Erika and Nicholas Christakis have noticed a troubling trend: students don't know how to play anymore. As they noted in an article for CNN, they constantly see their students struggling to transition from home to school. They don't know how to share or listen, and they lack other social skills too. Sounds normal for little kids, right? Here's the twist: these are Harvard undergrad students. And Erika and Nicholas think the problem is that these students don't have enough play based learning in their pasts.
College Students With Preschool Problems
The Christakises described their students like this:
Every day where we work, we see our young students struggling with the transition from home to school. They're all wonderful kids, but some can't share easily or listen in a group.
Some have impulse control problems and have trouble keeping their hands to themselves; others don't always see that actions have consequences; a few suffer terribly from separation anxiety.
We're not talking about preschool children. These are Harvard undergraduate students whom we teach and advise. They all know how to work, but some of them haven't learned how to play.
Erika is author of The Importance of Being Little, and former faculty member of the Yale Child Study Center. Nicholas is a social scientist and physician, director of Yale's Human Nature Lab, and co-director of the Yale Institute for Network Science. They point out that most education fall into one of two styles: skills based or play based learning. And in their opinion, play based learning wins, hands down.
What gives play based learning an edge?
According to Erika and Nicholas, one of the best predictors of school success is impulse control. Successful students learn to recognize that others around them have valid beliefs, ideas, and desires. They develop a willingness to listen, to empathize, to understand. And that all starts with curbing impulses and approaching life more collaboratively.
This is where play based learning comes in. "Through play," say the Christakises, "Children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility, and live with disappointment." And these skills carry over to adulthood. Kids who learn through play are better equipped to succeed in college environments.
Take action now.
No matter what age your kids are now, you can give them more play based learning. Instead of flashcards, play games to learn math facts. Start a book club with crafts and snacks, and teach kids to discuss what they read. More than anything, let them play, especially with other kids. Consider asking your schools to start a Let Grow Play Club by keeping playgrounds open before and after school for very lightly supervised free play.
It might sound too good to be true. But letting your kids play may just be their ticket to a Harvard diploma one day!