At a time when schools and families are pushing children – at very young ages – to succeed academically, the vital role of play in fostering young children's healthy development is often lost in mandated curricula, a singular focus on skills-based instruction and knowledge acquisition, and an overabundance of benchmark assessments and standardized tests. However, researchers and experts on child development agree that play is essential in the development of cognition, intelligence, creativity, problem-solving and communication skills. Engaging in open and imaginative activities helps young children cultivate mental and physical capacities, individual responsibility and social-ability, speech and language, and much more. Faculty, staff, and students in the School of Education are contributing to the growing research and promotion centered on the importance of play for healthy and appropriate child development.
The Serious Business of Play
by Mark Durlak - posted May 16, 2013 at http://newsandevents.buffalostate.edu/news/serious-business-play
Parents who want their children to succeed in school might help them more by encouraging them to play rather than to study academic subjects. Reva Fish, assistant professor of social and psychological foundations of education, and Laura Klenk, assistant professor of elementary education and reading, are observing activities in pre-K classrooms. What they see is limited time for free play, and they share a concern: the importance of play is not understood by parents and educators.
"We are trying to find a way to talk about play that encourages people to take children’s play seriously," said Klenk. Both educators agree that play—free, unstructured activity that children choose to engage in—is, among preschoolers, a developmentally appropriate way to learn. Substituting developmentally inappropriate activities may undermine children’s ability to develop the skills that underlie academic success: engagement, persistence, and stamina. The focus on measuring academic achievement—testing—is occurring even among children ages 3 and 4. "We’re assessing reading and math skills at younger and younger ages," Fish said. "We’re changing the activities, the lessons, the goals. But the problem is that children haven’t changed. Developmental milestones haven’t changed—drawing a straight line, drawing a figure."
Klenk said that children engaging in play are developing academic skills as well as the emotional and behavioral skills that will enable them to succeed as they continue through childhood. "If they are playing among themselves, they have to learn how to talk to each other, and that’s developing language skills," she said. Klenk, who has studied play for 25 years, added that the concept of quantity—counting—also develops through group play. "And play also has strong emotional and social development components," she said.
Both educators agree that children who are engaged in unstructured, creative, self-chosen activities develop stamina for learning. Because they have freedom to choose, they stick with their play longer. "Learning is deeper, and it lasts longer," said Fish. "This pattern is important as children move up through the grades."On the other hand, if teachers direct children’s learning too much, even through play, with directions such as "Make this," or "Show me what you can make," the learning is shallow and easily forgotten.
It’s not just educators or even testing, however, according to Fish and Klenk. "Parents are pressuring their pre-K classrooms and even day care centers to teach academic skills like word recognition," said Fish. "It’s as if we’ve lost our faith that kids are born wanting to learn." Fish and Klenk were featured presenters at the 2013 Conference on the Value of Play held at Clemson University in February. The U.S. Play Coalition awarded them a seed grant to continue their research on the importance of play. They are meeting with other faculty members from the School of Education to discuss ways to persuade educators and parents to provide developmentally appropriate learning activities in pre-K classrooms. "Play is so important," said Fish. "It’s short-sighted to take it away."
version of story also appears in Buffalo Business First at: http://www.bizjournals.com/buffalo/news/2013/05/20/buffalo-state-profs-find-troubling.html
Developing Literacy Through Play
A case study by Buffalo State graduate Alissa Mielonen and School of Education Dean Wendy Paterson, published in the Journal of Inqury and Action in Education, highlights the language and literacy development inherent in the interactions of children while they are playing.
Abstract: Researchers agree that language and literacy derive from the first days of a child’s life. Children become literate members in society by listening and interacting with the people that surround them. This study examines how children develop literacy through play by looking closely at the benefits of uninterrupted play and how it encourages language development. The development of language skills, including reading and writing competence, through social interaction was observed to see how literacy development occurs within a home environment. This study also offers successful strategies to use during play that will enhance reading and writing skills within young children.
Go to article: http://digitalcommons.buffalostate.edu/jiae/vol3/iss1/2/
Playing with Autism
By Mary A. Durlak - posted August 19, 2013 at: http://newsandevents.buffalostate.edu/news/playing-autism
Play is critical to children’s development, including children with autism spectrum disorders (ASD). Kathy Ralabate Doody, assistant professor of exceptional education at SUNY Buffalo State, observed different play options to determine those most likely to appeal to children with ASD. The findings were published in the North American Journal of Medicine and Science.
“Children with ASD chose to engage in play that provided strong sensory feedback, cause-and-effect results, and repetitive motions," said Doody. One novel aspect of the research, conducted by Doody with Jana Mertz, program coordinator at the Autism Spectrum Disorder Center at the Women & Children’s Hospital of Buffalo, was that the children with ASD could freely select their preferred activities. The research was conducted at a monthly event, "Au-some Evening," at Explore & More, a children’s museum with exhibits that are designed to engage children through play. The event is open to children with ASD, their families, and their guests. The most popular activity among children with ASD was the exhibit “Climbing Stairs.” Children who climbed a short staircase could then drop a ball and watch it descend. Another popular activity involved a windmill. Children can push its arms, causing it to spin. A table filled with rice completed the top three exhibits among children with ASD.
In addition to the well-known senses of sight, smell, touch, taste, and hearing, Doody described others, including the vestibular and proprioceptive senses. The vestibular sense helps us keep our balance and know where we are in space; proprioception has to do with the way our joints respond to movement and pressure. “It’s the sense that makes deep-tissue massage pleasurable,” she said. Children with ADS preferred activities that involved the vestibular and proprioceptive senses as well as other senses.
“Children with ADS sometimes tend to crave motion, and if they can’t be moving, they like to look at moving objects,” said Doody, noting that motion engages the vestibular, proprioceptive, and visual senses. “So just watching the windmill engaged them. When the windmill turned in response to their push, it also provided cause-and-effect play. And the repetition of the spinning movement provided a third level of satisfaction.” Climbing the stairs also satisfied multiple senses. Playing with rice provided both tactile and visual stimulation as children felt and watched the rice pour through their fingers. By knowing the kind of play that children with ASD prefer, educators and clinicians can use such play as positive reinforcement in educational and treatment settings. “This information is especially helpful for children with ASD who have difficulty communicating their preferences,” said Doody.
Parents can also benefit from the information. “A child who is playing alone is developing a degree of independence,” said Doody, “and that can enable the parent or caregiver to engage in other activities, like making dinner or attending to another child. Parents might use a snow globe so the child can observe movement. Aquariums or water sculptures provide movement, too.” Some of the behaviors exhibited by people with autism—hand-flapping, for example—may reflect a need for sensory stimulation. “Sometimes just giving a child a string of Mardi Gras beads to swing and watch will help the child sit still,” said Doody. Toys that provide sensory stimulation—sounds, movement, or lights—in response to an act such as pushing a button also may be well-received. However, Doody noted, the need for, and tolerance of, sensory stimulation varies by individual.
At Explore & More, children with ADS tended to avoid the exhibits that required pretending, such as imagining oneself as a butterfly or as a cook in a play kitchen. Doody explained that pretending requires a phenomenon called Theory of Mind, which is the ability to imagine oneself in the place of another. “That develops much earlier in children with typical development than in children with autism, if they develop it at all,” said Doody.
Doody hopes that options for children with ASD will be built into a variety of recreational facilities, after-school programs, and playgrounds. The benefit is not only inclusion. “It also encourages social interaction between children with ASD and their peers,” said Doody. “Some children with ASD are academically successful, but they struggle in social situations. So opportunities to play with their peers are really valuable.”
What Is 'Play' to a Child With Autism?
Motion preferred to arts and crafts or pretending, study finds
by Amy Norton, HealthDay Reporter - posted August 27, 2013 at: http://consumer.healthday.com/cognitive-and-neurological-health-information-26/autism-news-51/what-is-play-to-a-child-with-autism-679575.html
TUESDAY, Aug. 27 (HealthDay News) -- When free to choose, kids with autism pick games that engage their senses and avoid games that ask them to pretend, a new study finds.
Experts said the results are not surprising. It's known, for instance, that when children do not show an interest in pretend play, such as "feeding" a doll, by about age 2, that is a potential sign of an autism spectrum disorder.
What is unique about the new study is that it went out into the real world, said lead researcher Kathy Ralabate Doody, an assistant professor of exceptional education at the State University of New York, Buffalo State.
Doody's team spent six months observing children who attended a local museum's Au-some Evenings, a monthly program designed for children with autism. The program offered 20 exhibits with different activities, including a train that children could climb on, arts and crafts and a make-believe farm where kids could pretend to pick vegetables and collect eggs.
The researchers found that children with autism were naturally drawn to activities that got them moving, or allowed them to watch moving objects. The biggest crowd pleaser was an exhibit in which kids climbed a short staircase and dropped a ball into a track to watch it travel over hills. Another favorite was a windmill that the children could spin.
On the other hand, arts and crafts, and exhibits that required pretending were the least popular, according to the findings, which were reported in a recent issue of the North American Journal of Medicine and Science.
"We know that kids on the spectrum have a fascination with things that move, and with repetition," Doody said.
In contrast, she said, pretend play requires "putting yourself in someone's shoes," and talking and acting as if you were another person. That's an ability with which children with autism spectrum disorders struggle.
The current findings are what you would expect, said Dana Levy, a clinical assistant professor of child and adolescent psychiatry at NYU Langone Medical Center, in New York City.
"I think it's a really nice idea," Levy said, referring to the museum's autism spectrum disorders program.
"We do know that kids with autism are able to practice social skills when they're doing something they enjoy," Levy said. So if an activity gets your child around other kids -- and talking or learning to take turns, for instance -- it could benefit his or her development.
"If it becomes just a solitary thing, though, it's not really helpful," Levy said.
Plus, letting children do only the things they're innately drawn to can be limiting. When young children with autism spectrum disorders are in therapy, pretend play is typically part of it, Levy said.
But if there is a social setting with activities a child with autism enjoys, parents can use that as a door, Levy said. If your child loves the museum's stair-climbing exhibit, on your next visit tell him or her that you're going to try one new thing first and then go to the stairs, Levy suggested.
It's estimated that about one in 88 children has an autism spectrum disorder -- a group of developmental disorders that hinder a person's ability to communicate and interact socially. Autism spectrum disorders range widely in severity: Some children speak very little and have an intense preoccupation with just a few things, while other kids have normal or above-normal intelligence and milder problems with socializing.
For the current study, Doody's team watched children during six Au-some Evenings events. An average of 31 children with autism spectrum disorders and 22 without (usually siblings) attended each night. One limitation of the research, Doody said, is that they had no medical information on the children, including the severity of their autism.
Doody, who has a child with an autism spectrum disorder, said it would be helpful if more public places had events like this, since parents can struggle to find activities the whole family enjoys -- particularly if they also have kids without autism.
She said the current findings could help community programs develop inclusive activities so kids with autism have more chances to interact with typically developing children.
"Being in a social environment is great for them," Levy said.
Even if your local museum doesn't have a special program, she said, it might have something that would appeal to your child. If he or she likes to look at maps, for instance, a museum or park that has maps scattered throughout might be a good place to start.
Preferred Play Activities of Children with Autism Spectrum Disorder in Naturalistic Settings
A research paper written by Exceptional Education faculty member, Kathy Ralabate Doody, published in a special edition of The North American Journal of Medicine and Science, examines play opportunities and preferences for children with autism spectrum disorders.
Abstract: Autism Spectrum Disorders (ASDs) are lifelong, neurobehavioral disorders that impact behavioral, social and communication skills. Introducing and designing appropriate play opportunities for children with ASD is of primary concern for educators, clinicians, and parents. The researchers set out to research the types of play most often preferred by children with autism spectrum disorders. Data collected in a children’s museum over a six month period resulted in a sample size of 1,506 observations for children with ASD Data for the six months were aggregated for each of 20 different exhibits. Each of the top five exhibits preferred by children with ASD provided strong and distinct sensory feedback and featured cause/effect results or repetitive motions. Conversely, the five least popular exhibits for children with ASD were pretend play activities, and play activities which focused on arts/crafts. At a 95% confidence interval, eleven of the twenty exhibits showed a statistically significant difference for children with ASD than would be expected by a normal distribution. Of those eleven, six were preferred less than the expected average and five were preferred more than the expected average. Preliminary results of this research study support the researchers’ hypotheses that children with ASD prefer play activities with a strong sensory component and are far less likely to engage in activities involving pretend play.
Go to article: http://najms.net/v06i03p128a/