Food for Thought Friday: Children’s Play

So… I figured I’d start a new feature on the blog. Welcome to “Food for Thought Friday!” My goal is to post a different conversation starter every week here.

Yeah, we’ll see how that goes.

First up is an article a friend shared with me. It’s by Dr. Peter Gray, a research professor of psychology at Boston College. Click here to read “Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less.”

It’s a long article, but well worth the read. He argues that children need more play (NOT more school). If you don’t have time to read the original article, here’s a summary. These are some of Gray’s points:

  • All mammals (including humans) learn through play. When a species’ survival tasks are more complicated, their need for play increases. (Carnivores play more than herbivores, etc.)
  • The most important life skills cannot be taught in school. They must be learned and practiced through play. “These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions” (Gray).
  • Gray defines “play” as voluntary and, when possible, unsupervised… or, at the very least, isolated from intervention. Organized sports leagues do not count. Neither do play dates wherein parents are constantly watching and participating.
  • “Play” must be voluntary because the children involved must be free to quit. This gives all participants power. It also ensures that everyone who wants to play must work to keep the other players happy and engaged. (Here’s how play teaches social skills, fairness, and morality.)
  • Play helps children learn to control fear and anger. The kid who’s climbed trees and fought over the rules of a game will be better equipped to handle tense situations in “real life.”
  • When lab animals are deprived of opportunities to play, they cannot regulate their emotions. Gray states, “Some people object, on moral grounds, to experiments in which young animals are deprived of play. What a cruel thing to do. But consider this: over the past 50 to 60 years, we have been continuously decreasing the opportunities for our own children to play.”
  • Why have we, as a society, shifted away from free play for children? Gray cites several social factors: “the spread of parents’ fears, the rise of experts who are continuously warning us about dangers, the decline of cohesive neighbourhoods and the rise of a school-centric, or ‘schoolish’, take on child development – the view that children learn more from teachers and other adult directors than they do from one another.”

So… what are your thoughts on the article? On the subject of play in general? What are the best “teachers” for children? How should children be spending their time?


Leave a Reply

Fill in your details below or click an icon to log in: Logo

You are commenting using your account. Log Out /  Change )

Google+ photo

You are commenting using your Google+ account. Log Out /  Change )

Twitter picture

You are commenting using your Twitter account. Log Out /  Change )

Facebook photo

You are commenting using your Facebook account. Log Out /  Change )


Connecting to %s