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Pieter Breugel the Elder, Children's Games, 1560; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

Pieter Breugel the Elder, Children’s Games, 1560; Kunsthistorisches Museum, Vienna

More insight from Harvard, this time in the Harvard Medical School Online Newsletter. In the Winter/Spring Issue, devoted to the theme “Play”, we found this article regarding the benefits of play.

Starting with a lovely description of a “chaotic, jubilant scene” of children playing in an unstructured, child-directed jumble, HMS Writer/Editor Jake Miller notes that the research supporting the power of play comes from a huge array of fields:

[This scene reflects] what researchers in neurology, psychology, evolutionary biology, educational theory, and wildlife biology consider to be a powerful technique for building brains: child-driven free play.

The article describes the underlying science that confirms many positive outcomes that proponents of free play and child-driven, developmentally appropriate education have long known:

  • “Play fosters empathy and makes possible complex social groups.”
  • “…a strong foundation of childhood play is at the core of imagination and innovation.”
  • “Play is more about process than content. At its best, play is self-directed and guided by fluid rules agreed to by all participants.”
  • “Since the mid-twentieth century … there has been a decline in the time allowed children for free play. During this same period, psychiatrists have tracked in children a rise in narcissism, depression, anxiety, and feelings of helplessness.”
  • “Child-driven, hands-on play is the foundation of creativity, constructive problem solving, and the capacity to self-regulate….” [quoting Susan Linn, an HMS instructor in psychiatry and a research associate at Boston Children’s Hospital.]
  • “Free play provides an environment rich in stimuli that can spark the formation of new neural connections. A child’s imagination can also trigger new connections that biologically tie together distinct areas of the brain….”

The full article is well worth reading; find it at the link below.
Jake Miller. Harvard Medicine, Winter/Spring 2014. Flights of Fancy. Available: http://hms.harvard.edu/news/harvard-medicine/harvard-medicine/play/flights-fancy#.U4ymdDcRUos.wordpress [Accessed 06-06-2014].

Recommended by Patrick Webster.


This post originally appeared, in a slightly different form, at the Along Shady Lane blog, © 2014 Shady Lane, all rights reserved. Reprinted with permission.

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