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How to Ruin Children's Play
December 12, 2019
If you truly love Nature, you will find beauty everywhere.
-Vincent Van Gogh

Peter Gray, PhD, in Psychology Today writes about how beautiful children’s authentic play can be if adults don’t ruin it by intervening too much. He provides detailed examples of when play works, explaining that “my words are poor substitutes for the actual scenes…There is nothing special about these examples; they are like play everywhere. What made them special to me is that I took the time just to watch and enjoy them, to look at them as some people listen to concerts or admire great paintings. I report on them here partly in an attempt to convey their beauty, but also to point out how adults might well have ruined them by supervising, praising, or in other ways intervening, as all too often happens today.”

Karen Stephens included a similar message in her article, “Imaginative Play During Childhood: Required for Reaching Full Potential,” that is the foundation for an Out of the Box Training Kit. She writes: “Pressures to get children ready for academic, intellectually-focused learning and standardized testing has caused many early childhood programs to abandon scheduling adequate time for free, imaginative play. Play has been squeezed out for an array of reasons…Sometimes it’s due to insufficient or outdated staff training and lack of staff’s continued education to keep up on current knowledge.

But make no mistake. Abundant research has shown that play during early childhood is necessary if humans are to reach their full potential. For children, and in fact, for society’s well-being, true play is a critical need, not a fanciful frill.”

Source: “How to Ruin Children’s Play: Supervise, Praise, Intervene,” by Peter Gray, PhD., Psychology Today, January 14, 2009

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Comments (1)

Displaying 1 Comment
Carol · December 12, 2019
Bard College
United States

I admire Peter Gray and his advocacy for children and play. I would like to say, however, that sometimes, when we are respectful listeners and watchers and play workers, we can rescue play with our facilitation, intervention and coaching. Intervention is not always an interruption- it can also be a collaboration. I believe it is important to point out that our children in group settings need us to support their play and hold their play. Those of us in full day programs that are holding places for children to play all day recognize our vital role in the defense and preservation of play in the lives of children.

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