Raising a child in an ever increasingly technologically advanced society may seem daunting, maybe even confusing at times. You may question many aspects of parenting, such as how to support your child’s development and supplement their education, how to appropriately incorporate digital resources into their life. You may even question the effectiveness of the curricula which your child is subject to in school, and how you could make it better. These types of questions are normal, and there is a lot of information on them, especially from the American Academy of Pediatrics, which recently released a revision to its 2007 and 2012 policy reports on the importance of play. Here you will find jargon-free tips and reasoning to help answer these questions.
Current Methods of Education & Their Shortcomings
In modern times technology is much more readily available for and much more commonly used by young children. Is this good or bad? Well, it depends on how it is used; technology can either be supplemental to a child’s learning experience, or it can be detrimental. Today, schools tend to educate children from a young age based on the test. That is, education has changed from an environment where the student is educated and developed to become a successful adult into a statistic-driven environment that focuses on students’ testing results. This style of educating teaches kids how to memorize, how to do well on a standardized exam, but fails to promote the development of other key skills such as social and emotional skills, creative and abstract thinking, and even linguistic and regulatory skills. Children find this way of learning boring, and as a result, they have trouble maintaining focus on the material and they do not think as deeply about the world or what they are being taught. This is the classroom environment envisioned by the Head Start Act and the No Child Left Behind Act – they use standardized tests as a measure of development and readiness for the world.
On the other hand, the American Academy of Pediatrics (AAP) believes in a different classroom. They believe it is essential that children can play to learn, which allows for more attentive and engaged students. The AAP believes that education should be about supporting the growth and development of the whole child, not just their test scores. Many skills necessary to success later in life – problem-solving, creative thinking, social and emotional skills, etc. – are developed by allowing children to engage in playful learning (a.k.a. creative learning). Creative learning is said to have four main principles: projects, passion, peers, and play. Utilizing these ideas in teaching children to allow for creative learning to occur, and they introduce kids to the ideas of risk-taking, experimenting, and even pushing limits. In a world driven by innovation, why would we restrict our children to conformity and memorization just so that the testing statistics look better?
Overlooked Benefits of Play
When looking at guided play (child-led play which is supported by adults to better foster learning), there are numerous benefits which are the same outcomes sought after by the test-taking curricula. These guided play sessions allow for increased learning ability in children, increased language skills, and even spatial and numerical mathematical skills. In addition to the benefits already sought after, these sessions promote the shift from the dependence to the independence of parental guidance, as well as the shift from parental regulation of behaviors such as sleep, eating, etc. to self-regulation. In the long run, these benefits of play time are linked with successful adults – which is the main goal of any education system.
Aside from the developmental benefits of play in children, there are serious health benefits too. Playful learning paired with nurturing care from parents and caretakers may lead to reduced toxic stress down to levels which are able to be coped with and which build resilience to such levels. Furthermore, while children who have one or more active hours of play per day show stronger creative thinking and multitasking abilities, they also have a higher chance of developing healthy lifestyles, stronger immune systems, and better heart health. In terms of real measurements, MRI scans done on those who are in play-friendly curricula have demonstrated improved brain function, as opposed to an increased chance of anxiety, depression, and lack of creativity resulting from non-playful curricula.
Categories of Play
Object play is a means of playful learning in which a child plays with different objects and learns about the various properties of them in their own personal exploration/discovery session with the objects. This type of play fosters symbolic and abstract thinking – foundations of creativity and innovation. Some of the most beneficial objects from which your child can learn include, but are not limited to, the following:
Blocks and balls
Similar simple household objects may also be used. Remember to engage with your child while playing with educational toys and let them discover and explore them as well. Objects such as those in the above list have been seen to enhance children’s creativity and playtime more so than electronics.
Physical play may be utilized in more than one form – often the form of choice is age dependent. For infants, the classic pat-a-cake game is a sufficient form of physical play. For toddlers, the motor skills begin to further develop, and they will begin to walk. When recess becomes available in school, bigger developments begin to take shape: healthy, active lifestyles are promoted, a ‘win-loss’ reaction and awareness is developed through games played with other children as well as a further notion of risk-taking. These developments aid in communication skills the children begin to attempt to minimize risk, negotiate rules, etc.
The outdoor play follows physical play at recess – this is when children will be able to develop their sensory skills amongst others; taking in environmental cues, participating in more activities with other children (which also aids in motor, cognitive, social, and linguistic development), and children form relationships with one another. It is no surprise that countries with more recess tend to have higher academic success in their students.
Pretend play may be alone or with others, and it allows for the exploration of personal preferences and interests. These activities may be made up games between kids, negotiation over the rules of said games, exploration of familiar roles (Such as a teacher and student), and more.
How to Help Child Development Outside of Home
There are numerous ways to get involved with benefiting the development of your own children as well as others’:
Inform teachers of the benefits of play-friendly curricula
Voice your concerns to lawmakers and policymakers in charge of educational regulations and raise awareness of the many benefits to playful learning
Join the American Academy of Pediatricians in promoting healthy activity levels and media use in children
Visit commonsensemedia.org and HealthyChildren.org to view more guidelines for better fostering your child’s development
For some, these suggestions may be difficult to follow (such as those who must work long hours and unusually timed shifts). In that case, you can still help by ensuring that those who oversee your child are nurturing towards them, that they understand how you want your child to be treated (structured play time with an educational focus on development, not test scores), and, if possible, you may request that they spread awareness for the issue as well. The more people that are involved with early childhood education and that are aware of the issues with modern education (and the solutions presented here), the more of a chance there is to bringing change.
Do not let standardized testing and score-driven boards of education hinder your child’s development! Do what your pediatricians suggest and what data has shown; create nurturing relationships with your children, engage with their learning and allow them to learn (and play) in an entertaining way, fight cultural shifts towards the technological takeover, raise awareness for the dangers of excessive media and electronics use, and reach out to professionals and do your research to allow your child to flourish in the modern world.