I just finished reading The Power of Play: How Spontaneous, Imaginative Activities Lead to Happier, Healthier Children by David Elkind.
It is about the psychology of play, and Elkind discusses how important old-fashioned play is to children's development. By old-fashioned, I mean the kind of play that is not related to screens (Computer, T.V., etc.) He outlines the developmental stages of children, and discusses what type of activities are beneficial to their development considering these stages. Next he discusses how children's play has changed, and the possible effects that this could have on their development. Finally he gives ideas for parents to provide positive play experiences for their children.
Far from being a stuffy academic, Elkind offers understandable, as well as practical, information about the developmental stages of children, and how these stages effect what they get out of the activities in which they engage. He discusses that the advertisements for most computer games, as well as DVD's marketed to babies and young children, exaggerate their possible usefulness because they are not based on any real evidence. Basically they just appeal to parents fears of not giving their children an academic advantage (no matter how foggy the claims seem.) He also discusses how babies don't understand two-dimensional images on a screen the same way an adult does. This really makes a lot of sense to me. When I was learning to identify birds, I looked at some bird I.D. books with real photos, and some with just drawings. The ones with the drawing were always better and easier to learn from, because they took the average characteristics of the birds of the species. Sometimes the photos were extremely difficult to even see what the book was trying to illustrate, and I already knew what a real live bird is like! A baby does not, which is Elkind's point exactly. We need to provide real, not simulated, experiences for our children in order for them to enjoy, and learn from the world. Adults can often forget that for a child, the real world is full of magic, no matter how mundane it may be to us.
Well, in order to not give the wrong impression, I should say that Elkind is not completely against screen time. He says that in moderation it is okay, however we need to make sure that kids also have the time to play spontaneously. This leads to another thing that Elkind opposes that is hugely popular today: organized sports. Once again, he says that the evidence of the benefit for young children just isn't there, and also, that for older children a sports team in moderation is okay. However, he definitively states that the more emphasis on play, and not competition, the better. And the best of all, according to Elkind, is when kids are involved in spontaneous sports that the kids in the neighbourhood initiate themselves (with no parental involvement.) I couldn't agree more.
I have such great memories of spontaneous play in my own childhood. I am so glad that I didn't have to deal with being on a competitive sports team ( I did do fun dance classes) and I got lots of free time in the neighbourhood and my favourite place of all, the backyard. I have relatively few memories of T.V. but lots, and lots of memories of games, and play-acted scenarios that I played with my sister, the neighbour kids, and very often just by myself. I think my spontaneous play as a child, combined with the non-school related reading that I did, attributed heavily to the fact that I am an artist now. Childhood play is so important, and so often people blow it off like it is irrelevant. Let them play, let them play; they will become better people for it.