Thursday, February 21, 2008

Childhood Play, Today's Toys, and Executive Functions

If you've been a teacher for several years, you've noticed the changes in children. As I've visited early childhood education programs, I've seen countless Show-and-Tell (or as I like to call it, "Bring-and-Brag") sessions devoted to children holding up the latest toy—you know, the one causing shoving matches at the local We-Be-Toys store—with almost nothing to say about it. It's evident what the toy "does" or the role that it is supposed to fill in a child's unstructured time. What's disheartening is that a look around the classroom often reveals a cache of similar toys. (And don't even get me started on church nurseries!) What's wrong with toys that serve a limited purpose?

If you didn't hear the report "
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills" on NPR this morning, it is worth a listen. (You can click the link to connect to the webpage featuring the report.)

When I was in college, one of my professors advocated much closer cooperation between educators, parents, and medical professionals. She suggested that we consider establishing relationships with local pediatricians and spend time educating them on the importance of things like reading to children and childhood play. She also suggested we make materials for parents
available in the doctor's office (e.g., pamphlets) that emphasize these same ideas

I'm not trying to be "Chicken Little" here, but if the research clearly indicates what this report suggests, we may want to give that professor's suggestions some serious thought. Like I said, if you've taught long enough, you've seen these changes—and they're not educationally good for our children.


Anonymous said...

I was also struck by this news story. It explains so much of what I'm seeing in the classroom as a volunteer (with no educational experience). What's a parent to do? Not for my own children, who both exhibit pretty good executive function, but for those disruptive kids in her classroom who don't.

Our elementary school is adding PTO-sponsored after-school enrichment programs, but it seems like we're not addressing the whole problem. What ideas or resources are out there?

Kevin D. Washburn, Ed.D. said...

Wow, these are great questions! Daniel P. Goleman is associated with a related field of study—emotional intelligence. You may want to check out some of his writing. I also think many of John Ratey's books address similar issues. Try Driven to Distraction and Delivered from Distraction. These might offer additional insights and suggestions. I'll try to monitor ongoing research on this and post anything that seems potentially helpful. Thanks for reading the blog and interacting!

Kevin D. Washburn, Ed.D. said...

I just read an interesting article to follow up this posting and the question posed in the comment. If interested in a more in-depth look at self-regulation, check out "Self-Regulation and Barkley's Theory of ADHD" at
Be sure to get the entire address. I had to break the line twice to fit it into the comment screen. Hope this is helpful!

Kevin D. Washburn, Ed.D. said...

Check out Jonah Lehrer's Blog entry related to the topic of self-control. You can find his summary of related research and comments at