Are you one of those families who spends more time in the car than at home? Do you value extracurricular activities so much that you and your child are rarely home? Can you see yourself getting caught up in the activity madness in a few years? There are so many activities available to young children: piano, gymnastics, soccer, karate, foreign languages, abacus math, girl/boy scouts, Kumon, private tutoring, etc. You name it; it’s out there.
Before anyone convinces you that all of these activities are crucial for a child’s academic success, let me assure you, they’re not.
There are certainly benefits to playing a sport like soccer. The child learns the art of working with others, the skill of losing graciously, etc. But before you overload your schedule with activities, please understand the value of play.
The Ezzos have an entire appendix in Growing Kids God’s Way devoted to the topic:
“Seldom do we think about the importance of imaginative play. Yet in the life of children, it is a natural thing. In fact, various forms of play are one of the strongest indicators of healthy emotional growth and a significant component of a child’s orderly development. … One of the most active forms of learning is play.”
The Ezzos and I are not alone in understanding the value of play. A recent article in The Christian Science Monitor, titled “Toddlers to tweens: relearning how to play,” thoroughly discusses the value of play.
“In recent years, child development experts, parents, and scientists have been sounding an increasingly urgent alarm about the decreasing amount of time that children – and adults, for that matter – spend playing. A combination of social forces, from a No Child Left Behind focus on test scores to the push for children to get ahead with programmed extracurricular activities, leaves less time for the roughhousing, fantasizing, and pretend worlds advocates say are crucial for development.”
The absence of play is pathology
One researcher in the article takes it a step further:
“’Play is the fundamental equation that makes us human,’ says Stuart Brown, the founder of the California-based National Institute for Play. “Its absence, in my opinion, is pathology.’”
“Brown became interested in play as a young clinical psychiatrist when he was researching, somewhat incongruously, mass murderers. Although he concluded that many factors contributed to the psychosis of his subjects, Brown noticed that a common denominator was that none had participated in standard play behavior as children…. He saw a direct correlation between play behavior and happiness, from childhood into adulthood.”
Encourage play, then leave them alone
The article notes not only the importance of allowing kids time to play but also leaving them alone while they play:
“If a teacher introduces the toy, which has a number of hidden points of interest – a mirror, a button that lights up, etc. – but tells a child about only one feature, the child is less likely to discover everything the toy can do than a child who receives the toy from a teacher who feigns ignorance. Without limiting instruction from an adult, it seems, a child is far more creative. In other words, adult hovering and instruction, from how to play soccer to how to build the best LEGO city, can be limiting.”
Self-regulation from play boosts academic success
Other researchers note the depth of play. They say play can help language development and self-control. Those of you tempted by extracurricular activities to boost your child’s academic success take note:
“Self-regulation – the buzzword here is ‘executive function,’ referring to abilities such as planning, multitasking, and reasoning – may be more indicative of future academic success than IQ, standardized tests, or other assessments.”
True learning happens when kids are actively engaged in meaningful activities. Our educational system with its focus on standardized tests has diminished children’s creativity. Realizing this, other countries have shifted their focus away from test scores. Finland, which stands at the top of international rankings, has a policy of recess after every class for grades 1-9. This is in sharp contrast to many school districts that eliminate recess so kids have more time in the classroom.
Finally, researchers focus on children relearning how to play. Gadgets like iPads, iPhones, video game systems and even a toy with noises and blinking lights can be a detriment to play. Take away these toys and many kids don’t know how to play.
My advice: cut out your many activities and stay home to play. If your child seems not to know how to play without a gadget in hand, take it away nonetheless. Give your son a set of colorless blocks and challenge him to build a tower. Once he does that, encourage him to create a unique building. Give your daughter a few dolls and encourage her to have a tea party. Encourage the types of play you used to engage in.
Encourage them, and then leave them alone. The more practice they get at playing by themselves, the more imaginative they will become.