Here’s a phenomenal NPR piece – transcribed — that solves the classic overprotection question, “Well, why NOT keep kids inside all the time if it’s safer?”
A lot of parents think it was fun back when they played outside as kids, but since that kind of thing presents at least SOME danger (no matter how tiny), why not skip it and replace it with organized sports (they still get fresh air!), educational activities (won’t hurt on those Harvard applications!) or simply keep them at home, indoors? (Better safe than sorry!)
The problem is that more and more research is showing that PLAY – plain old, run-around, parent-free PLAY – is the building block of everything we are trying to nurture in our kids: Responsibility, communication and, most of all, it turns out, something called “self-regulation.”
Self-regulation is the ability to control oneself and work toward a goal. The classic self-regulation experiment involved giving 4-year-olds a choice: Eat one marshmallow now, or wait for the researcher to come back in a few minutes and you can have TWO.
The kids who could make themselves wait did better academically later on in their lives. In fact, self-regulation turns out to be a better predictor of future academic success than a kid’s IQ score. So brains matter, sure. But the ability to control oneself and plan for the future are even more important. And I think you can guess what builds that very quality.
Play. Because in play, children listen to their “private voice,” a voice directing them to come up with a solution, not just passively obey. Pre-schools allowing more time for free play ended up with kids way more willing to help each other – and even help clean up. They understood cooperation and responsibility better. I guess you could say their private voice is coaching them in something on par with “maturity.”
The other part of this NPR essay talks about how childhood was once very clearly associated with play. Now it’s associated with the things we buy for kids to play WITH: toys.
Now, obviously, I’ve got nothing against toys. Nothing against Little League or piano lessons or tutoring. My kids have done them all (and own a ridiculous number of toys, most of them in a big pile and missing some crucial piece). But if we don’t give our kids time to just plain play – and if schools don’t give them that, either — we are depriving them of the one “enrichment activity” that just may be the key to…everything. Or at least, everything good.
And did I mention it’s fun? That too. – Lenore