Wednesday, October 11, 2006

Playtime

You may have missed it amid all the noisy political and international news this week, but the American Academy of Pediatrics released a major report on the value of free play, "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds."

A pdf version is available — it's an interesting short read, though it clearly falls into the category of Things Homeschoolers Have Known All Along (or as my younger daughter put it, "Well, DUUHHHHH!!!")

Basically, the AAP is alarmed at current trends among many families these days to completely program their kids' days, in hopes both of keeping them safe and occupied so they don't get into trouble and of exposing them to opportunities which will enhance their chances of getting into good colleges or otherwise preparing them for their necessarily bright future:
. . . American children may be limited from enjoying the full developmental assets associated with play because of a family's hurried lifestyle as well as an increased focus on the fundamentals of academic preparation in lieu of a broader view of education.

. . . When play is allowed to be child driven, children practice decision-making skills, move at their own pace, discover their own areas of interst, and ultimately engage fully in the passions they wish to pursue. Ideally, much of play involves adults, but when play is controlled by adults, children acquiesce to adult rules and concerns and lose some of the benefits play offers them, particularly in developing creativity, leadership, and group skills.

Sounds a lot like my own rationale for unschooling.

In addition to the potential harm to children's cognitive development that insufficient free play can cause, the report also notes the stress- and anxiety-producing effects of the modern college prep and admissions race:
Colleges are seeing a generation of students who appear to be manifesting increased signs of depression, anxiety, perfectionism, and stress. . . . colleges should address the myth that desirable students are those who excel in every area. In the adult world, people rarely excel in more than one or two areas . . . . Colleges should recognize the possibility that when children believe that they must excel in all areas to gain admission, they might respond to those perceived and unrealistic expectations with stress and anxiety.

(The AAP has a whole section on their website on managing stress and developing resiliency in children and teens. It's nice to see a mainstream organization recognizing some of the pressure kids face these days and providing some useful tools for coping with it all.

Thursday, October 05, 2006

Homeschooler in the News . . .

. . . or at least, she would be, if her sport was gymnastics or figure skating or spelling or poker.

Homeschooler Becca Ward, 16, who fences out of the Oregon Fencing Alliance in Portland, Oregon, won the senior women's saber world championship in Torino, Italy, on Monday, finishing ahead of 2004 Olympic medalists Mariel Zagunis (also of OFA) and Sada Jacobson, who took the silver and bronze medals. (You can see video highlights of the final bouts at fencingchannel.tv.)

As of today, Becca now holds four world championship titles. In April, she won the individual championships in both the Cadet (under 16) and Junior (under 19) women's saber, and was a member of the gold medal junior women's saber team as well. If the American women's saber team performs as expected in their team competition on Saturday, Becca would become the first person to hold five fencing world championship titles simultaneously. As it is, she's the first American to win a senior fencing world championship, and I believe she's also the youngest of any nationality to do so.

Watch out, Beijing.

UPDATE: The American women's saber team ended up with the silver medal, losing 45-42 to France in the gold medal match. Becca did her part though—she came into the last bout of the match with the Americans needing 10 touches to overtake and defeat the French team. She only missed it by 2 touches.

Ah, well—four simultaneous world championships are nothing to sneeze at.