Thursday, July 26, 2007

Don't Feel Like Playing My Little Pony Matching Game for the Eightieth Time? Then Don't.

Okay, that title is straight from my life with my five year-old. Somehow she got the My Little Pony, Dora, and Care Bears gene. My older one was much less into those commercial types of toys (uh--maybe I was much less into buying her those commercial types of toys).

From Daddy Types and Daddy Daze, I learned about this article:

Playing with your kids: Nice but not necessary

There's no real evidence that children benefit from playing with their parents, according to Utah State University anthropologist David Lancy.


"If you like it and enjoy it and it's fun for you, why not? That's great. For a parent who feels forced to play with their child, it's not a good thing. Not for them, and probably not for their kids, either," he said.


But it's terrible news for those like Douglas Goldsmith. It's "absolutely wrong," said the executive director of The Children's Center, a Salt Lake City treatment center for children with emotional problems.


Lancy doesn't define play in his study, published in the June issue of the journal American Anthropologist. But he does say it is a "cultural universal." Children everywhere do it, and so do adults. They just don't do it together in much of the world.

In America, parent-child play is a recent thing. The Puritans "condemned play in general," and it wasn't until the 1940s that play became a good thing, rather than "wicked." Today, it drops off outside the middle class, Lancy said. The cultures that value parent-child play are centered in the West -- North America and Europe -- and in Asia. It is most often found among educated parents, and the common theme is that children are "being groomed" for academic and economic success.

While Lancy downplays the benefits of parent-child play, he champions the idea of child's play. "In an ideal world, children need play, unstructured play. And they need to play with their peers," he said. That's the way they learn to socialize.

Here's his actual paper--if you're that scientifically minded (I'm not).

At first blush, this sounds incredible. Then I remembered some things from a great book I read with my first daughter,How to Raise a Brighter Child. This book is a great reference. But parent interaction is not necessarily the highlight. There was a lot of talk (if I remember properly) about allowing children to explore. Of course, language development is all about parents--but not in a dumbed-down way.

So it may be that this article is not "all wet." I don't know about the research methodology. As the study gets more exposure (and someone is willing to shell out the bucks and time to review it), I imagine that the details will come to light and we'll be able to judge it appropriately.

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