PLAY is Not a Four Letter Word.

Updated: Feb 28, 2020


The pressure is on! In today’s fast-paced, fiercely competitive world, parents want to give their young children an edge on learning. Parents struggle to turn out children that no college can refuse and no employer let go. Is it any wonder then, that the baby-educating toy category is now a one-billion-dollar-a-year-business? According to one recent survey, 65% of parents believe that flash cards are “very effective” in helping 2-year-olds develop their intellectual capacity. So moms and dads drill their little ones with “Baby Webster” vocabulary cards, then take a break by popping in a “Baby Einstein” videotape. The irony is that 30 years of accumulated scientific knowledge have taught us that faster is not better.

Yet the crisis continues as young children are pushed to achieve and produce in ways that are antithetical to how children learn best. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff, developmental psychologists who specialize in how children learn, and mothers who have felt the pressure themselves, urge parents and educators to address this crisis and help their children become life-long learners. In their groundbreaking book, they liberate caring adults from the cult of achievement and present a better way to grow smart kids. Research overwhelmingly shows that a child’s intellectual awakening takes place during the normal adult-child interactions that occur in everyday, purposeful activities. “Parents easily foster self-confident learners through activities that gently challenge children to reach the edge of their developmental level, but not beyond,” Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff assure.

“Playful environments and spontaneous learning opportunities hold the keys for a happy, emotionally healthy, and intelligent child—and for a fulfilled parent.” Parents and teachers

need to be guides in helping children learn in a meaningful way that incorporates play. They also need to recognize their critical role in helping children gain emotional intelligence, which is just as important as IQ for success in life. When children play with blocks or divide their share of candy with a friend, they are learning the foundation for mathematics. When children “put on a show” for their parents using a story they heard at preschool, they are practicing skills that are the foundations for language and reading. When parents make it safe for children to talk about their feelings, they give them the building blocks for emotional health. When asked what about the Tiger Mom approach, Dr Golinkoff stressed: “It’s not all about achievement. It’s about social skills too which are crucial for success in today’s economy where international boundaries are melting away. She got some things right and some things wrong. Parenting takes a lot of time but belittling your kids is not supported in any way.”

10 Fun Ways To Help Your Child Learn Naturally

1. Think outside of the box - literally.

Stop buying into fancy boxes containing “state-of-the-art” devices with exorbitant claims to build your child’s brain. Instead, take your cues from your child. Take the time to notice what your child is interested in.

2. Plan a field trip - to your own back yard.

It’s great to travel to the farm or to the zoo, but you don’t need to go that far to build your child’s brain. Kids can get a tremendous amount of intellectual stimulation from their own back yard, where they can witness the miracle of blades of grass blowing in the wind, of ants building homes, and of tiny life teeming down in the dirt.

3. Find the numbers everywhere.

Just as you can find rectangles in the buildings and hexagons in stop signs, numbers appear at every juncture of your child’s life. When your little one evenly divides her French fries with a friend or makes sure there is enough cake for everyone at the table, she is doing mathematics.

4. Encourage your child to learn number sense in context.

We all learn better when we learn something meaningful. A 5-year-old learns more about the power of money when he has to earn his own dollar at a lemonade stand (and sees how much it buys him) than he will ever learn from flash cards.

5.Show your child that reading is fun.

If you share you enthusiasm about reading and your children see you absorbed in a book or newspaper, you will indirectly be teaching the importance and enjoyment of reading.

6.Engage in dialogic reading. Just reading to a child is not enough.

Ask the child to consider alternative outcomes, relate what’s on the page to his own experience, and talk about the letters and words you encounter.

7.Don’t insist that there is only one right way to do something.

If your child comes up with a novel solution to a problem, thats great!

8.Make space for social time.

Children sometimes just need to hang out with friends or to be by themselves. It might seem as if they are doing “nothing”, but there’s a lot to learn. Children need to be able to be spontaneous.

9.Let your child take the lead.

When you make play into work by controlling it, your children will lose interest and you will miss out on seeing them imagine.

10. Join in the fun.

Joining children in play is perhaps the hardest challenge parents have to meet.


Our Children REALLY Learn - and Why They Need to Play

More and Memorize Less by Kathy Hirsh-Pasek, Ph.D., and Roberta

Michnik Golinkoff, Ph.D. (Rodale Books; October 2003)