Wednesday, May 28, 2008

The Power of Play

I've just finished reading this book called "Piggyback Rides and Slippery Slides" by Lynnae W. Allred. She says, "A child who has some free time to play and engage in child-driven leisure pursuits with a parent (or other beloved adult) grows up healthier, happier, and more intelligent than a child whose time is rigidly scheduled into structured academic and physical activities."

I really agree with the whole theory of this book, that children need to be able to express themselves in child-driven play and that playing with an adult, specifically a parent, helps them learn and grow in ways that structured academic and physical activities cannot. I think too many parents out there are too eager to get their kids involved in academics early. One reason is because many children live in homes where both parents work, and having a child go to preschool is a better alternative than daycare for most families. But the push for academics and early reading and math is still too great in those preschools. I don't necessarily agree with the philosophy of both parents working, but I can see that it is a necessity in some instances. The problem is that these preschools are getting attention because they are so focused on academics, and in this highly competitive world, it makes parents think they are getting the edge by putting their child in such schools. But children need to be in a play-driven environment more than a highly structured academic one.

As the author of this book points out, children who engage in imaginative play learn coping skills and can get a better handle on their emotions than children who do not. She cites studies of highly pressured teens who turn to drugs, alcohol, and even suicide as ways out of the challenges they face, and those are often the ones who were pushed into these competitive worlds (academics and sports) earlier than their peers who do not fall into those traps.

I think that we would fare better as a nation if we relinquished the urge to spend gobs of money on the "best" preschools and kept our young preschoolers at home with us, teaching them through working together and playing together.

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