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Let Them (Snow) Play, say Experts

We are experiencing a wondrous winter here in Connecticut.  Children of all ages, from preschooler to teens, happily play in the snow for hours.  But is there value in having kids play in the snow other than the benefits of fresh air and time away from the TV ?  Absolutely!

Snow play requires creativity, scientific observation and negotiation skills.  Think of the creativity fostered as children build snow creatures and use various objects to decorate them.  They learn the complexities of problem solving as they try to mold snow into different designs. Adventurous types learn about construction and the properties of physics as they try to build jumps for sledding or walls for snow forts.

When friends play together, they learn social skills needed for negotiation as they develop the rules for snowball fights or come to understand how to take turns while sledding.  Kids learn self-control while they wait for their chance to fly down the hill, or hide out for the perfect shot.  These are not rules that are taught to them from a skill book or basketball practice; they are spontaneously created by the group, and are likely to be internalized on a much deeper level than through books, parents and teachers.

Harvard professors Erika Christakis and Nicholas Christakis say something similar.  In a recent article on CNN.com, “Want to get your kids into college? Let them play ”, they write “one of the best predictors of school success is the ability to control impulses.  Children who can control their impulse to be the center of the universe, and—relatedly—who can assume the perspective of another person, are better equipped to learn.”  They continue to explain that “through play, children learn to take turns, delay gratification, negotiate conflicts, solve problems, share goals, acquire flexibility and live with disappointment. …  Academic achievement in college requires readiness skills that transcend mere book learning.  It requires the ability to engage actively with people and ideas.  In short, it requires a deep connection with the world.”

In the overly scheduled scramble of daily living that is the current norm, it is easy to be lulled into thinking that we give our children plenty of play opportunities.  Our children are on sports teams and in dance classes and have every electronic gadget advertised on TV—complete with “educational” games.  However, this is not the play that will develop these particular social and problem solving skills.

As parents, we need to embrace spontaneous moments of creative play.  Not only that, we need to create the time and space for them to occur, which may require putting aside routines and our comfort levels for noise and mess.  While doing so may not be easy, it’s worth it.  We send children the powerful message that we care about what they are doing.

Dana Gorman is a preschool teacher at the Community Cooperative Nursery School in Rowayton. She is the winner of Stepping Stone's 2010 Playful Practices in Teaching Award. Visit her blog: playfullylearning.blogspot.com .

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