“Unfortunately both the value and the meaning of play are poorly understood in our hurried society.”
– The Hurried Child, 1981
“Play for children buffers toxic stress, builds parental relationships,
and improves executive functioning.”
-The Power of Play, 2018
This month the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) recommended that all clinicians write a “prescription for play” for all children at each well child visit. The AAP first touted the benefits of play in 2007. What’s new about this 2018 report, “The Power of Play”, is 1) the compilation of 139 scientific studies supporting the benefits of childhood play, 2) the specific recommendation that clinicians give a “prescription to play” to the parents of children at every well child visit in the first two years of life, and 3) the inclusion of a list of specific parental actions and behaviors to help parents actually “fill the prescription”.
What is not new is the knowledge that play is very important for children’s cognitive (academic), social, language, and emotional development. In 1981 (almost 40 years ago!) David Elkind, Ph.D. in The Hurried Child, Growing Up Too Fast Too Soon (1) catalogued how play was one of the antidotes to the toxic stresses on our children at that time. His 1981 list of the sources of that stress on children sound still familiar to us in 2018:
- early pressure to gain academic skills
- early intervention to help learning in the early years (concept of “readiness” was disputed)
- media presentations of adult clothing and behavior as models for children
- changes in the traditional family model (dual-career couples, increased single parent families, single parent dating, increased divorce rate )
- summer camps (and after school programs) becoming competitive training sites for specific skills
- Cutting of recess, physical education (“gym period”), art, music and drama from school curriculum
- increasing modes of passive play (no real-time human interaction; media play is passive).
“Play has been transformed into work. Perhaps the best evidence of the extent to which our children are hurried is the lack of opportunities for genuine unstructured play available to them. Genuine play involves human interaction, mostly child to child but also child to adult. Play is nature’s way of dealing with stress for children as well as adults.” – All written in 1981 by Dr. Elkind.
What are some of the specific ingredients listed by the AAP to fill the 2018 “prescription for play”? (2)
Newborn- 6 months
- talk to your infant, mimic his or her sounds
- make various faces at the infant so he or she can mimic you
- let him or her put safe objects in their mouth
- put infant in different positions so that he or she can view the world from different angles (“tummy time”)
- use a mirror to show different faces to your infant
- Peek a boo is a BIGGIE !
- give him or her more toys to drop (teaches that actions have effects)
- let infant safely crawl and explore freely
- give paper, crayons, etc. to encourage scribbling
- play make-believe with the child
- read regularly to the child
- sing and play rhythms to the child
- allow child to move between make-believe and reality (pretend making biscuits and then tolerate the “spreading of flour all over the kitchen table”; if you can’t tolerate the mess, maybe change this play into ‘actions have effects’?)
- tell stories and ask your child what she or he remembers about it
- encourage a variety of safe physical movements (climbing, somersaults, etc.)
“Play with parents and peers is fundamentally important for developing a suite of 21st century skills in a competitive world that requires collaboration and innovation.”(3)
Dr. Elkind won me over completely when he explained why young children are entranced by dinosaurs; something that has perplexed me for years.
“Dinosaurs provide children with a symbolic and safe way of dealing with the giants in their world, namely adults.” (pg. 196)
1. Also “The Power of Play, Learning What Comes Naturally”, 2007, David Elkind, Ph.D
2. from www.pathways.org
3. Michael Yogman, MD, lead author of The Power of Play, AAP, 2018
This all reminded me of a great book written in the 1950s or 60s, titled, “Where did you go?
“What did you do?”
In other words, let the kids direct their own play, rather than making play an activity organized by adults.