Creative Play helps children’s self-control

by Andy Polaine on March 17, 2008

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There’s an interesting piece about Creative Play on NPR at the moment that looks at a school running the Tools of the Mind programme.

One of the findings of the research is that creative play helps regulate executive function:

Executive function has a number of elements, such as working memory and cognitive flexibility. But perhaps the most important is self-regulation — the ability for kids to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. Executive function — and its self-regulation element — is important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ.

The Tools of the Mind approach helps children move along a continuum “from being regulated by others to engaging in “shared” regulation to eventually becoming “masters of their own behavior.”” A large part of it is about not just going out to play, but rather writing out the plan and presenting what they’re going to do before then acting out the play part.

It’s one more pointer towards the importance and value of play, although it still gets tangled up in issues about media and videogames being ‘obviously bad’ and falls into the “play as progress” rhetoric that Brian Sutton-Smith cast so much doubt upon.

There’s also a related NPR story on play building serious skills that’s worth reading.

(Photo credit: wwworks on Flickr)

{ 2 comments… read them below or add one }

1 Diane Massad March 18, 2008 at 11:02 am

Play, when child-centered, is rich with opportunities for discovery, self-definition, creation and manipulation of self-created elements. The saturation of cultures [global] with the creations that have a motive [read that product tie-ins] taint childhood’s natural fertility.

2 Andy Polaine March 24, 2008 at 10:18 am

I know what you mean, but I suspect play has long been tainted in that way, though it doesn’t necessarily have to be a bad thing.

I like to think of play as relationship-centred. The choices are whether that’s a relationship to the self, the parents and family, to a principle or process (for some it’s to religious themes, thinking of Easter-egg hunts right now) or to something else, which can clearly be a product. All those choices are what children, parents, carers, teachers, etc. make in order to, hopefully, guide a child’s development.

I am, though, still quite uneasy about only seeing play in developmental terms, because I am quite sure that play is an end in and of itself. In that respect I’d invoke the ambiguity of Sutton-Smith once more, along with several others – Huizinga (less so), Caillois, Csziksentmihalyi. Merleu-Ponty, Lakoff and Johnson, Kane, Pesce and more – who all come back to the issue that, as much as we want to, we still really don’t really know why we play.

I like it that way, personally. I think play, like love, is one of those things we know when we see or experience it, but have a real problem trying to pin it down in terms of a point-by-point explanation. It means it’s endlessly fascinating.

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