Sunday Snippet: The Value of Childhood!
Although the military cold war (when we engaged in a military buildup trying to stay ahead of our percieved communist enemies) has long since passed, this country continues to engage in an education cold war, where we we strive to add more school hours, more days and more testing in order to academically compete with countries like China and, well.. China! It is no wonder many refer to the ‘No Child Left Behind’ mandate as ‘No Test Left Behind’!
Keeping with the cold war analogy, let’s reflect back on the end of the cold war and what we discovered about the perceived strength and superiority of our supposed enemies. Once the Berlin Wall came down and the USSR broke apart, it became apparent that the strengths of our communist adversaries were far less than we imagined. Well, a similar revelation is emerging with regards to the highly revered educational systems used in China and eastern Asian nations.
According to Peter Gray, in a recent article penned in The Independent, he indicates that East Asian educators are increasingly acknowledging that their esteemed education system is failing miserably.
Educators in East Asian nations have increasingly been acknowledging the massive failure of their educational systems. According to the scholar and author Yong Zhao, who is an expert on schools in China, a common Chinese term used to refer to the products of their schools is gaofen dineng, which essentially means good at tests but bad at everything else. Because students spend nearly all of their time studying, they have little opportunity to be creative, discover or pursue their own passions, or develop physical and social skills. Moreover, as revealed by a recent large-scale survey conducted by British and Chinese researchers, Chinese schoolchildren suffer from extraordinarily high levels of anxiety, depression and psychosomatic stress disorders, which appear to be linked to academic pressures and lack of play. Give childhood back to children: if we want our offspring to have happy, productive and moral lives, we must allow more time for play, not less, Peter Gray, The Independent
Well, there it is! That pesky little word, Play. Seems we have been increasingly neglecting this critically important developmental component for the past 50 to 60 years. Again, Peter Gray (author of the groundbreaking, research driven book Free to Learn: Why Unleashing the Instinct to Play Will Make Our Children Happier, More Self-Reliant, and Better Students for Life) states:
The most important skills that children everywhere must learn in order to live happy, productive, moral lives are skills that cannot be taught in school. Such skills cannot be taught at all. They are learned and practised by children in play. These include the abilities to think creatively, to get along with other people and cooperate effectively, and to control their own impulses and emotions.
He pointed out that he grew up in the ‘golden age’ of play – that period when the need for child labor decreased greatly and before parents (in the name of safety and ‘conscientious’ parenting) began to exercise increased control over their children’s access to free play. During that time, elementary schools offered 30 minute recess periods both in the morning and afternoon; lunch periods were nearly one hour in length; and after school provided additional hours of free play within the neighborhood ‘until the street lights came on’.
Gray is not simply waxing on nostalgically about the days when we all walked to school uphill, barefoot and through the snow. He has and continues to be engaged in extensive research related free play’s role in the comprehensive development of our children and how the lack of it has impacted child development negatively & significantly. His work is both frightening yet very hopeful.
Those of us at Camp WeHaKee and throughout the camping industry are very hopeful, because we have been embracing the importance of play and it’s influence in child and youth development for decades. The camp experience provides children and adolescents the opportunity to engage in free play countless times each day. And we do it within a safe and supportive community that enhances the free play experience. To paraphrase Peter Gray’s article title, at camp we are giving childhood back to the children!
Have a great week everyone!