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August 2009 www.resiliencyinc.comolume 1, Number 1

The Serious Need for Play


This Issue Focuses on the By Melinda Wenner
Importance of Play
In a pilot study conducted that interviewed 26 Texas murderers, Psychiatrist Stuart
In This Issue Brown discovered that most killers shared two things in common: they were from
abusive families, and they never played as kids. Brown did not know which factor
The Serious Need for Play was more important. But in the 42 years since he has interviewed some 6,000
people about their childhoods, and his data suggest that a lack of opportunities for
Put Down the Book and Play
unstructured, imaginative play can keep children from growing into happy, well-
Play Facts adjusted adults. “Free play,” as scientists call it, is critical for becoming socially
adept, coping with stress and building cognitive skills such as problem solving.
Featured Book & Further Research into animal behavior confirms play’s benefits and establishes its
Reading evolutionary importance: ultimately, play may provide animals (including humans)
with skills that will help them survive and reproduce.

Most psychologists agree that play affords benefits that last through adulthood, but
they do not always agree on the extent to which a lack of play harms kids—
particularly because, in the past, few children grew up without ample frolicking time.
Up-coming Events But today free play may be losing its standing as a staple of youth. According to a
paper published in 2005 in the Archives of Pediatrics & Adolescent Medicine,
Resiliency, Inc. CEO will be children’s free-play time dropped by a quarter between 1981 and 1997. Concerned
speaking at: about getting their kids into the right colleges, parents are sacrificing playtime for
more structured activities. As early as preschool, youngsters’ after-school hours are
Hazleton School District
August 24, 2009
now being filled with music lessons and sports—reducing time for the type of
Hazleton, PA imaginative and rambunctious cavorting that fosters creativity and cooperation.

McKeesport Area School District A handful of studies support Brown’s conviction that a play-deprived childhood
August 26, 2009
McKeesport, PA
disrupts normal social, emotional and cognitive development in humans and animals.
He and other psychologists’ worry that limiting free play in kids may result in a
Farrell School District generation of anxious, unhappy and socially maladjusted adults. “The consequence
August 27, 2009 of a life that is seriously play-deprived is serious stuff,” Brown says. But it is never
Farrell, PA too late to start: play also promotes the continued mental and physical well-being of
NEIU
adults.
August 28, 2009
Archbald, PA But kids play soccer, Scrabble and the sousaphone—so why are experts concerned
that these games and more structured activities are eating into free play? Certainly
Inkster Public School District
August 31 & September 1, 2009 games with rules are fun and sources of learning experiences—they may foster
Inkster, MI better social skills and group cohesion, for instance, says Anthony D. Pellegrini, an
educational psychologist at the University of Minnesota. But, Pellegrini explains,
River Rouge School District “games have a priori rules—set up in advance and followed. Play, on the other
September 2, 2009 hand, does not have a priori rules, so it affords more creative responses.”
River Rouge MI

To keep up with Horacio’s schedule, This creative aspect is key because it challenges the developing brain more than
you can follow him on Twitter at following predetermined rules does. In free play, kids use their imagination and try
“hsanchezz” out new activities and roles.

How do these seemingly pointless activities benefit kids? Perhaps most crucially,
play appears to help us develop strong social skills. “You don’t become socially
competent via teachers telling you how to behave,” Pellegrini says. “You learn those
Agency Information: skills by interacting with your peers, learning what’s acceptable, what’s not
acceptable.” Children learn to be fair and take turns—they cannot always demand to
be the fairy queen, or soon they have no playmates. “They want this thing to keep
Resiliency Inc. provides a going, so they’re willing to go the extra mile” to accommodate others’ desires, he
revolutionary paradigm explains. Because kids enjoy the activity, they do not give up as easily in the face of
that trains individuals on frustration as they might on, say, a math problem—which helps them develop
persistence and negotiating abilities.
how to successfully
educate and treat the
most difficult to serve If play helps children become socialized, then lack of play should impede social
children and their development—and studies suggest that it does. According to a 1997 study of
children living in poverty and at high risk of school failure, published by the
families.
High/Scope Educational Research Foundation in Ypsilanti, Mich., kids who enrolled
in play-oriented preschools are more socially adjusted later in life than are kids who
attended play-free preschools where they were constantly instructed by teachers. By
age 23, more than one third of kids who had attended instruction-oriented preschools
had been arrested for a felony as compared with fewer than one tenth of the kids
who had been in play-oriented preschools. And as adults, fewer than seven percent
of the play-oriented preschool attendees had ever been suspended from work, but
more than a quarter of the directly instructed kids had.
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Relieving stress and building social skills may seem to be obvious benefits of play.
919-544-0616 But research hints at a third, more counterintuitive area of influence: play actually
www.resiliencyinc.com appears to make kids smarter. In a classic study published in Developmental
Psychology in 1973, researchers divided 90 preschool children into three groups.
One group was told to play freely with four common objects—among the choices
were a pile of paper towels, a screwdriver, a wooden board and a pile of paper clips.
A second set was asked to imitate an experimenter using the four objects in common
ways. The last group was told to sit at a table and draw whatever they wanted,
without ever seeing the objects. Each scenario lasted 10 minutes. Immediately
afterward, the researchers asked the children to come up with ideas for how one of
the objects could be used. The kids who had played with the objects named, on
average, three times as many nonstandard, creative uses for the objects than the
youths in either of the other two groups did, suggesting that play fosters creative
thinking.

Parents and teachers should let children be children—not just because it should be
fun to be a child but because denying youth’s unfettered joys keeps kids from
developing into inquisitive, creative creatures, Elkind warns. “Play has to be
reframed and seen not as an opposite to work but rather as a complement,” he says.
“Curiosity, imagination and creativity are like muscles: if you don’t use them, you lose
them.”

The above article is an excerpt, the full article can be found in Scientific American
Mind, January 28, 2009 or at http://melindawenner.com/Clips.html

From 2005 to 2007 the U.S. brain


fitness business increased from Play Fact
$100 million to $225 million,
according to a report by Imaginative play also directly
SharpBrains, a market research
company specializing in cognitive relates to important school-
health. related skills including social
development, language
acquisition, literacy, and reading
comprehension.
D Bergen Early Childhood Research and Practice, Vol.
4 (April 2002)
Put Down the Book and Play
Brain Nugget By Horacio Sanchez
A recent study by Daphne Now that I have your attention, ignore the title. It is time for education to seek a
Bavelier and colleagues at balance. When new strategies, techniques, and research have come into
the University of Rochester prominence education has discarded the old rather than seeking to incorporate and
offers the intriguing modify. In the 1970s schools knocked down walls to create flexible learning
suggestion that playing environments only to put them back up when they discovered that the noise level
video games may not only be hindered learning. In the 1980s we burned phonemic text books for the "whole-
beneficial because of language" revolution, only to find out Johnny couldn’t read. The drive to improve test
practicing specific skills, but scores has led schools to all but eliminate play in order to maximize time spent on
may also enhance core core subjects.
functions of vision –
something that has been The first thing that must be recognized about play is that it is hardwired in the human
classically viewed brain. Everyone starts out playing quite naturally and without instruction. Leave a
immutable. child to his or her own devices and they will find a way to play. Everything hardwired
in the human brain is important for our survival; therefore, educators should consider
play essential to human development. Play is a natural way for man to develop
motor skills, coordination, socialization and even problem solving abilities.

In a resent study researchers identified that the human brain reacts differently when
it thinks it is competing against a human rather than a computer. When people think
they're facing a human opponent the anterior cingulate cortex, the temporo-parietal
1
junction, and the medial prefrontal cortex become activated . These areas are
involved in helping individuals comprehend the mental state of another person. In
other words, playing provides practice in understanding and predicting human
behavior.

In research done by Whitman, cited in the article above, he warns that without play
Video games activate the the brain might become socially maladaptive. The underpinnings of social behavior
brain’s reward circuits but are rooted in play. In addition, play might be the foundation for a range of cognitive
do so much more in men skills we possess as adults. In the late 1990s, Cal Tech’s Jet Propulsion Laboratory
than in women, according to (JPL) was experiencing the retirement of many of its scientists and engineers that
a new study. Researchers came on board in the 1960s. These were the researchers who put men on the moon
hooked men and women up and built robotic probes to explore the solar system. They were being replaced by
to functional MRI machines the top graduates from MIT, Stanford and Cal Tech. However, it was soon
while the participants played determined that many of the new engineers were not good at certain types of
a video game designed for problem solving: they did not do well solving practical difficulties that could not be
the study. Both groups anticipated through theoretical and mathematical equations.
performed well, but the men
showed more activity in the JPL’s management analyzed the problem and concluded that many of the new
limbic system, which is engineers as children did not play with their hands while growing up and were unable
to see solutions that the older engineers who worked with their hands by building
associated with reward 2
soapbox racers, and taking apart and reassembling appliances could . From that
processing. What is more,
point on JPL asked applicants what type of play they engaged in as a child. It is now
the men showed greater known that play involves experiences and the repetition of those experiences creates
connectivity between the capacity in the human brain.
structures that make up the
reward circuit, and the Simply put, play is applied game theory. Applied game theory is the ability to plan
better this connection was in specific steps to be taken in ever eventuality that can arise within the rules of any
a particular player, the game. Games like tick-tack-toe have a set of principles that if perfectly applied will
better he performed. There always guarantee a draw. In a simple game of tick-tack-toe a child learns to apply a
was no such correlation in set of rules to a range of variables to achieve at least a draw. Games that don’t have
women. Men are more than a concrete set of strategies that if applied correctly produce a draw teaches children
twice as likely as women are to read others, anticipate human behavior, and calculate odds. For example, in
to say they feel addicted to stone-paper-scissors a child cannot continually play stone because his opponent will
video games. soon catch on and play paper. The child learns to confound his playmate by
randomizing his choices: which means he will have to figure out the optimal mix of
strategies to play, how often he should expect to win, and what average denotes to a
- Emily Anthes 2009
superior outcome. This simple game repeated over and over will have a profound
Brain Nugget impact on the human brain.
The mantra of today's neuroscientists is: "what fires together, wires together." In
In related research, it has other words, what experiences we have daily create connections in the brain. The
been observed (Pavlides neurons that fire at the same time connect creating a type of infrastructure that
1987) that a high percentage denotes abilities. Research has established that brain growth is dictated and shaped
of children with reading and by human experience and that play is a vehicle through which a growing child can
3
learning disabilities (i.e.: enhance or diminish inborn potentials . So kids might not have to put down the book
dyslexia) skipped crawling and play, but they must play as well as read.
and creeping during infant
1. Krach S, Blümel I, Marjoram D, Lataster T, Krabbendam L, Weber J, Van J, Kircher T: Are
development. women better mindreaders? Sex differences in neural correlates of mentalizing detected with
Pavlides, O. & Miles, T. Dyslexia functional MRI. BMC Neuroscience 2009, 10:9doi:10.1186/1471-2202-10-9.
research and its applications to 2. Brown S, Vaughan C: Play: How It Shapes the Brain, Opens the Imagination, and Invigorates
education. Wiley Publications the Soul. Penguin
Group, NY 2000, pp. 3-13.
(1987).
3. Field, T., Schanberg, S. M., Scafidi, F., Bauer, C. R., Vega-Lahr, N., Garcia, R., Nystrom, J., &
Kuhn, C. M: Tactile / Kinesthetic stimulation effects on preterm neonates. Pediatrics 1986 Vol.
77.

Play Fact
Movement patterns like crawling and creeping are
correlated with long term reading and learning
proficiency. This brain-body connection lies in visual
focusing distances, midline orientation, and hand-
eye coordination skills used during early crawling
and creeping. These motor skills stimulate visual
acuity and tracking from approximately the same
distance that a child will utilize for reading and
writing.
Goddard, S., Reflexes, Learning, and Behavior: A Window Into a
Child's Mind Fern Ridge Press (2002).

Featured Book

Stuart Brown, M.D. is a


medical doctor, psychiatrist,
clinical researcher, and the
founder of the National Institute
for Play. He speaks regularly to
Fortune 500 companies and
groups across the country on
the importance of play in our
lives. Most recently, he
appeared at the New York
Public Library. The producer of
a three-part PBS series, The
Promise of Play, he has also
appeared on NPR and was
featured in a cover story in The
New York Times Magazine.
Further Reading
 The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits.
Gordon M. Burghardt. MIT Press, 2005.
 Play = Learning: How Play Motivates and
Enhances Children’s Cognitive and Social-
Emotional Growth. Edited by Dorothy G. Singer,
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff and Kathy Hirsh-Pasek.
Oxford University Press, 2006.

What Are They Saying?


Call To Find Out The
School District of Philadelphia Institute for Educators: Improving
Exciting Training and Academic Success Through Positive School Culture
Consultation Services June 11, 2009

Being Offered by Phenomenal! I wish the entire school staff had been there!
Resiliency Inc.
The presenter did a fantastic job relating the brain to how we as
educators can reach our children.

You must make his work an important part of PBS/SSC

Very interesting. Information should be required in all education


certification courses.

Pennsylvania Governor’s Institute for Improving Academic


Success Through Positive School Culture
Bloomsburg University
July 26 – 31, 2009

Not only did he present new material about the


brain and education, he presented the material
with many activities. Great materials and humor.
One of the best presentations I have observed.

New ideas to approach “difficult” temperament in


students. Interesting and eye-opening research.

This was incredible. It will impact my personal


and professional relationships.

Follow where Horacio speaks


next on Twitter at: hsanchezz