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The Thunder Burp

This blog's been really playful lately, what with all the coverage of the study of play in the news. Gives me the illusion of having my finger on the pulse of something. This time NPR contributed to my delusion of prescience with a report on the importance of play in children's development.

This story features findings from the National Institute for Early Education Research that suggests that make-believe leads children to learn how to self-regulate, mostly because it encourages private speech. In other words, kids tend to talk themselves through their actions when they pretend. Their studies correlate all sorts of good social behaviors that prevail in children who engage in the most make-believe and private speech.

Most interesting, though, is the connection this piece makes between how children once played and how they play now and what changes that brings about in their development. Also featured is the social historian Howard Chudacoff, who has a book coming out soon from NYU Press titled Children at Play: An American History.

What made this media ecologist's head snap back, and will likely be the reason I read Chudacoff's book, is that he points to October 3, 1955, as the date in which how we perceive play changed. The Mickey Mouse Club debuted on TV that day—but so did the first televised ad for a toy, Mattel's "Thunder Burp" gun. As Chudacoff says in the NPR story:

It's interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys. Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object.
Which leads me to wonder: What is the concept of play among children who've grown up in a world in which there have always been computers and the Internet? What will the children who grow up natively with pervasive, ubiquitous computing—that is embedded in our physical environments and that communicates with portable devices we carry—think play is?


Diane Massad said...

The absence of skilled adult teacher/models [be they parents or professionals] is a critical factor to the deterioration of youngsters' movement mastery. There are several observable age-appropriate components of skill mastery that current youth fail to display. This list of insufficient skills would include: mirroring movement, refined timing, creative exploration of space, cross-lateral task attempts and simple locomotor patterns. All in all, I see that the proliferation of educational media that is scant on knowledgeable design has diminished and homogenized natural urges to explore and play. More to say but I will pause today.

librarian@play said...

Thanks for the comment, Diane. And you're right about the lack of knowledgeable design in educational media. All the more reason librarians should educate themselves in people-centered design principles. Two of the primary services libraries now offer are access to technology and youth services. Librarians could become a force in the effective and appropriate implementation of youth-oriented digital media.

Rae Pica said...

I've been a children's physical activity specialist since 1980, and over the last several years, early childhood professionals throughout the country have told me that the children they work with don't know how to play anymore. Beyond mimicking the actions of characters they see on TV, children are at a complete loss as to what to do when left to their own devices. Self-regulation, self-direction, and imagination have all fallen victim to the influence of media and what Chudocoff calls "the commercialization and co-opting of child's play."