Is Time On The Playground More Beneficial Than Time In The Classroom? According to Mr. Rogers it is, and a whole slew of others expert in the area of childhood development. It is not surprising that studies show that when it comes to a child’s brain development, time spent in unstructured play may be more significant than time in the classroom. In an article from NPR, Scientists Say Child’s Play Helps Build A Better Brain. This post referenced an Italian study that found that the best predictor of academic performance in eighth grade was a child’s social skills five years earlier. In third grade or at approximately eight years old a child should have a good grasp of basic social skills and these skills may need to be out-and-out taught according to child psychologist, NYU Professor, Dr. Lawrence Balter, Ph.D. He suggests the four strategies below.
Teach empathy: Run through different scenarios by asking your child how other people might feel when certain things happen, and substitute different situations each time.
Explain personal space: Tell your child that it’s important for everyone to have some personal space to feel comfortable, and practice acceptable ways to interact with someone during playtime.
Practice social overtures: Teach kids the proper way to start a conversation, get someone’s attention, or join a group of kids who are already playing together. These are all situations that can be discussed and brainstormed at the dinner table, or in the car on the way to school or activities.
Go over taking turns: Sit with your child and play with him to explain what it means to wait, take turns, and share.
Sergio Pellis, a researcher at the University of Lethbridge in Alberta, Canada has focused his research on the role peer- play has in the development of social competence. His studies reveal that the experience of play changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain, and when deprived of play experience, those neurons don’t grow. Another researchers, Jaak Panksepp at Washington State University have come to believe play has a very definitive purpose: “The function of play is to build pro-social brains, social brains that know how to interact with others in positive ways.”
One thing all of this research embodies is the need for free unstructured play, no rules or directions, the kind of play where children can use their imagination, problem solve, and negotiate working things out amongst themselves. We may need to let go and be less controlling as a society to ensure our children learn pertinent social skills at an early age in order to achieve their academic potential. As for the homework issue, I’ll save that for another blog.