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‘Real play’ has an important role in early childhood development

China Daily – Dora Ho Choi-wa

“In Chinese societies, play has been considered a waste of time and energy, and is believed to be harmful to learning. Hence we have the Chinese proverbs: “Riding a hobby saps one’s will to make progress”; and “Progress in learning depends on diligent work rather than play”. But in reality, contradictory to such traditional Chinese thinking, during play children have to come up with solutions when faced with problems. This propels their cognitive development. Also, when children engage themselves in interactive communication with peers, they will learn some new vocabulary. In addition, the social context of a play environment requires children to regulate their emotions and collaborate with others. To elaborate, during play, whether they play or fight, they will have to assume several roles – a friend, a protector, a defender, a judge, etc, and they will have to learn to empathize, analyze, assess, share and so on. This promotes children’s affective, emotional and social development. Besides, playing involves physical activity and this improves their bodily development so children grow up healthy. In view of the advantages mentioned so far, play does not sap children’s will but helps them to gain all-round personal development.”(more)

Why Kids Need Unstructured Play—And Why They’re Not Getting It

Independent Women’s Forum – Rachel DiCarlo Currie

“…here’s what a team of researchers from the University of Virginia concluded after studying changes in U.S. public-school kindergarten classrooms between 1998 and 2010: Our findings suggest a shift toward more challenging (and potentially more engaging) literacy and math content. However, they also highlight a concerning drop in time spent on art, music, science, and child-selected activities…As the UVA team indicated, there are potential benefits to the new regime. Yet it is indeed troubling that, in their eagerness to make kindergarten more “academic,” teachers and administrators seem to be reducing opportunities for children to explore their imaginations, improve their creativity, and cultivate key social skills…All of this has implications for children’s brain development. “The experience of play”—unstructured play, that is—“changes the connections of the neurons at the front end of your brain,” University of Lethbridge scientist Sergio Pellis has explained. “And without play experience, those neurons aren’t changed.”…The bottom line is that, far from being a frivolous distraction, unstructured play is an essential complement to classroom instruction.”(more)

Physical Activity Primes Children’s Brains For Academic Excellence, Finds Study

Medical Daily – Lecia Bushak

“By now, researchers have pretty much solidified the notion that exercise is good for physical and mental health. One recent study, for example, found that running preserves a protein in the brain that protects cognitive function and improves memory. But in light of the childhood obesity epidemic, how can we encourage children to exercise more? In a new report, 24 researchers from eight different countries gathered to create a consensus on the impact of physical activity on kids’ health. They focused primarily on studies that examined the health of children aged 6 to 18, and analyzed the effects of exercise on children’s fitness, health, cognitive function, motivation, and mental and social health. The report defines physical activity as “an overarching term that consists of many structured and unstructured forms within school and out-of-school-time contexts, including organized sports, physical education, outdoor recreation, motor skill development programs, recess, and active transportation such as biking and walking.'”(more)

Physical activity builds stronger bones, even in children with genetic risk

Science Daily – Staff Writer

“Exercise, particularly high-impact activity, builds stronger bones in children, even for those who carry genetic variants that predispose them to bone weakness, according to new research. The scientists say their findings underscore that genetics does not necessarily equate to destiny, and reinforce the importance of physical activity as a key factor to improve the bone health of children in the present and into later life.”(more)

Summertime play enhances school year learning

Faribault Daily News – Gloria Olson

“Signed the kids up for lots of activities this summer? Driving them here and there for sports, lessons and other structured activities? Good for you … maybe. Just so you leave plenty of time for play. The most ambitious research study ever confirms the importance of physical activity for brain health, especially the thinking skills that most affect academic performance. It’s even been shown that math and reading test scores rise when children go for a brisk walk beforehand. Sports teams can provide some of that physical activity as long as there’s not too much prescribed play and bench time. But old-fashioned running, jumping, chasing and similar free-time activities have the most benefit.”(more)

‘Get children playing outdoors’ to improve academic success and reduce obesity

Science Daily – Staff Writer

“The Active Healthy Kids Scotland Report Card 2016 has found that children’s physical activity levels are continuing to fall well short of recommended levels…The researchers have proposed that strategies to promote physical activity and reduce screen time should place a higher emphasis on playing actively outdoors, something children could potentially do 365 days a year…Professor John Reilly, of Strathclyde’s School of Psychological Sciences and Health, led the study. He said: “The amount of time children spend in front of screens has had an impact on their wellbeing for many years. The popularity of computer games and the emergence of the internet, smartphones, and social media have contributed further to this problem…Play benefits children in helping them to develop socially and emotionally, so promoting active outdoor play would have many benefits in addition to improving physical activity, improving academic attainment, and reducing obesity.””(more)