“Basic Skills” and having fun

Every blog I read this morning had something that really caught my eye. I think it is like my ability some days to see beauty everywhere and other days to just see houses and trees and cars and roads and…

It’s an old article but a good one. Any Century Skills: Basic Abilities are Building Blocks was written in 2007 by Jim Moulton. He says:

Some examples of what I consider any-century skills are thinking, caring about oneself, caring for others, perseverance, making careful choices, listening for understanding, and being able to understand human potential and frailty. And what about being able, as I discussed at the very beginning, to use books and scissors?

I also consider the following to be any-century skills: the ability to dig a hole with a shovel, to dance without undue inhibition, to draw or paint what you see, to ride a bicycle (perhaps even with no hands), to make music (even if only by clapping of hands or tapping toes), to care for an animal, to talk one’s way out of a tough situation, to plant a seed and nurture it until it grows, and to use one’s imagination and whatever materials are available to build a fort and then make that rough-hewn space into a personally relevant place where memories are made.

We would like to think that parents are teaching these skills to their children, but all too often they aren’t. Nearly twenty years ago I was teaching in South Carolina. At a meeting once a kindergarten teacher talked about how many children came into her class not knowing how to hold scissors or crayons. At the time I was shocked. But now, 20 years later, talking to my friend who is a kindergarten teacher, I am no longer shocked. Schools now have to teach parents to do things like count cars with their children.

But Moulton’s list of skills also contain some less academic ones that I think are equally important. Riding a bicycle, making music, and building a fort are all things that I did as a kid and loved. My children did them, too. But how many children do that today?

These ideas lead me to another article I read today on Open Education, Raising Smart and Socailly Well-Adjusted Children. Thomas starts off his post with these words:

The ongoing data is becoming exceedingly clear. If you want to see normal social, emotional and cognitive development in your children, then you must allow them the opportunity for free and imaginative play.

He writes about an article in Scientific American by Melinda Werner called The Serious Need for Play. In this article, Werner says:

Relieving stress and building social skills may seem to be obvious benefits of play. But research hints at a third, more counterintuitive area of influence: play actually appears to make kids smarter.

Among the ways play seems to affect learning and cognitive development, Werner mentions benefits in terms of language development and problem solving in particular. Both these are critical for a child’s success in school and life.

Werner’s article makes a clear distinction between play and playing games. Apparently, games with rules are not as beneficial as just playing because games have rules.  That means children are not being as creative as they might be.  She says:

This creative aspect is key because it challenges the developing brain more than following predetermined rules does. In free play, kids use their imagination and try out new activities and roles.

At this point,  I am tempted to regale you with stories of “the good old days” when we built “Fort Apache” over the hill on Edina Boulevard in Zion, Illinois, but I won’t – because you probably have your own stories.  And those are what you need to remember and to think seriously about when you contemplate the world we have built for our children.

Werner concludes with the words of Tufts University professor emeritus David Elkind :

Parents 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.”

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