Archive for February 21st, 2008

I started to post this at my blog, but thought it might fit better here. On the way to work this morning I heard a fascinating story on NPR about the effect of increasingly structured "play" and quasi-play activities on the development of children.

I really dislike social "science" that proves the obvious, and I expect most readers of this blog already know, intuitively and by observation, what these people are saying. But it’s fascinating to see the educators coming around to it, and maybe it will have an effect. Be warned that you have to put up with a certain amount of psychologists’ jargon. Here’s one crucial conclusion:

It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

"Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."

One’s heart bleeds for all the children, especially boys, who are diagnosed as hyper-active and given drugs to control it when they really needed just to be able to play.

Click here to read or listen to the whole story.

–Maclin Horton

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