Sunday, March 02, 2008

News flash: imaginative play is good for kids

My nephew sent me a link to an interesting article about kids and the importance of imaginative play. (Which is really cool because I would not have thought he'd ever read my little mommy-blog.) This wasn't news to me, or to most mothers I know. Kids should be allowed to be kids, and have opportunities for "open-ended play" which really just means messing around. I did learn about "executive function" which is the ability to self-regulate, and one of the benefits of imaginative play, but I probably could have guessed that it seems to be on the decline as kids do not have as much time to "just play" anymore. And then there's this:

...good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child's IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, "Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain."

So all that academic work preschoolers and kindergarteners are doing may be more harmful than beneficial, after all. Again, something a lot of mothers already know.

My kids have always played imagination games. Even at 9 and almost 11, they run around in the yard playing pirates, or set up elaborate fantasy-lands with their Playmobil figures and Legos. They have a lot of fun (till they disagree and start to fight - such is the life of siblings).

But not all kids play that way anymore. We have some friends who get itchy when they're here because we don't have a gaming system. Some think imaginative play is too babyish. But often they'll get into it if there's no other choice, and then end up having a really good time.

One day my boy and a friend were outside with string setting up snares in the yard. They weren't serious about it (they knew the snares would not actually trap anything), but they attended to the project with an air of seriousness. I think the snares were for the little sisters, but they said rabbits. It doesn't matter; they were involved, having a good time. But a neighbor kid came over - he's a year or so older - and told them their project was stupid. He wanted to talk about his cell phone, and the cell phone he hopes to get someday. My kid could not care less about a cell phone, but his friend got a little into it - he' s much more culturally savvy than my boy. My kid was frustrated but could not tell the boy to take his cell phone and get out of our yard. I went back in the house - best to let the boys work stuff like this out on their own. I wasn't paying close attention but the next time I looked out, the neighbor boy was coming over the fence with some rope. Guess he got into it after all.

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