If you’re a regular reader of our blog you will know that we do a lot of research into trends in the way children play and the effects of outdoor play. We came across this fascinating study recently that in fact showed children’s imaginations have increased despite the fall in the amount of unstructured play they get.
The study was carried out by Psychologists Jessica Dillon and Sandra Russ and chartered the way children played over two decades. It looked back at studies conducted by Russ between 1985 and 2008 and both Russ and Dillon admit to being shocked by their discovery. We all know that children are now busier than they have ever been and as parents we often feel more like PA’s and taxi drivers than Mums and Dads, and a common assumption is perhaps that their imaginations are suffering as a result. The study would show this isn’t so.
“We were surprised that outside of imagination and comfort, play was consistent over time,” said Dillon. But even with the lack of time to play, Russ said, children, like some other forms of higher mammals, have a drive to play and always will find ways to do it.
Children aged between 6-10 were asked to play freely with 3 wooden blocks and 2 human hand puppets for just five minutes. This was kept the same throughout each experiment over the years. This play session was then taped, analysed and scored for imagination, expression of emotions, actions and storytelling. They found that children’s imaginations have in fact increased, they have less negative feelings in play and also the ability to express a wide range of emotions, tell stories and organise thoughts has stayed the same.
All this being said Russ, a professor in psychological sciences, advises giving children time for unstructured play. It is still important for them to be involved in play and to take part in activities that aren’t necessarily structured. It helps children to develop their emotional and cognitive abilities.
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