Thursday, February 21, 2008

Play Builds Serious Skills

NPR had an excellent report this morning on the business of play. We've known that "quiet play time" for Elliot is an absolute essential part of his day, otherwise his head seems to explode and he turns into a wild thing. I love spying on Elliot and seeing him choreograph his "guys" knights or action figures in these elaborate situations (while he's whispering in a high pitched voice). This activity seems to put him in a Zen like zone. Asher gets into the zone by mutely running puzzle pieces on the floor and pretending they're cars (he's our special fellow). Maybe the quiet play time will help them improve their self regulation in the end.

From the report:
It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

We know that children's capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn't stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at the National Institute for Early Education Research says, the results were very different.

"Today's 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today's 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago," Bodrova explains. "So the results were very sad."

Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."

1 comment:

Bessie said...

Marika, this was a great article and has prompted a lot of discussions with other parents...

The follow up article is pretty good, too.

The last two paragraphs have this fascinating comment:

Diamond says there are potential benefits to this training that go beyond improved executive-function scores. She and several other researchers argue that children's reduced self-regulation skills may be showing up in the numbers of kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

"I think a lot of kids get diagnosed with ADHD now, not all but many just because they never learned how to exercise self-control, self-regulation, the executive functions early," she says.