Category Archives: skatekids

Mathematical Thinking at Play (5 year olds are amazing thinkers)

A few years ago I filmed a couple of the Fletcher gang playing  a game I love called “Set”.  Set shows us that challenging means fun.  The game that requires some pretty sophisticated thinking.   Initially, I didn’t know if  my 5 year-old could handle a full game of set, but I thought I would try it anyway.  And… she surprised me.  Even though she just turned 5 a week, earlier, she was capable of so much.  Now,  I’m not saying that she is a genius.  Rather, I make the point that average intelligence is still one of the most powerful forces the universe has ever produced.  We would do well to accept it.  When it comes to intelligence, however one defines it, average means powerful.

Check out the video to see how I worked with the Doo Dah.  The toy company markets Set as “the game of visual perception” but there is a lot more to it.  I use it primarily to encourage a) Planning/Executive Functioning  b) Simultaneous/holistic processing c) control of attention d) fun.  In the video you will notice that I use very little direct instruction.  Instead, I ask questions and encourage the Doo Dah to think for herself.  I could have given her the answer at one point, but that would have stopped her from thinking.  Instead, I  gave her just enough information to allow her to solve the problem for herself.  Watch this video with an eye for the process.  Maybe you do some of this yourself.  What you will see is: 1) I encourage the Doo Dah to survey the task/tell me her plan 2) I prompt her by asking questions/guiding her attention 3) I model for her by talking about my thinking 4) I ask her to summarize her own thinking.

Can Intelligence Be Taught?

How we think is very much a product of our culture and our relationships.  Play often leads to meaningful interactions,  creativity in learning, and new thinking strategies.  Even attention is developmental and  therefore trainable.  If you like, you could try meditation sometime.  You may find that the beginning  sitting practice is tough.  In fact, Buddhists say we have  “monkey mind” because our thoughts and attention bounce around like a monkey.  With practice, however, one learns to sit for longer periods.  One learns to select the breath as the object of attention.  Meditation is the art of resisting distracting thoughts, at least that is what I have learned.

On another note,  I can’t for the life of me understand how “experts” continue to ignore the important role that emotions play in learning.  Any reform that doesn’t place emotions at the center is likely to fail or have limited effects.  In response, several years ago I decided that I would develop video games as learning tools.  Few would disagree that it  is the child’s nature to play.  I go further.  I believe it is the adult’s nature to play, as well.  You might be aware that the average age of the most frequent video game customer is 40 .  If we care to bring the emotions into learning, we would do well to pay attention to video games.  I include play in learning precisely because play brings emotional experiences.  When a person feels intense feelings, he/she often performs better.  Boredom, conversely,  interferes with learning.  Anxiety interferes with learning.  Play, on the other hand, reduces harmful stress.  Video games are play. Video games can teach.

In a short while, my team and I will release what I think will be a very important iPad app.  I hope you will stay tuned so that you might try it.  I will give updates as the release date draws nearer.

For more on the role of emotions in learning, see , and .

Can children learn the entire elementary school math curriculum in 30 hours?  For evidence that we might be underestimating what kids can do, see

I recommend Todd Kashden’s excellent work on curiosity.  Please check it out:


Filed under Anxiety, Brain development, Dr. Martin Fletcher, education, educational gaming, iPad Apps Math, learning, literacy, Math, Math Anxiety, mathematics, parenting, Primal Math, Psychologist, Psychology, Reading, skatekids

Do Not Fight Your Nature

“Accept everything about yourself — I mean everything. You are you and that is the beginning and the end — no apologies, no regrets.” –Clark Moustakas

First of all, I owe my teachers nearly everything good about what I know.   Mr. Smith, for example, is a teacher who touched my life in 3rd grade and I will never forget him.   I’m using it to illustrate a point.  I was in 6th grade when this happened.  Mr. H was my  English teacher and this is one of the few things I remember about him.  I got a paper back and I had misspelled a word and got marked down for it.  I sincerely asked, “Why does the spelling matter?”  His response was an indignant, “I’m going to pretend you didn’t say that.”

I guess I remember it because it reminds me that some of the simple, “stupid” questions are actually pretty good questions.  There is a good answer to that question.  Not so long ago people had no agreed upon spelling.  It is a good story.  Look it up and find out how we got our first Dictionary.   If a question is sincere it is probably a good question.  Stay curious.  Your questions are good.  Be on a good path.  Accept everything about yourself.  Then you can take the next important step.  You will be able to accept others as they are.



Filed under educational gaming, literacy, parenting, Reading, skatekids, Tweets

Learning What You Have No Interest In

How about you and I start studying geology today?  Let’s spend from 1 to 3 hours a few days per week on it.  Sounds fun, eh?  If you happen to love geology, replace it with something you have absolutely no interest in learning.

Now, let’s turn it around.  Let’s say you finally get to take that dream vacation to Russia.  You have 6 months to learn as much of the language as you can.  Let’s go further, let’s say you even love the sound of spoken Russian.  You imagine having conversations with the people you will meet. It would be a lot easier to learn, no doubt.

I don’t think that this is a bland statement.  Ask a child to describe school using one word.  I do this often and hear the same word: boring!  When I hear something different, it usually involves having a teacher that “makes it fun.”  I do hear that, but not nearly enough.

If I have learned one thing in my professional career it is this:  Most people can learn what they need to know when they need to know it with no penalty.  This especially holds true if the learner really wants to know about something.  Then, it seems impossible to stop them.   So, why not let the kids lead a bit more?


Filed under educational gaming, General, literacy, parenting, Reading, skatekids

Miles Cobbett Author Of The Book “Champion” Interviewed

Discovering a great book is a beautiful thing.  But finding really good books takes some work.  If you read the reviews on, you will see that I’m not the only one crazy about the book “Champion”. If we want to turn kids on to reading, then we need to make good literature available to them.  Sometimes we don’t know what our kids like.  Younger children may simply enjoy the “lap time”.  Kids love spending one on one time with parents.  I can read a crummy book to my kids and they would still call it a good time.  That is more about them wanting to spend time with me.  Our time together is the payoff, not the book.

I lucked out in finding Miles Cobbett’s work.  I can give you a guarantee on “Champion”.  I know it is great because it passes my “this is awesome” test.  That test measures books, movies, music, and other creative products.  The challenge is this: would I listen, read, or view this if I were home alone?  If the answer is yes, then the work is special.  Consider Pixar or Warner Bros. cartoons, Charlotte’s Web, the music of Dan Zanes, etc.  Plenty of adults would read, view, and listen to those even without the children.  That puts the work into a different league.  The great ones work on multiple levels.
I can’t say that this is kid literature just as I can’t say that Harry Potter is for kids only.  Cobbett’s intent was to “hook kids, especially reluctant readers, into reading more.”  My intent is to tell you about a great book that you and your children will really get into.  I was lucky enough to get an interview with Miles Cobbett, so let’s get to it.

DrMarty:  You mention that you were inspired by ideas taken from David Mamet’s book True and False.  Can you say more about that?
Cobbett.: If you read Mamet’s great book I believe you will notice how he freely offers many suggestions for Actors. I simply replaced the word “Actor” and inserted the word “Writer” and then followed many of his recommendations.

DrMarty:  You do a great job of “completing the picture”.  You are able to go from the inner world of Roman to the setting.  For example, p. 14 you have a vivid  description of the walk on the shore of the Salton Sea.  That was very real.  Can you talk about that a bit?  It was almost as if you were describing a photograph.

Cobbett.:  I try to use the tools of my trade to the best of my ability. My tools consist of simply the 26 letters of the alphabet, a pen and paper. I use them  to “Draw” for the reader a picture of what I see and remember in my mind, much I suppose like the French Impressionist painters did to “Paint”  pictures for viewers of the settings the painters saw and remembered.

DrMarty: How conscious are you of using technique?  For example, Roman’s throbbing injured hand.  Every boxer has physical pain.  It comes with the job.  It also serves as a metaphor for the pain and obstacles we have to overcome to accomplish hard things and the price we pay.  Was that conscious?

Cobbett.: My system or technique for writing is that once I have the idea for my main character, especially their name  -and can see them clearly in my mind-  I simply trot along behind them and see everything in my mind’s-eye as I take note of each of the people/characters they would meet, and describe the events that happen to them. I suppose that for me writing is much like showing others a movie that has played my mind.
As to your question of metaphors, and to my being conscious of them, is anyone conscious when they get immersed in watching a movie? Or are movie watcher’s conscious of anything else when they are so “into the journey of the characters and the story” that they forget where they are and what they are doing?

DrMarty:   You use fiction to deliver real information.  There are a lot of facts, such as historical facts and facts about the geography in the book.

Cobbett.: I have my memory as my main tool for drawing information from. When you get right down to it, that’s all an author has. and without a memory they are in-effect mentally bankrupt as an author.

DrMarty:   I like that you take on the issue of loss and grieving losses.  Roman feels the pain of loss, but uses it to make meaning and find purpose.

Cobbett.: Thank you.

DrMarty:  Writing dialog is hard for new writers.  The dialog in Champion flows like real conversation.

Cobbett:  I heard the comedian Steve Martin say something to the effect that, he has been practicing on a banjo for nearly 40 years and how anyone who practices something for a long, long time can expect to get better at it.
I turned 56 this year, but I declared to myself at age 23, that I was a writer. When I was 26 or so, I met a very well-read 68 year-old man (he had just retired from his service of 23 years in the merchant marines), in Biloxi Mississippi who read some of my work, and then said to me that, ‘no writer of any merit had any juice to share til they turned 50.’ He suggested that I keep honing my skills as a writer, and work at what ever I could find employment at, and to release my stuff after I turned 50.
Perhaps the ease you find at reading the dialog in Champion comes from years of practicing my craft, and the real-life experiences of working in all kinds of trades.
DrMarty:   When Serby and Roman are hill climbing, Serby says, “I’ve always thought going downhill was tougher than going up.”  That line stuck with me.  The story uses metaphor the mountain as people and the mountain as trials.  I get the idea that you have spent some time outdoors.
Cobbett.: Growing-up I was outdoors all the time. My family and I lived in Southern California and so every weekend we were either at the beach, desert or up in the mountains. After my father died when I was a freshman in college, I dropped out of school and traveled across the country looking for ways to earn money. In 1980 I was working and living in Hawaii, I got the chance to talk to a couple of tourists from Alaska, who told me about how Alaska offered young people lots of work opportunities…   I made the journey to Alaska in 1982 in search of character and story ideas, and to find enough work to keep a roof over my head and food in my belly while I honed my craft as a writer.

DrMarty:   You really get into the psychology behind the behavior of the characters.  You tell us how the characters think in order to accomplish something.  We often think of fiction as simply entertainment.  Can you say something about that?

Cobbett: Yes.
I believe that when a reader reads a work of fiction -particularly one that really grabs them- the experience of reading it, and of taking that magical journey, becomes a part of them, and changes them forever. My background happens to include a couple of college degrees in psychology and sociology.  As a middle and elementary school teacher I used every tool I had to “sell” the students on the idea that reading, writing, and math were good for them. As an author I use everything I can to help the readers of my stories take a fun and magical life-changing journey as well.

DrMarty:   The fight scenes were very realistic.  I think people are used to the “Rocky” fight scenes, which are impossible.  Are you a fight fan?  Did you study a lot of film while you were writing?

Cobbett: I was born in Pomona Ca and grew-up in Azusa and Redlands. I am related to a professional boxing trainer, and my older brothers and I grew up watching all the big fights and sometime even participating in a few fights of our own. As far as studying film, I don’t remember watching any films of fights “while” I was writing Champion, but I still remember watching every world championship fight as a kid growing up, as well as the championship fights I have watched as an adult.

DrMarty:   I’ll be honest with you. I couldn’t put the book down.  How do we promote good literature for young people?

Cobbett:  Happy to hear that you couldn’t put the book down. I hear similar responses from every reader who gets a chance to read the book Champion…
To promote good literature maybe the challenge is that we just need to get good literature into the hands of our young people.
DrMarty:   I do a lot of reading on the Internet.  I notice that I just feel different when I read on-line.  For one thing, it isn’t as much work.  Also, reading literature is a deep, almost contemplative state of mind.  Can you say something about that?
Cobbett:  I agree with you about reading on the Internet is not quite the same. Since E-book viewers can change the font size— it changes the appearance of each and every page, and rearranges what the last word is on every page.
I have resisted any attempts to E-publish Champion mainly due to the fact that as the author of a physical book, I was in-charge of, and responsible for, what every page would look like. I was the one to choose each and every last word to leave the reader hanging-on, so to speak, as they hurriedly turned the page to see, “what would happen next?”

DrMarty:  Finally, I have to ask this.  Was the broken hand inspired by the Arturro Gatti v. Micky Ward fight, where Gatti overcame a broken hand to win the fight?  Everybody respected Gatti after that fight.  I think that represented something that people really identified with.

Cobbett:  Darn, sorry to say the Gatti-Ward  fight is one that I somehow missed watching, or hearing, or even reading about. Now, had you had asked me if Roman’s injured hand was inspired partly by an injured hand on the old man in Ernest Hemingway’s book, Old Man and the Sea, I would have answered you differently.
You can purchase copies of Champion by Miles Cobbett at or Inspire Learning is my most trusted site for book reviews: Dawn Morris, M.A. puts a lot of thought and a lot of heart into reading and reviewing great literature for children.  What if we promoted great books with the same enthusiasm and effort that toys, junk food, and Justin Beiber are promoted?  What if?


Filed under educational gaming, literacy, parenting, Reading, skatekids

How Do Kids Want To Learn? My Doctoral Research Pt. 2

Part one of this story focused on boredom and humiliation/fear of humiliation as obstacles to learning.   My experience of boredom and fear of humiliation in my K-12 education was a driver for me to start looking closely at learning.  Here, I present the findings from my doctoral research.  As a student, I never understood why nobody seemed to care about how we felt about the teaching.  Seems that nobody thought to ask us.  Respect goes a long way with kids.  In fact, I have found that expressing my genuine curiosity about how and what a child thinks usually  promotes learning.  When I do it, I’m showing them respect.  I found an excellent essay on this topic here .

What's with my hair in this photo?

For those interested in the methodology of the study, I’m happy to answer questions at

I interviewed 12 co-researchers who went through a 30 session treatment with me.  All of them had struggled in school.  All made significant progress shown by a range of measures including pre/post testing.  I’ll use quotes from the interviews when possible  so the learners can speak for themselves.  From our interviews, I discovered 3 major themes:

1. Self-Enhancement Through Play.

This was by far the most common theme.  It was common to hear the word “fun” paired with a statement about valuable learning.  From an 11-year-old girl with reading problems:  “I felt like I wasn’t smart.  I wasn’t reading high-level books.  I was reading lower level books….[Here] I’m learning while I move, like I’ doing hands on moving around and touching things.  Just more fun and active.”

The learner was solving problems in those sessions.  The problems encouraged  a specific type of thinking.  Learners experienced the sessions as play, and play is fun.  In the book, “A Theory of Fun”, Raph Koster tells us what is fun is “exercising our brains” and that all games are edutainment. What do you think about that definition?

2. Experiencing Freedom

In the program I used, tasks allowed the learner to think and solve problems in his/her own way.  We set out to create habits of thought.  “A lot of time you get to do your own thing.  You don’t have to follow rules.”  “I got to find my own way of finding out and remembering…[I]t wasn’t like you have to follow this pattern.”  One little girl said, “You didn’t teach me anything, really…everything else [i.e., the games] taught me.”  What was really happening was that she was experimenting with her thinking.  Another teen said, “[Y]ou didn’t teach me anything.  I want to say you helped me but you didn’t teach me anything.”  What an excellent compliment!

3. Enhanced Sense of Self-Competence

A 16-year-old boy whom I will never forget illustrates this theme.  Initially, his expectations for himself were low.  “I didn’t think I could be taught very well–my mind was like, when I walked in I was like, well, I don’t see how this is gonna help.”  By the end of our sessions, a shift occurred and Steven’s potential became realized.  “I experience[d] how to put that [thinking] into my schoolwork.  I didn’t realize my learning capability.”  I kept in touch with Steven for a few years after.  He continued to do fine work in school.

Some of my co-researchers had ADD/ADHD, LD, or dyslexia diagnoses. It’s important to say that not all learners at my clinic improved.  But, certainly most did.  For my research,  I selected the learners who showed improvement on a range of measures.  After years of doing this work, it became clear that this was about more than learning.  Learning isn’t just about school  It is about life.  We use our brains in all the things we love.  Many children improved in athletics.  Steve, for example:  “I’d have to say –I’m playing lacrosse right now–if you put me back to December or any of those, I wasn’t half as good.  I didn’t pay attention period to the game.  Now its like I’m so into it, my reaction time is a lot better.  I’m a lot quicker.  Some improved in music.  Loren:  “I play cello a lot better now.”  One adult no longer got lost and can now read a map.  One girl, after improving her reading, went from “worst to first” playing the recorder.

I began to think about how we could make these experiences available to everyone.  I eventually began developing video games.  I noticed that game developers–the good ones, think like psychologists.  Lately, there is an interest in play, video games, and learning.  You can check out this article for a good discussion .  I like to focus on making games that are really fun and that target the types of thinking that helps kids become confident, happy, and free to think creatively.  Freedom and creative/playful thinking leave little room for boredom and humiliation.


Filed under educational gaming, literacy, parenting, Reading, skatekids

How Do Kids Want To Learn? My Doctoral Research Pt. 1

I want to share with you the findings of my doctoral research published in 2003.  I studied a program created by my mentor, J.P. Das of University of Alberta.  This program, called PREP, helps train cognitive (thinking) processes.  I wanted to know not only the effects on learning, but “What was the learner’s experience” of the program.  How did they feel and think about what they were doing in our treatment sessions?  What I found surprised me.

Kathy was pregnant. I have to tell you that so she doesn't kill me.

First, let’s talk a bit about school.  I’m not here to school bash.  We have politicized education so badly that it is difficult to say anything about it without raising defenses.  There are a lot of stakeholders including parents, publishing companies, school staff, politicians, etc.  The most important stakeholder is the child.  If this is true, then we should always re-evaluate and re-examine our practices.  We should listen to one another.  That approach may lead to progress.

I know that school shaped me.  No doubt about it.  How could it not?  The things I loved about school were the social things. Friendships and sports were great.  I had some teachers I will never forget.  Three of them, in fact.  For some reason, though, I just can’t forget how boring it was.  The two major negative forces I met were 1) Boredom and 2) Humiliation. Let’s take them one at a time.

Boredom: When adults schedule a speaker they look for informative and entertaining people.  This seems true for all the adult groups I know of, e.g., business presentations, PTA/PTO, etc.  It only makes sense.  A knowledgeable bore  doesn’t get a lot of invitations to return.  Having suffered many a boring class, it has always been common sense, in my opinion, that we shouldn’t ask children to do what we are unwilling to do ourselves.  In fact, children have even more difficulty than adults withstanding boredom (they are developing attention), so developmentally appropriate practices hold us to an even higher standard for stimulation.  Also, adults have many more years in the world.  They have a better frame of reference than do children.  For example, I can connect with a history lesson on Ronald Reagan because I lived during his presidency.  A child brings little relevant experience to the lesson.

I just got a reminder of how boring my 11 year old child finds school.  Tonight was Griffin’s open house.  The students wrote letters to their parents and taped them on their desks.  Clearly, the theme of Griffin’s letter was boredom.  He went down the list: Math is O.K., Social Studies is really boring.  Media Studies is the worst.  How can that be?  Social Studies?  Are children not curious about the world around them?  Media Studies?  Please.  My kid has his nose in media all day long.  He is absolutely curious about media.  He isn’t buying what they are selling at school.  I’m disappointed.  I want him to love these subjects.

Here is a thought.  What if we allow kids to work on real projects?  (Notice I said, “allow”.  The adult is still guiding the experience).  By “project”, I don’t mean doing a collage or writing a research paper on an unselected topic. I mean let learners solve “real” problems  and have “real” debates.  And by real,  I mean problems that matter to kids.  Let’s make the  content, at least initially, relevant to the child. In Griffin’s case, we could start with examining the media that are relevant to kids.  Couldn’t we consider the iPod Touch to look at the history of technology, social meaning, psychology (effects of the technology), applications, etc.?  Author Marjie Knudsen ( sent me this today:  Take a look at it.

Did you check it out?  Children built those devices!  But what did they learn?  Think it through.  Ask yoursef, “What did it take for them to go from concept to delivery?  What did the child do creatively?  What problems did the learner solve?  What prior knowledge, e.g., mathematics, literacy skills, etc., did the learner apply?  In order to even begin walking this new path, we would have to look at the fundamental attitudes we have about children.

Recently, Thomas Friedman wrote a piece stating that the problem lies in parents and that we should demand more out of our children.  I have a lot to say about this, but I’m running over my limit.  For now, I’ll say that I couldn’t disagree more.  I wouldn’t even know how to approach it.  Do I demand that he not be bored?  Do I demand that he fake curiosity about the content?  Would adults respond to this as a management style?  For example, how would you like to find out that your heart surgeon was completely uninterested in his studies and is practicing medicine because his superiors demanded he do it?  Do we really want that?  What is the underlying attitude here?

Here is the worst of it.  Children who do not respond to lecture/textbook education sometimes feel that they are not smart.  What a shame.  School isn’t too hard for them.  They could learn the material.  It is just boring.  Now the learner can’t get better because he/she feels disenfranchised.

Humiliation and Fear of Humiliation

Imagine that you were a poor reader.  Now imagine that you are waiting your turn to read aloud.  I remember this happening and I even remember the words that this poor girl missed.  I was in 3rd or 4th grade.  It was science.  The words were “digest” and “saliva”.  She said “dig-its” and “slava”.  We roared with laughter.   She laughed along nervously.  Students joked about it after school.  If I remember it, I wonder if she remembers it.

People tend to behave according to our expectations.  If we give kids the message that they are threats or potential problems, they are more likely to behave in a problematic way.  I behaved best for the teachers who showed me respect.  I wonder how much of the bad behavior we hear about in school is a defense against humiliation.  Getting yelled at is humiliating.  Being corrected for mistakes publicly is humiliating.   Posted grades are humiliating  for the low scorers.  Being bullied by peers is humiliating.  Being rejected by peers is humiliating. The year I published my dissertation, the Dallas Morning News published this:

In Part 2 of this post, I will share the findings from the research.  The children in this study were my co-researchers.  They tell us how they want to learn and how we can get there. Hint:  boredom or humiliation have nothing to do with it.  See you next time.


Filed under educational gaming, literacy, parenting, Reading, skatekids

There Is No Such Thing As “Free Play”

If you ever get a chance, I hope you will read the work of Clark Moustakas.  He was one of my greatest teachers.  He wasn’t the energetic self-promoter like other pioneers , but his wisdom and clarity of thought seems obvious.  He is a pioneer in play therapy a founder of Humanistic Psychology.  He is also one of the kindest, most gentle and humble human beings I have known.  He is wise.  I studied play (sounds weird to “study” play) under him and other great teachers.  Because I spent so much time with the topic, I’m very alarmed that it is disappearing in the lives of children.  I am especially concerned that play is becoming limited in many of our schools. As my twins enter the first grade next week, I know that they will be playing less.

What is Play?

Early on, I struggled to find a satisfactory model or theory about why play therapy worked.  Play had transformational properties.  I knew it because I saw it. I saw some amazing things happen through play, but I still found it mysterious.  I’ve learned  a bit since then and I want to share it with you.  First, I will confess that Lev Vygotsky and his followers and fans, e.g., J.P. Das, Laura Berk, A.R. Luria, etc., have had a great influence on my understanding of play.  While Vygotsky wrote very little on play, he elevated it to the highest status in child development. Had he lived longer, he likely would  have further documented his thinking.   I’ll tell you some of what he said and maybe this will help you and the children you care about.  Who cares about Vygotsky?  Me and a growing number of others.  He was almost universally thought a genius by his peers.  Anyway, here are some insights I will offer from Vygotsky, my experience,  and some very smart people.

Insight #1: Playing is NOT goofing off.  It may look like it, but it is not.  In the photo above, it may seem that my children are playing in our toy box.  Wrong!  Actually, they built  a high-powered rocket ship replete with high-powered, state of the art rocket propulsion.  I’m  kidding.  It’s a toy box.  What I’m  concerned with is what is happening in their little minds. (It was a sailboat anyway).  They are learning, for example, how to separate a) thought from actions and objects and b) inhibiting impulsive actions in favor of self-regulation.  That toy box contained the quality and essence of “boat”.  Pick up Laura Berks and Adam Winsler’s excellent book “Scaffolding Children’s Learning” for a detailed discussion on this phenomenon.  I’d add that they are learning to make a mess, but they pretty much have that down.  I passed that gene on to them.

Insight #2: Children always behave beyond his/her average age and above his/her daily behavior.  This is important.  The fantasy play that emerges at the end of toddlerhood becomes a “leading factor in development” (cited in Berk, I’ll give you another reference below b/c, as I mentioned,  I love her work).  Important:  Vygotsky is talking about cognitive development, you know, “thinking.  But why?  I’m worried that this post is becoming too academic for some, so can I just say again that it involves learning to think abstractly, separating thought from the external world?  Here, we are observing that the child is exploring a world in a way that is ahead of his/her development.  Imagination and abstract thinking are the very things that good students do in school!

Insight #3: Imaginative play helps children learn to control themselves.  Say what?  That doesn’t sound right, does it? How can that be?  Shouldn’t children be practicing sitting still, like the school I remember, if they want to get good at it?  Vygotsky noted that children continually act against immediate impulses during play.

Finally, Insight #4. There is no such thing as free play.  I’ve hinted at this above.  All play is rule based!  How about when playing cops and robbers?  The robber doesn’t make the arrest.  I could go on.  I can remember arguing with friends things like, “Hey!  Batman can’t fly!  You can’t do that!” when playing superheroes, for example.  Even that game had rules.

When we factor in the use of language, the physical exercise, the warm feelings between friends, the arguing/resolution, and the fact that other creatures in the animal kingdom (I’ll admit that my kids are animals), I’m very worried that we would accept rote academic experiences as somehow more vital to our youngsters.  Some adults even take away play as a method of punishment.

Still not persuaded?

Childhood play is crucial for social, emotional and cognitive ­development.  Imaginative and rambunctious “free play,” as opposed to games or structured activities, is the most essential type.  I know.  I just said there is no such thing as free play.  Let’s call it imaginative play.  Free play just seems too trivial a term for these times.

Finally, Insight #5– Kids that do not play when they are young may grow into anxious, socially maladjusted adults. In her book entitled “Einstein Never Used Flashcards”, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek  is unable to find any convincing evidence that academic acceleration offers any salutary effects by the time the child reaches 1st grade.  A 2007 report from the Amer­i­can Acad­emy of Pedi­atrics doc­u­ments that play pro­motes not only behav­ioral devel­op­ment but brain growth as well. The Uni­ver­sity of North Carolina’s Abecedar­ian Early Child Inter­ven­tion pro­gram found that chil­dren who received an enriched, play-oriented par­ent­ing and early child­hood pro­gram had sig­nif­i­cantly higher IQ’s at age five than did a com­pa­ra­ble group of chil­dren who were not in the pro­gram (105 vs. 85 points).  Again, any advantages that the academic group had disappeared by first grade.  Further, the children from the academic environments were more anxious and less creative than the children in the other group.

This isn’t just about raising healthy happy kids. On second thought, yes it is!

*** I recommend Laura Berk’s “Awakening Children’s Minds” for teachers and parents alike.  It is one of the 10 or so books I read several times a year when   I  need to find my center.


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