It may be a new school year, yet I come to sing the praises of trampolines and bubble-blowing, pillow forts and peekaboo, Monopoly and Marco Polo.
A new paper in the journal Pediatrics summarizes the evidence for letting kids let loose. "Play is not frivolous," the paper insists, twice. "It is brain building." The authors — Michael Yogman, Andrew Garner, Jeffrey Hutchinson, Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff — ask pediatricians to take an active role by writing a "prescription for play" for their young patients in the first two years of life.
"Play is disappearing," says Hirsh-Pasek, a developmental psychologist who is a professor at Temple University and a senior fellow at the Brookings Institution. By targeting doctors, she explains, the paper hopes to build on the success of a literacy initiative called Reach Out and Read. That program reaches nearly 5 million children annually by giving out children's books at doctor visits. "You have an opportunity there" to change behavior, she says.
Prescribing play for kids? Really?
It's a sign that "we're living in different times," comments Anthony DeBenedet, a doctor, and co-author of The Art of Roughhousing and the author of Playful Intelligence, who was not involved in the paper. But he calls the article "beautiful" in the way it marshals the hard evidence in favor of climbing trees and talking on banana phones.