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.

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