Wednesday, February 23, 2011

The value of play

from NPR: Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills

I don't know if any of my families read this blog, but if they do, please do not take offense at the following. I may or may not mean you personally.

So the article talks about how, as children's play has changed, so has children's cognitive development. The seven-year-olds of today barely have the executive functioning of the five-year-olds of forty years ago. I teach a small group ranging in age from 5 to 8, and it's just about impossible to get them to stand still. Of course, they do feed off each other, and they seem to be having a good time, but I'm trying to work on stage presence as well.

(In an aside, I observed something similar when watching the Up Series. The seven-year-olds in the first documentary, from 1964, are far more articulate than most of the seven-year-olds of my acquaintance. How much of that is from the decade, how much from the children's being British and how much from the filmmaker's choice of subject is, of course, up for debate.)

I see this happening with a number of my students. I teach in a fairly well-off community, and so many of these kids are already overscheduled, overworked and overwhelmed by the age of six, seven, eight. Some of them end up with a couple hours of homework each night in fourth grade. Some of their parents still do absolutely everything for them. (Here I will not give specific examples, because that would be crossing a line.)

So it ends up that I have students who've been with me for three or four years who still need me to remind them what happens next in the lesson, because their executive functioning hasn't kicked in yet. They truly cannot remember the order in which the parts of the lesson happen. And I almost always do the same things in the same order, largely because if I don't, I'll forget. (Hey, I never said my executive functioning was ideal.)

And I do know how much these children are loved by their parents. The Suzuki method has the parent stay in the lesson with the child, so I see the interactions, and I see how much love is there. And I know the parents understand how difficult and painful this world can be and that they're trying to shield their children from suffering; who wouldn't?

And I also know that, even in a semi-suburban area, letting kids roam free in packs just isn't done. It's all play dates and scheduled activities, and maybe that's the only safe way anymore.

But I worry sometimes that these kids are going to be completely unprepared to look out for themselves when it's time. When I was a freshman in college, one of my fellow freshman violists absolutely could not handle being out on his own and had to drop out of school to move back home. I don't know all the circumstances, of course, but the impression the rest of us had was that he'd never had to do any chores or have a job or be responsible for himself before; his folks had always taken care of everything. Really nice guy , talented musician, never disrespectfully irresponsible; just very easily overwhelmed.

I don't have any answers. I just hope that, when the time comes that there are piccolo Fiddlers toddling about, we'll be able to find a balance between letting them be kids and teaching them responsibility.


eeka said...

There are links there to stats showing that it's actually SAFER everywhere in the U.S. now than it was in the '60s/'70s/'80s when free-range kids were the norm.

I don't know if I found it from that site or elsewhere, but there was an article a while back about someone who let her son (maybe a 5th grader?) walk home less than a mile from school in a suburb, and the police were called more than once and told that a child was out walking along a road alone, she was called a few times by people who recognized him and told her they were lucky to have spotted him before something happened, etc.

Fiddler said...

I remember reading a few years back about a mom who let her 9-year-old son take the New York subway by himself. IIRC, he asked appropriately; it was a very short trip, and he had a plan in place if anything went wrong.

She got a huge amount of flak for that. If you don't let your kids ever do anything by themselves, how do they develop life skills? It's not like she threw him to the wolves.