Child’s play: A playground is at the heart of every well-adjusted or not-so-well-adjusted adult

I wrote this book review some time ago for a class at University. I feel like I have been in school for too long… I read it yesterday in order to study for an exam for another class.

Its pretty good; I’m fairly impressed with myself. Even though there are a few glaring grammatical errors and organizational flaws. But I’ll leave those for you to sift through. I like things a little mish-mash-y (at least I do if they aren’t being graded). That and I’m too lazy to go back and edit for no apparant reason than appeasing some anonymous reader of this fairly sparse blog.

Either way, my thoughts still pertain, and I still think that this is an amazing book! Take a read! The book is called “Child’s Play” by Silken Laumann. I’m sorry for subjecting you to my extensive ramblings in pretentious academic speak, but its really your own choice to read/

Read On…

Society in Western Culture has evolved to the point where parents are concerned about the safety of their children in the streets of suburbs, where teachers worry about the physical and mental safety of children on the playground and where coaches worry about the importance of training more than education and enjoyment. This worry and uncertainty is leading to the disintegration of unstructured play in Western society.

In her book, Child’s Play: Rediscovering the Joy of Play in our Families and Communities, author, Olympic champion, mother, and advocate, Silken Laumann stresses the importance of unstructured play in children’s lives. She gives a framework for parents, educators, caregivers and coaches to follow in order to allow children more freedom to learn how to function in society through play.

Laumann (2006) emphasizes the advantages of letting children play, as it allows them to stay healthy and alert, teaches valuable life and allows them to foster important ties with both peers and adults. Active play entices children off the couches and away from the screens, allowing for more cohesive neighborhoods, more social interaction, and healthier lifestyles. An active child is a healthy child, and will tend to impose their healthy attitudes on the rest of the family as well.

While Laumann (2006) does not completely deny the importance of youth sports teams, she does warn against the perils of it. Sports teams may cause children to take the view that being active always has to be competitive. As an athlete herself, Laumann knows the dangers of taking things too seriously, and as a parent knows how much her children enjoy both healthy completion and unstructured play.

The book also stresses the importance of activity in school, and notes the disparity of the physical education system across Canada. Teachers are not being trained properly as physical education instructors, and as a result children are lacking basic physical skills. When a child doesn’t know how to throw a ball properly, they are less likely to want to throw it, similar to how if a child does not know how to add they are less likely to want to do their math homework. An avoidance response is likely to prevail in both situations, as the child has not been educated properly.

The information set forth by Laumann (2006) is of benefit to teachers, parents, and coaches alike. The setup of the book allows caregivers to become aware of the issues, shows them how to deal with it in an easy local way, and what they can do in a greater sense, and gives specific examples of how to implement programs and initiatives to enhance their children’s’ lives.

Silken Laumann explores the importance of play as a community builder in her book, Child’s Play. She stresses the fact that without active, outdoor play, children are cut off from each other which subsequently cuts neighbours off from each other; This creates an unsafe neighbourhood, as parents don’t know where their children are or who they are with. Unstructured play in a supervised environment also allows children to spend time with a variety of adults, and they are able to distinguish differences in status which are defined by society (Kostelnik, 2012, p. 223)

Children are spending increasing amounts of time alone with the rising popularity of video games, computers and television, causing them to lose valuable time learning social cues from their peers. (Fogel, 2010, p. 1) Through peers, children learn to figure out their social identity (Kostelnik, 2012, p.223); less time with peers in an unstructured context can create instabilities in a child’s view of self. Play and social learning have a complex relationship which includes play as an avenue for both new learning and a way to practice this social learning. Play allows a child’s brain to develop properly and is integral in developing abstract thinking, self-esteem, cooperation, and conflict resolution skills. (Carlton, 1996).

Play is defined as being “essentially enjoyable”, where children are “actively engaged”, and when they are intrinsically motivated. (Kostelnik, 2012, p. 189) It is this intrinsic motivation that is important for children to learn. A large amount of the rest of a child’s life is pre-set, including school, chores, family obligations, etc. However, once a child reaches adulthood and goes to leave the home, they must have the learned intrinsic motivation to be able to succeed later in life. Play comes naturally to children, as it is inherently fun, and therefore it is easier to be self-motivated. Play is one of the first things that a child will be intrinsically motivated to do (Carlton, 1996) and this is a big stepping stone for them on the route to having more willpower. In order to be more intrinsically motivating, an activity will bridge the gap between the new and the old ideas, therefore creating new neural pathways in the brain, and teaching the child even more. (Almy, 3) Play will give them a sense of autonomy as they have decided to do something themselves, and a sense of joy in the act of doing so.

“Play is about creating a world in which, for that moment, children are in control and can seek out uncertainty in order to triumph over it – or, if not, no matter, it is only a game. In this way, children develop a repertoire of flexible responses to situations they create and encounter.”(Pellis, 2009, p.3)

Pellis (2009) iterates the importance of play in that a child will feel autonomy and individuality while at the same time learning for the future how to adapt to certain situations.

Unstructured play creates a framework for a healthy and well-adjusted life. As a child matures, so also does their self-discipline. A child first learns their habits from the external regulation of a parent or important adult figure in their life. (Kostelnik, 2012) This means that even before setting good examples, a parent must be willing to actively tell the child if or when they should perform an act. By learning that play is good or bad from a parent, the child will either want to continue or stop.  A child will not understand that play is an acceptable part of the day if he or she is not told that it is from approximately age 3. After this, a child will learn from experience with an adult and use modeling to replicate the adult’s actions (Kostelnik, 2012, p. 293). This is where it is important for the adult to also engage in free play activity, so that a child may learn by modeling. In Child’s Play, Laumann suggests, “Many parents struggle to find a window of time for their own exercise. But sometimes integrating family time and exercise time really works.” (Laumann, 2006)  Parents are not the only avenue for learning by modeling; teachers, caregivers, older siblings and coaches are also very important role models.

Although unstructured play is important in a child’s life, organized sport is a healthy and important way to instill a sense of pride and competition in a child. Organized sport is beneficial in the sense that it will teach children life skills, and creates strong bonds between teammates and coaches; however it does have its downside. Much organized sport is not tailored to age or skill groups which leaves the child either bored, or frustrated. Laumann (2006) suggests that children under the age of 4 should not be expected to know how to follow complicated rules, as their executive functioning is not yet developed to that extent. Children under the age of 6 typically do not see others points of view which in turn inhibits the likelihood that they will be able to cooperate in a team environment before that age. (Kostelnik, 2012, p.297) In Child’s Play, the author states from experience, “It is so important…that we don’t project our adult perceptions of sport onto our children. Let them play, learn some new skills and make some friends.” (Laumann, 2006, p.117) This is ultimately what organized sport will teach children; it will show them communication skills and cooperation among other life skills. Unstructured play will also teach these values, but organized sport is an important avenue through which to convey direct information about play. The information is coming from a respected adult figure who, according to Kostelnik (2012) will likely be a person that the child identifies with. When a child identifies with an adult, he or she will learn ideals and standards from them. Previous to identifying with an adult or multiple adults, a child will have acted on the basis of extrinsic rewards and punishments. Learning that physical activity, play and sport are acceptable forms of learning will enhance the child’s sense of self-discipline both through childhood and later in life.

Play is not only a pastime for children, but needs to be fostered through physical education, giving the children a framework for games and play. Laumann (2006) expresses that Physical education is highly underrated in schools today, stating, “We need to understand that gym is not a luxury; it’s a time when kids are strengthening their bodies, developing motor skills and building the attitudes and habits that can lead to lifelong well-being.” (p. 149) She also goes on to relate a discovery of her own, “I teach them [children] the game, and they create their own version of it… Kids are the expert on play, not us, and we need to encourage them to play how they want to play, not how we want them to play.” (Laumann, 2006, p.156) Physical Education teachers have the means to supply the children with this framework so that they may begin to create games on their own with rules that mirror the culture and respect systems in our societies. Physical Education teachers are in a similar position to coaches in this way, and they are able to be role models for children who will learn to identify with them and their ideals.

It is stressed throughout this book that play is an important avenue for children on their way to being functioning members of society, in their level of intelligence and their overall physical and mental health. The book aims to show that play is not only used for instant satisfaction of a child but for delayed gratification as a means to further one’s life later on. Play allows for learning of social skills, learning about one’s body, creating confidence, and above all, enjoying life.  I believe that this book encompasses all the reasons children should be allowed free play, ways in which to sustain this, and valuable tools for parents, teachers, coaches, and caregivers.

References

Kostelnik, M.J., Gregory, K.M., Soderman, A.K., Whiren, A.P., (2012). Guiding Children’s Social Development and Learning 7th Edition. Belmont, CA: Wadsworth, Kengage Learning

Laumann, S., (2006) Child’s Play: Rediscovering the Joy of Play in our Families and Communities. Random House Canada

Carlton, M.P., (1996). Intrinsic Motivation in Young children: Supporting the Development of Mastery Motivation in the early Childhood Classroom. Midsouth Educational Research Association.

Fogel, V.A, Miltenberger, R.G., Graves, R., Koehler, S. (2010). The Effects of Exergaming on Physical Activity among inactive children in a Physical Education Classroom. Journal of applied behavior analysis. 43: 591-600. University of South Florida

Pellis, S. and Pellis, V. (2009). The Playful Brain: Venturing to the Limits of Neuroscience. Oxford: Oneworld Publications.

Link to view cover of book: http://www.silkenlaumann.com/products/childs-play-rediscovering-joy-play-our-families-and-communities

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