By Sam Piha
In a previous post, Is Play a Waste, we made the case that now is the time to reexamine the value of play, educate our stakeholders, and be unashamed to make play an important part of our afterschool programs. Below we open the door to this by explore some of the benefits of play and resources that may be useful.
Many afterschool programs prioritize an extension of academics and homework completion over organized play, free play, and physical activity."
The Benefits of Play
According to experts “play allows children to use their creativity while developing their imagination, dexterity, and physical, cognitive, and emotional strength. Play is important to healthy brain development.” (2)
The gift of imaginative free play has been getting the short end of the stick for some time…play does not exclude learning. Play is the essence of learning and we have the research to back it up…We need to get this concept back into circulation with the mainstream that play is the highest form of learning!"
Rebecca Fabiano is Founder of FAB Youth Philly, which supports organizations and individuals that work with children and youth by focusing on improving program quality and providing professional development for staff. FAB Youth Philly also works directly with teens. In a newsletter, Rebecca wrote, “There's been so much interest in the last few years in the various ways that play can positively impact children's learning and their overall health and well being. Play is so important that this report from August 2018 describes the ways in which doctors have begun to 'prescribe' play to their patients. ‘Play is not frivolous,’ the report says. Rather, research shows that play helps children develop language and executive functioning skills, learn to negotiate with others and manage stress, and figure out how to pursue their goals while ignoring distractions, among other things.”
Is Play Good for Older Kids?
We tend not to give older kids a chance to play. When I taught 6th grade, my students loved visiting the kindergartners - not to be helpers or mentors, but to get a chance to play with the building blocks and other play things. In teens, we see play take different creative forms – theater, project-based learning, making beats, adventure challenges, etc.
Hilary Conklin was a middle school teacher and is now an associate professor in the college of education at DePaul University in Chicago, where her research interests include the preparation of middle school social studies teachers. She writes, “One of the casualties of current education reform efforts has been the erosion of play, creativity, and joy from teenagers’ classrooms and lives, with devastating effects… And while play has gotten deserved press in recent months for its role in fostering crucial social-emotional and cognitive skills and cultivating creativity and imagination in the early childhood years, a critical group has been largely left out of these important conversations. Adolescents, too—not to mention adults, need time to play, and they need time to play in school…purposefully infusing play into middle and high school classrooms holds the potential for a more joyful, creative, and educative future for us all—a future in which kids have more interesting things to do in school than count down to summer break.” (4)
Is Play Good for Adults, too?
In a recent newsletter, Rebecca Fabiano writes, “The importance of play for children is well documented. Now researchers are turning their attention to its possible benefits for adults. What they’re finding is that play isn’t just about goofing off; it can also be an important means of reducing stress and contributing to overall well-being. This 2017 article from the Washington Post goes on to talk about why play is important for adults too. We're sharing a link to a toy we use a lot in our staff meetings and trainings with adults and teens (see photo of the cubes below). They are so popular we've lost several cubes at some of our meetings and trainings. This is just one way you can encourage play or playfulness with adults.”
Rebecca goes on to offer a few “easy and low cost/free ideas to try:
A Few More Resources
There are many resources on the topic of play. We cite a few below.
The power of play – Part 1-5: This is a 5-part series from Michigan State University The Power of Play
The Genius of Play has created easy to use activities, provides expert advice and more. And it's all FREE for anyone to use.
Videos: There are many TED talks and other videos on play. Below are some that we like.
• TED Talk by Stuart Brown entitled “Play is more than just fun”
• TED Talk by Peter Gray entitled “The decline of play”
Guest Blogger, Dr. Gil Noam
The election season is upon us. As a researcher in the field of education, I pay close attention to the ways education and youth development are discussed and framed on large policy platforms. This year, I have noticed one area consistently neglected in these high-profile discussions: educational settings that care for school-aged children and adolescents beyond the school day. These spaces are often referred to as afterschool programs, out-of-school time, summer experiences, or extended education.
This year, the Democratic candidates have largely focused their talking points on health care, immigration, trade, and gun violence with education in the periphery. When education came up in the first five debates, the most discussed issues were universal pre-K and tuition-free public colleges and universities. Some candidates also argued for raising teacher salaries and increasing funding for low-income students and schools. But every family in this country has to figure out what to do when school is out and how to pay for high quality and safe environments for learning and care.
Some Democratic candidates have more detailed platforms that include expanded learning opportunities. For example, Bernie Sanders has proposed spending $5 billion annually to expand summer and afterschool programs and youth centers in particular. Elizabeth Warren’s platform includes investing $100 billion over ten years to restore and implement in-school and out-of-school programs. Amy Klobuchar also has had a record of speaking up in favor of increasing access to afterschool programs and community hubs. On the other side of the political aisle, President Trump’s campaign platform does not specifically mention afterschool programming, but his administration did attempt to cut the only federal funding stream dedicated to afterschool and summer programs (21st Century Community Learning Centers) on three occasions.
I believe that out-of-school time should be treated with the same attention as current education hot topics like pre-K and college tuition costs. Often times, when politicians debate over resource allocation or ways to increase the quality of education, they focus on the start and end of a child’s educational journey (i.e. universal pre-school and college access). This approach often overlooks the many opportunities that could be improved upon in elementary, middle, and high school years. For example, the three months of vacation between each school year can lead to “summer slide,” which denotes the loss of academic gains during the summer months when young people are often less engaged with academic material. Also, the opportunity divide during the summer between children who grow up in poverty and those who have affluent parents is enormous.
Candidates in any party would be well-served by putting more emphasis on this topic. Unlike debates surrounding healthcare or gun regulations, it is not a matter of taking away or replacing something, but rather about the expansion and supplementation of new programs. There are more than 30 million families with children under the age of 18 in America, with the majority being employed. The workday does not correspond with the school day and that is a very serious matter. Many of these voters are in essential primary and swing states and know whether a leader takes their situation seriously. Ultimately, this is a low-risk, high-yield topic, and it’s time to give it the deserved place on the debate floor. If you don’t discuss your plan, you will be seen as being out of touch with a very significant need of every family in our nation. READ MORE.
Gil Noam, Ed.D., is the founder and director of The PEAR Institute (Partnerships in Education and Resilience) at Harvard University and McLean Hospital. The PEAR Institute is a translational center that connects research to practice and is dedicated to serving “the whole child-the whole day.” An Associate Professor at Harvard Medical School focusing on prevention and resilience, Dr. Noam trained as a clinical and developmental psychologist and psychoanalyst in both Europe and the United States. Dr. Noam has a strong interest in translating research and innovation to support resilience in youth in educational settings.
Sam Piha is the founder and principal of Temescal Associates, a consulting group dedicated to building the capacity of leaders and organizations in education and youth development.