Our Future Leaders Need Play NOW
Acey Holmes, MS, CCC-SLP is a pediatric speech pathologist passionate about play for all children and families. She is the founder/owner of Solve Learn Play, a company dedicated to partnering with toy inventors, game makers, and app developers to modify and improve their creations so all children (including those with speech-language disorders) can be successful with their products. She has a Masters in Communication Sciences and Disorders and is licensed to practice in Colorado, which she does full-time via teletherapy currently. As a Genius of Play Ambassador, her goal is to spread the good news of play all over the globe.
4 Ways Play Can Help Make Your Child a Leader
- Allow time for uninstructed free play with materials of their choice
- Model playful behavior at home
- Encourage imagination in play (allow them to change rules, add stages)
- Basic is best, no need for flashing lights, bells and whistles
Our communities “shut down” in March 2020. It seemed like each week going forward, we wondered if it would be the following month that our kids could go back to school. More than a year later, we are looking to return with a backpack filled with snacks, pencils, a water bottle, and masks. Of course, kids haven’t completely gone *without* education, but as we all know, it was emergency school. What have our children missed over the past year? The news and social media are full of headlines expressing such dire need for “make up” school. How will we catch the children up? How can we help them overcome the missed opportunity for endless math worksheets and science lectures? I argue we don’t.
Our focus, now more than ever, should be on letting the children PLAY. Extensive research across many fields of study have proven the vast benefits of play. Yes, our children missed that unit on the Mesopotamians and learned fractions from us (I wasn’t the only one sneaking my phone calculator under the table or asking Alexa for the answer, was I?). However, more important than that, our children missed out on PLAY. Studies are showing that toy sales (building sets, puzzles, etc.) boomed last year during lockdowns, indicating that a lot of us were playing with our children at home, but none of them were on the playground at recess scheming how many of them needed to push to get someone to the top level of the bar.
Which is more important? Social and child-driven free play? Or academics? I believe if we provide children with legitimate opportunities for play, academics will fall in place.
In the 19th century, the economy was based on holdings of land. In the 20th century, this was replaced with capital. For our current 21st century, and the future of our children, KNOWLEDGE is considered the most important component for a successful information-based economy. However, this doesn’t refer to academic knowledge, but a wider spread of soft skills including innovation, creativity, and agility.
If we push our children back into school harder than ever before, these skills will not be developed. These skills, along with others such as collaboration, communication, problem-solving, adaptability, cognition (working memory, sustained attention, response inhibition, etc.), self-regulation, and socio-emotional awareness, are best enhanced through play.
You’ve probably seen the meme that says something like “if you’re worried about the economy now, just wait 20 years until our country is run by adults that were homeschooled by parents who were day drunk for six months straight”. Despite the joke (at which I laughed very hard more than once), I believe we can create more impressive leaders than ever before. Generally, though academics obviously play a core role, the goal of providing all children with education is to prepare them to be functional members of our society, to be successful, to be happy, to be leaders in their communities.
What is a leader? Leadership characteristics are no longer assessed by studying the CEO of a 1990s Fortune 500 company: strict, demanding, work-obsessed, numbers-driven. Leadership is now characterized by integrity, communication, gratitude, influence, courage, self-awareness, learning agility, empathy, respect, and the ability to delegate. So, as we look back over the past year and determine what our children missed, how much they need to “catch up”, I believe we should focus on the development of those leadership skills. And those leadership skills are best learned through play – social, child-driven, free play in a variety of settings with a variety of materials.
Schools are well-equipped to provide this for all children. Standardized testing, especially in young children, has been proven to be a worthless form of assessment for the development of skills. It should be drastically reduced if not eradicated. Play should take up most of a school day. Every possible academic topic can be taught through play. With so much talk of “what was normal anyways”, this is our opportunity to make a new normal, one that embraces the true needs of children.