with others in a social group, in comparison to children of past years. And too often, as parents, we don’t let our children get dirty in play (because we have somewhere to go soon) or we are too overscheduled, or we use electronic media to pacify our children and their real need for play. If children don’t get bored, they will not figure out how to actively play.
The other severe impediment to play is children who are brought into an adult consciousness. Children are often just treated as another adult, with too much responsibility for decisions and too heavy of an adult emotional load to carry. This is an impediment to healthy, free flowing play.
Active play does not mean the adult parent or teacher “just sits in a corner and knits” (as Rainbow Rosebloom wryly put it during the lecture I heard him give last week). Children need you there with an ear ready. Too often games can turn into groups of children doing something destructive, which can happen until children are about 10 years of age according to the Gesell Institute, or into a game where one child or a group of children dominate others that are not nice games.
If you look through the back posts on this blog, there are quite a few about the stages of play and how to foster creative and healthy play.
Many blessings to you,