Playtime is Serious Business for Childhood Expert
Renowned Author to Deliver Keynote at Forum for Parents and Educators
Parents and educators today face a child-rearing crisis, but the solution requires more play instead of more work, said Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, an internationally renowned childhood development expert and the keynote speaker for an upcoming forum at UT Dallas.
Hirsh-Pasek, the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Professor of Psychology at Temple University, will talk about the “Arts and Sciences of Play” during the Center for Children and Families’ forum on Thursday, Jan. 14. The center, part of the School of Behavioral and Brain Sciences, is initiating an annual forum as part of its effort to bring researchers together with parents and educators from the community.
Hirsh-Pasek recently answered some questions dealing with topics she will address more fully this week. She is the author of 11 books, including Einstein Never Used Flashcards, Celebrate the Scribble and How Babies Talk.
What are the biggest issues facing parents today?
The burning issue we have to deal with now involves figuring out how to prepare our children to live successfully in the rapidly changing world of today and how to enable them to be flexible learners in the future. We could be determining whether our country continues to be a world leader in the future or if we fall behind other nations.
How does playtime figure into the solution?
Children have lost eight hours per week of free-play time in the last two decades. More than 30,000 schools in this country have dropped recess from the daily schedule. We have become so narrowly focused on academics that we seem to be sacrificing childhood.
Why is playtime so essential for young children?
The skill set for the 21st century will be developed through play. Play offers the opportunity for the kinds of rich interactions with parents and caregivers that stimulate learning and social skills. I think successful learning requires what I call the ‘6Cs’:
- Collaboration: learning to get along and work together to achieve a goal
- Communication: respecting and talking ‘with’ each other instead of ‘at’ each other, and learning how to listen
- Content: learning math and reading, but also science and the arts
- Critical thinking: adapting to the wide range of knowledge we encounter and figuring out how to use it
- Creativity: using that knowledge in novel and effective ways
- Confidence: building a willingness to try something new without the fear of failure
How do the 6Cs fit into today’s learning environment?
Many teachers schedule no playtime for their students each day. They’ve replaced it with test preparation. I am not anti-academics, but I think we are too narrowly focused. The amount of information available to us is doubling every 2 ½ years. If we memorized everything there is to know right now, we would only know half of everything in less than three years. Therefore, we must continue to embrace new opportunities to learn throughout our lives. High school students today are expected to have 10 jobs during their lifetimes, and eight of those occupations have not yet been invented. We can’t test children on knowledge that has not yet been revealed, so we must teach them how to pursue it.
What do you consider playtime?
It can be either free time or guided learning as play. Play time allows the children to figure out what they’re interested in and investigate. Many parents will buy so-called ‘educational toys’ for Christmas. Then, by January, the toy is discarded, and the child is still playing with the cardboard box it came in. They figure out their own games, and that leads to creative thinking in the future.
What about families that have busy schedules and can’t find the time for more playing?
So many of us are suffering from ‘manic compression.’ We’re trying to fit too much into too little time. I would suggest families cut out one organized activity a week and just spend that time playing or interacting with their child. Fit fun, playful learning into different times of the day. For example, leave 15 minutes early for the bus stop in the morning, and let your child help you find rocks and snails along the way.
How do teachers and schools need to change their strategies?
We need to go back to the teacher as scholar model instead of the teacher as implementer. Many teachers know implicitly how to reach their students. It’s sad to see the scripted learning that is going on in many classrooms. We need to test, but we need to make sure that we’re testing children on the things that matter. If we’re just preparing the students by having them memorize information, which they won’t remember or ever use again, that is not a good system. We need to be teaching children how to succeed on the test but also beyond the test.
What about homework, which many parents find burdensome these days?
I would love to find a way to have homework that we can incorporate into our daily lives. I’m middle-aged, and I love to learn when it’s fun. Children learn more at school and at home if they’re having fun with it.
How did we reach this crisis point?
The world has been changing in a major way. We designed an educational system that is not flexible enough.
Is there political will to change the system?
I think academia is certainly solidified behind this idea of increasing flexibility. I think the cause is finally gaining some traction, so I’m hopeful there will be change. Otherwise, we may look back in 2039 and realize we’ve raised a generation of good little soldiers but not the kind of individuals who will lead in innovations. They will have the kind of skills that are too easily outsourced.
What challenges does Texas face compared to the rest of the country?
Texas is set to become a majority-minority state before the rest of us. I will be interested in talking to people in Dallas and finding out more about how they plan to work through issues involving language and cultural differences.
What is your chief goal for parents and schools?
I hope we all do what we can to empower our children and prepare them to move forward both in school and out of school. I deeply believe in the power of people and our desire to do what’s right for our children.