October 6, 2011

Pinecones For Sale

“Dad, I’m bored!”  Ever heard that before? “Mom, there’s nothing to do!”  Sound familiar?  Some parents may begin to tremble at such moans.  Not me.  Almost fifteen years into this parenting gig, I believe that at some point soon, something good will occur.

Invention.

At Friends’ School, our classroom time is a great blend of teacher-directed lessons and student-guided activities.  Learning is the core goal.  Our teachers are always on hand to ask leading questions and to help students regain focus. 

On the playground, there is much more unstructured time and the playground is a breeding ground for invention.  Just this week, as I spent time connecting with our kids on both the preschool and elementary school playgrounds, I discovered groups of children who were busy creating something out of nothing:

              - setting up a storefront of natural objects such as pinecones, rocks, and autumn leaves
              - inventing a new obstacle course by moving familiar playground pieces to new places
              - looking for creatures lurking under pieces of wood
              - pretending the play structure is a ship sailing the ocean blue
              - making up a new song as they swung higher on the swings
              - giving piggy back rides to friends from other classes

The list goes on and on.  No adult had given any instructions to complete any of these tasks.  It was all simple, good old-fashioned play time.  Kids are master inventors.

It turns out that all that time spent inventing, or playing make-believe, actually helps children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.

We have a wonderful opportunity to learn more about executive function on October 18th at 6:00 p.m. when Friends’ very own nationally published experts, former and current preschool directors Shelby Pawlina and Christie Stanford, will be continuing our extremely popular parent education series.

The American Academy of Pediatrics published an important study four years ago titled "The Importance of Play in Promoting Healthy Child Development and Maintaining Strong Parent-Child Bonds". It argues that free and unstructured play is healthy and - in fact - essential for helping children reach important social, emotional, and cognitive developmental milestones.  It also helps them manage stress and become resilient.  The article recommends strongly that families choose a school that meets children's social and emotional developmental needs as well as academic preparedness.

The good news is that we know such a place. Anyone want to buy a pinecone?

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