Friday, February 29, 2008

Play fosters self regulation

Organizing play for kids has never seemed like more work. But researchers Adele Diamond and Deborah Leong have good news: The best kind of play costs nothing and really only has one main requirement — imagination.

Researchers say unstructured play helps children learn to control their own emotions and behavior -- abilities that are a better predictor of a child's academic success than IQ. The regulated play many modern children experience doesn't foster such skills because the control has shifted to adults, which is something several researchers suspect may be behind the rising number of ADHD diagnoses. "I think a lot of kids get diagnosed with ADHD now, not all but many just because they never learned how to exercise ... the executive functions early," neuroscientist Adele Diamond says.

But, while all that play might have looked a lot like time spent doing nothing much at all, it actually helped build a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of elements, such as working memory and cognitive flexibility. But perhaps the most important is self-regulation — the ability for kids to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline. Executive function — and its self-regulation element — is important. 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.

More on play.