Free Play and Life Skills Development

playA growing number of psychologists believe that changes in the way children play and what they play at and with has also changed kids’ cognitive and emotional development.

As it turns out, time spent in make-believe play, in free play, which allows a child use his or her imagination rather than engaging in structured play activities helps children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of elements, but a critical element is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with have good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and self discipline.

A study done a few years ago replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.

“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.”

Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.”

According to Berk, one reason make-believe play is such a powerful tool for building self-discipline is because during make-believe, children engage in what’s called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.

“In fact, if we compare preschoolers’ activities and the amount of private speech that occurs across them, we find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play,” Berk says. “And this type of self-regulating language has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions.

Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. Essentially, because children’s play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids’ toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren’t getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity, says Berk, the results are clear: Self-regulation improves.”

According to Yale psychological researcher Dorothy Singer, teachers and school administrators just don’t see the value and benefits of imaginative play and such play is in decline.

“Because of the testing, and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals, play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time,” Singer says. “I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills.”

As on psychologist summed it up, “With an ever growing focus on giving children every advantage our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most.”


Results of Bullying During P.E.Classes

 Brigham Young University issued a press release on January 16, 2014  bullyingsharing findings of a new study documenting that children who were the object of bullying during P.E. class or other physical activities were less likely to participate in physical activity one year later.

Study findings indicated that overweight or obese children who experienced teasing during physical activity had a lower perceived health-related quality of life (referring to physical, social, academic and emotional functioning) one year later. Even children with a healthy weight who were subjected to bullying during physical activity tended to exercise less often one year later. Many previous studies have already correlated bullying with decreased physical activity among kids who are obese or overweight, but it was surprising to find that the correlation didn’t end there.

“Our finding that this applies to normal-weight kids also was novel,” said Chad Jensen, a psychology professor at BYU and lead author on the study published in the Journal of Pediatric Psychology.

This study looked at associations between bullying, physical activity and quality of life over time, following up with the same participants after a full year.

The participants in this study were 4th and 5th grade students from six different elementary schools in the Midwest. Participants completed three surveys at the beginning of the study and then completed the same three surveys again one year later.

The first survey asked questions about problems with health and activities, emotional well-being, getting along with classmates and academic abilities. The second survey assessed teasing experiences during physical activity. The third survey asked specific situational questions to determine whether the student had been bullied during physical activity and the emotional effect it had. The questions explored experiences such as:

  • Being made fun of when playing sports or exercising.
  • Not being chosen to be on a sports team or other children looking or acting upset when the child was placed on the team.
  • Being called insulting names when playing sports or exercising.

Study results showed a decrease in physical activity of healthy-weight students who are bullied, and a decrease in health-related quality of life for students who were overweight or obese who reported teasing in the first survey.

“Overweight kids who were teased reported poorer functional ability across domains (physical, social, academic and physical),” said Jensen. “If we can help them to have a better perception of their physical and social skills, then physical activity may increase and health-related quality is likely to improve.”

While most schools participate in comprehensive anti-bullying programs, Jensen recommends implementing policies that discourage peer victimization based on physical abilities.

“We hope our study will raise awareness that educators should consider bullying prevention during physical education and free play (recess) when kids may be discouraged from being physically active because of teasing experiences,” Jensen said.



1 million in Acceleration Grants to be Awarded to Schools Across the US

I was asked to make my readers aware of the following grants program for schools.

grants ChildObesity180’s Active Schools Acceleration Project (ASAP has announced it is awarding $1 million in Acceleration Grants to give schools across America everything they need to become active schools.

 Why is physical activity programming important? It’s simple. Active schools do better. ASAP’s Innovation Competition last year discovered incredibly innovative physical activity programs happening in schools all across the country spearheaded by grassroots champions – parents, teachers, and advocates passionate about children’s health.

 Now these fun, flexible, and creative programs are ready to share with the nation. ASAP is awarding 1,000 elementary schools each with $1,000 Acceleration Grants to kick start a new program and realize all the benefits of being an active school. That’s $1 million to get America’s kids moving again in school. You choose the best match for your school:

 BOKS – A 40-minute before-school physical activity program featuring structured group play with games and drills emphasizing aerobic exertion.

 100 Mile Club – A walk/run program where students run 100 miles over the course of the school year, logging miles and earning prizes along the way.

 Just Move – A classroom-based activity program featuring an academically integrated curriculum of in-class movement breaks.

 Winning schools will receive everything they need to get started: $1,000 in seed funding, a game plan to follow and a support network of champions across the country embarking on the same path.

 Are you ready to be a champion for this cause? Are you ready to make a difference in your school? Is your school ready to join the movement?

 Teachers, parents, coaches and all school wellness champions are encouraged to apply today! Head to to learn more and get started.

Active Schools Acceleration Project is an initiative of ChildObesity180,an organization that uses evidence-based research, multi-sector leadership and an integrated portfolio of initiatives that together accelerate systemic change to reverse the childhood obesity epidemic. Learn more at

More about ASAP:

 Active Schools Acceleration Project (ASAP) is part of a new breed of entrepreneurial non-profit that is increasing quality physical activity in schools. We do this by identifying grassroots champions, developing replicable models, and bringing the funding and resources to bring physical activity programs back to schools.

 ASAP programs are simple, unintimidating and flexible enough to accommodate the unique environment and challenges of each individual school. ASAP scoured the nation to find programs pioneered by everyday people who were inspired to say “Yes we can” and now the initiative is empowering and funding new schools to adopt these proven models that are fun, creative and can make a difference.

 ASAP gives schools everything they need to jump start new programs; seed money and simple programs in their schools to get kids moving. It makes it easy and accessible for teachers, parents and community partners to make a difference in schools across the country.  Recipients of ASAP grants are recognized within the region as innovative leaders. ASAP schools are trailblazers demonstrating that fun physical activity is a fundamental component of what defines a quality education and a great school.





A Stop Bullying Message from the U.S. Dept. of Health and Human Services

bullyingThe following message about bullying comes from Nicholas Garlow with HealthBeat, a production of the U.S. Department of Health and Human Services.

Bullying can be verbal, like name calling, social, to affect reputations and relationships, or even physical, which hurts someone or their possessions. It can happen anywhere, and to anyone.

We can help kids understand bullying by talking to them about it and teaching them how to stand up to it safely.

Erin Reiney, a public health specialist at the Health Resources and Services Administration says, “If a youth is being bullied, we really need to encourage him or her to talk to a trusted adult and not keep feelings insides. It’s important for a youth to tell somebody about the bullying in order to feel less alone.”

Children, parents, educators, and communities can learn how to take action against bullying and prevent it from happening by going to

Learn more at



Why Chess Should Be a Part of Every Child’s Education

chessThe following guest post is by Laura Sherman. Ms. Sherman wrote Chess Is Child’s Play with Bill Kilpatrick. Chess Is Child’s Play teaches any parent, of any skill level, to teach any child, of any age, to play chess. This book will be released April, 2012.

Imagine a world where people all have excellent problem solving skills, where they are patient and respectful of each other on a daily basis.  A society where citizens live for the future and plan long term, thinking of where their children’s children will be, following through, seeing each goal to its conclusion with ease.  Now add to that an indefinable quality of artistic imagination, dreaming for more than can be reasonably expected, reaching beyond the status quo.

Chess can teach our next generation all these skills and more!

I learned the game when I was young and to this day I see the world as a giant chess game where any barrier can be conquered and any victory can be achieved.  No goal is impossible and when I have a target in sight there is no stopping me.  The same glint I had in my eye when I faced an opponent at a chess tournament still exists today when I face a challenge, along with the insouciant grin that comes from the pure joy of the experience.

Intuitively most would agree that chess improves a student’s grades and ability to study.  Numerous studies have been done over the years throughout the world that show this to be the case.  IQ increases, reading test results improve as do math and science scores.  However there are so many other skills children pick up naturally from learning and becoming good at chess.

Imagination is a must in chess.  You cannot form strategies and tactical plans without being able to envision your goals.  It is impossible to win a game without first imagining the victory.  You are the one to make the pieces dance to the rhythm you choose.  Without the player the pieces just sit dormant on a dusty board.

A child’s self confidence soars as the victories pile up, especially when that child can routinely trounce adults.  Allow that child to teach other children or perhaps even the adults and he or she will master the game quickly.  Nothing helps someone learn faster than teaching others and nothing does more for one’s pride than to see someone improve under one’s tutelage.

In order to achieve a victory one must consistently play well throughout the game.  You can make forty excellent moves and one thoughtless blunder and lose the game instantly.  As a result you quickly learn to be thorough in your analysis and patient with your moves.  Imagine if we all applied this little lesson to our daily lives.  Thoughtless comments, heat of the moment bursts of anger, crimes of passion might just become things of the past to be studied as a part of a history lesson.

If every parent initiated regular family chess nights and if every school taught chess as part of their daily lesson plan imagine where our country could be. 

Children naturally are drawn to chess.  If you don’t believe me try an easy experiment.  Go to an area populated with children, put out a chess set and see what happens.  I promise you they will flock to the board and become immersed in a game.  We all have the power to fuel our children’s existing passion for learning and help our next generation soar.  Let’s make a difference!






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