Saturday, September 01, 2007

** The Power of Play by David Elkind

This book reinforces the age old wisdom that children should be free to play and use their imaginations. The current lifestyle of ‘play dates’, structured extracurricular activities, toys for one purpose, and scheduled agendas, doesn’t leave much free time for the child’s mind to flourish.

When it comes to toys, less is more… Thanks to the automation [and electronics] of so many toys, it gets harder to choose toys that encourage fantasy and imagination… Only when a child spends time with particular toy can she weave it into a story tapestry of her own invention. P16

Mothers spent 25.05 hours a week w/their children in 1987, but 30.89 hours with them in 1997. For fathers the figures were 18.51 and 22.73, respectively. Guilt then is not the most likely explanation for the profusion of toys given to contemporary children… Advertisers target children directly and encourage them to pester their parents… They create needs for toys and parents give in because they want to ensure that their children don’t feel different or left out. The unintended consequence of using toys to promote social acceptance is conformity. Children see toys not as launching pads for imagination, but as vehicles for social acceptance. P17

Skill toys are a dying breed. Children today learn computer skills without ever understanding how the computer works. In contrast, a boy who decades ago built a crystal radio set knew how it operated as well as how to use it. P32

‘Do you know who make the best engineers?’, the dean of an engineering school recently answered this question by replying ‘Those young men and women who grew up on the farm and had firsthand experience with machinery.’ Those young people gain a practical understanding of how machines work, what they can and can’t do. P33

Children that watched educational TV (eg. Sesame Street) did better on academic skills of reading and vocabulary than did children that routinely watched entertainment programs… Preschoolers who spent the majority of their TV time watching educational programs also had different outcomes at adolescence by earning higher grades, reading more books, valuing achievement, showing greater creativity and less aggression than did those did those preschoolers who preferred non-educational entertainment programs. P41

Children think, but they don’t think about thinking; adolescents can think about thinking. Young teens become secretive precisely because they appreciate that they can have private thoughts to which no one else is privy. With this new ability they make an understandable error, they assume that other people are thinking about what they are thinking about – themselves… They thus create an imaginary audience… This explains why they are so self conscious and susceptible to peer pressure. P65

In 1994, a Federal investigation of more than 12,000 charges of child molestation at day care centers didn’t find a single charge that could be physically substantiated… Programs to help children defend themselves against abuse or ‘No Touch’ policies in child care facilities have any evidence to prove their value. P71

In the past, when we were an agricultural society, parents provided for health, vocational training, and education of their children. Free public school education in the 1830s effectively removed that function from the parental role. Early in the 20th century, schools began screening for vision and hearing, and checking vaccinations. Since the 1940s schools have provided for special need children. Later they expanded to include free lunches (and breakfasts). Now schools also teach sex, drug, and character education, while offering day care facilities, sport, art, and music activities. Teachers and coaches have absorbed almost all parental functions. Parents are only expected to provide some food, clothing and shelter. P73

The common assumption that commitment transfers from one activity to another is wrong… A child who puts her things away neatly at school doesn’t necessarily do the same thing at home. In the same way, a child who spends the night at a friend’s house may behave better than she does at home. P77 Judith Harris does an excellent job of explaining the difference in child behavior between the shared environment (home) and the non-shared environment governed by peer interaction in her book ‘The Nurture Assumption’. I can’t say enough good things about that book. An absolute must read for all parents.

Skilled teachers know that children can only imitate actions that they can already perform. They can’t learn new, complex skills simply by imitating or watching. Imagine trying to learn the piano just by observing a skilled pianist… Because of this, the ‘watch me’ approach to teaching often takes the form of the parent/teacher imposing a different activity onto the one in which the child is actively engaged. In effect the parent is saying ‘never mind what you’re doing, watch me.’ What the child learns is that learning priorities are not valued by those whom he is attached. P92

Once children become more advanced verbally, you’ll see them play many different forms of wordplay to go beyond the usual meaning of the words. One form of this is that they start to understand pose riddles. Here are a few good ones:
What is the difference between a piano and a fish?
You can’t tuna fish!

What did the octopus say to his date?
I want to hold your hand, hand, hand, hand, hand…

What do cows give after earthquakes?

What kind of shoes are made out of banana peel?

Why did the tomato blush?
Because it saw the salad dressing

Why do you call a fly without wings?
A walk

How do you fix a broken tomato?With tomato paste

There is a therapeutic function to the game of PeekABoo played by young children dealing with their first experience of separation anxiety… What is the pleasure of such games? If the disappearance and return of loved ones is such a problem to the child, why should the baby turn all of this into a boisterous game? First by repeating the disappearance and return under conditions that he can control, he is helping himself overcome the anxiety. Secondly, he turns a situation that would, in reality, be painful into a pleasurable experience. P114

Regression is common among young children when a new sibling arrives on the scene. [Don’t] try to prevent these regressions. The child is not just playing at being an infant again, but insists upon acting as one. After a few months [!] of this regressive behavior most children will replace it with mature behavior, and may become extremely caring towards the new baby and to her playthings… Having, in the regressed state, identified with the coming infant, she now – post-regression - identifies with her mother. P114

It is simply a fact that young children think differently than older children and adults. Their mode of thinking is concrete. For example: If I eat spaghetti will I become Italian? Please turn off the sun, I want to go to sleep. In these forms of thought, there are no levels of conceptualization and everything is on the same plane. And it includes the belief that parents (and adults) are all-powerful and all-knowing. P120

Parents and grandparents are often misled by young child’s verbal precocity and assume its an index of intellectual giftedness. It is not. An easy check is to ask the child to draw or copy a diamond. You will be surprised… In order to draw a diamond, the child must understand vectors – the idea that the same line can move in 2 directions at once. The child must make the line go down and out at the same time, and that is a problem for concrete thinking child. P121

Another example of concrete thinking is the fact that one thing can’t be 2 things at the same time. A preschooler will answer “Do you have any brothers?” with a yes, and be able to name them. Then ask, “Do your brothers have any brothers?” No is the usual answer. At this level of thinking you can’t have a brother and be a brother at the same time. P123

Young children have problems with many rules that we try to inculcate, such as putting their toys away, picking up things, not getting up from the table, and so on. If we appreciate that these lapses reflect intellectual immaturity rather than rebellion, we can handle them in a playful way. When we do this the child is more likely to learn the rule than if we criticize him for something he can’t help. Introducing an imaginary mediator is one way of doing this. Mr Rabbit tells me when you get older you won’t leave the table w/o asking. P124

Young children have a natural talent for observation and classification, but not experimentation where they hold some variables constant while varying a few. Introducing experimentation too early can kill the child’s interest and inclination to engage in science activities. P143

Games with rules are the child’s initiation into social institutions… Games provide a set of rules that govern how to behave under certain circumstances. Like all social institutions, games exist only to the extent that there are individuals willing to participate in them. P148

Until 8 or 9, children have a rather superstitious concept of rules. They assume that the rules were created a long time ago by adults and can’t be changed. Also, the youngest children usually don’t fully understand the rules, but they make believe they do in order to win social acceptance by the group. P154

Consider the following tale: a boy is helping to set the table, but breaks 3 plates by accident; a girl was trying to get some cookies that she wasn’t supposed to eat, and breaks 1 plate while doing so by accident. Children under 7 said the boy should be punished more than the girl. Children over 9 said the girl should be punished, but not for breaking the plate, but for breaking the rule. P155

Preschool children can play with members of the opposite sex without being stigmatized. By age 7 or 8, play becomes gender based… The earlier acceptance of cross gender playmates is lost mainly as a result of the negative sanctions of a peer culture. P161

Sharing our passions, even by example, is far different than teaching or giving lessons. It reveals ourselves as people, and we free our children to engage in activities they are not obliged to perform. P185


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