In an excellent article, Kenneth Ginsberg summarizes the importance of play, along with the "variety of factors that have reduced play, including a hurried lifestyle, changes in family structure, and increased attention to academics and enrichment activities at the expense of recess or free child-centered play." Joan Almon writes about the cognitive, emotional and health risks associated with the decline in free play in schools and at home. In "The Disturbing Transformation of Kindergarten," Diane Marie highlights the classroom changes that emphasize developmentally inappropriate performance-based goals rather than what children need. And these goals may not be effective. She cites two studies as examples that suggest the early emphasis on reading is unnecessary and fails to maintain long-term benefits:
"Both compared children who learned to read at 5 with those who learned at 7 and spent their early years in play-based activities. Those who read at 5 had no advantage. Those who learned to read later had better comprehension by age 11, because their early play experiences improved their language development.''
Play is fundamental to learning and development for all children. It contributes to their cognitive development, social skills, and emotional well-being. It is the foundation for children's earliest social relationships, enhances the parent-child bond, and lights the spark of creativity and passion. Children discover what they love, what brings them joy and intrigue, and what is meaningful.
Through play, children get to:
- Explore, create, invent, and generate new ideas
- Develop a sense of mastery over their world
- Learn to share and work cooperatively with peers
- Develop strategic thinking and problem-solving abilities
- Improve fine motor and gross motor skills
- Try out adult roles through pretend play
- Improve attention and memory abilities
- "Work through" frustration and fears by acting them out
- Relieve and discharge stress
1. Gifted children thrive when they can be creative, inventive, and use their minds productively. Play can incite their love for learning and discovery, without the pressure of performance, achievement standards, or conforming to others' rules.
2. Gifted children benefit from learning to cooperate with peers. They grow from learning to adapt with friends who are not gifted, and by meeting the challenge when with gifted peers. They learn important lessons about social skills, managing anxiety, coping with competitive feelings, and what types of social interactions feel comfortable for them.
3. Gifted children develop a sense of mastery when they accomplish something challenging, and a demanding play situation may require more from them than an academic environment. Whether it is a computer game or a baseball field, gifted children develop humility and perspective when they fail, try again, and, perhaps, succeed.
4. Gifted children discharge stress through play and can "work through" some of their anxiety by acting out conflicts. If a child is bullied at school, she might use dolls to express her anger. If a child is feeling insecure, he might develop "superhero powers" in his play with friends. Gifted children are aware of their differences, and have difficulty finding like-minded peers. Play can be an outlet for their frustrations when they feel isolated or lonely.
A 2013 study conducted by Sally Rapp Beiser and colleagues reported how gifted fifth and sixth graders viewed play. They identified play as necessary for motivation, problem-solving abilities, attention, learning, and team-building. The authors urged parents of gifted children to decrease the structured activities many of these children pursue and ensure that they have time for unstructured play.
Given the social, emotional, and academic benefits of play, insisting that gifted children - all children - have plenty of opportunity for free, unstructured play time is essential. It seems that a reversal of No Child Left Behind quotas, overscheduled activities, and performance driven goals are in order. All children deserve the gift of play.
This blog is part of the Hoagies’ Gifted Education Page Blog Hop on Gifted@Play. To read more blogs in this hop, visit this Blog Hop at http://www.hoagiesgifted.org/blog_hop_gifted_at_play.htm