Coming together to talk about play…

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Last week I was a bit perplexed when I received my Parenting magazine in the mail.  On the cover was a black and white image of a child dressed as Steve Jobs with a headline that read, “Raise the Next Steve Jobs.”  I stared at the cover as my mind bounced from thought to thought:

1. “Wow, Steve Jobs was brilliant.  Probably one of the most brilliant men of my time.”

2. “Ooh, I wonder what they will tell me I can do to make my boys brilliant too!”

3. “Hum, wasn’t Steve a bit of an odd duck?  Do I want to intentionally raise a brilliant oddball?  What is more important IQ or EQ?”

I should have stopped at thought three and abandoned the article.  But no…I often find myself reading these parenting magazines cover to cover, even though I am one of the people who is often sought out by parents to give the advice about schooling and learning.  Sometimes I feel like I need to read these magazines to tell me what I should, could, would do…so I read them religiously.

I’ll admit, the article itself wasn’t the problem.  However, a sidebar was included detailing behaviors that made a child “average”, “smart”, or “brilliant.”  I think every parent that read that sidebar thought, “Wow!  My kid is brilliant!”  For example, for age two, they list the following behaviors as barometers for intelligence: An average kid speaks simple phrases while a smart kid speaks three-word phrases and a brilliant one will string 4 words together into a sentence.    So, what does it mean when my two-year old responds to my inquiry with a hand on his chin, “Well actually, Mom, I think I would like to have pancakes not french tofu (french toast) for breckix (breakfast).”  Does that mean my kid is four times as brilliant as the average brilliant kid?  I don’t think so.  I think the milestones listed in this article are way off and are making parents think their kids are gifted when they are not necessarily so.

Earlier this week, I blogged about feeling as though I need to compete with other moms to prepare attractive and healthy lunches for my kids.  Outside of the Super Mom competition I described in that post, there is also playground competition between parents to make sure everyone thinks their toddler is Super Kid.  Sure, like any other parent, I hope my kids are intelligent.  But more so, I hope they are happy, confident, and caring.  On the playground, while a random woman blabs to me about how her one child talked at *gasp* 6 months and how her 2 year-old is learning Mandarian Chinese, I look over at Buddy who is scrambling up the stairs to the slide while talking off his friend’s ear about doody.  I momentarily size him up to the others.  And then I remember.  He’s two.  He’s playing. He’s experimenting with language. That’s what he should be doing.  I don’t need to sign him up for Chinese lessons…this week.

Tonight I attended Dr. Kathy Hirsh-Pasek’s seminar on teaching preschoolers through play.  Co-author of the award-winning book, Einstein Never Used Flashcards, Hirsh-Pasek reminded an attentive group of parents and educators that both free and guided play are essential to children’s development.  Advising us to hold back on over scheduling our kids, she assured us it was okay to give our children the freedom to play.  Most importantly, she taught us there is too much “content” in the world for children to memorize, so instead of training our children to remember factoids, we should spend the time to help our children become innovative thinkers who can evaluate and synthesize the information they encounter each day.

I’ll admit, as a literacy professor, I knew most of what she had to say already – but I needed a good reminding that the afternoon Buddy, Little Guy, and I had just spent playing trains had not been wasted time – it had been learning.

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  1. Read the same article recently. I wonder where the barometers are from and how they really do play out down the line.

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