C’mon, Let’s Play!
When I hear my 3-year-old daughter say, “ssssss-nowman starts with s,” the mom side of me is ecstatic. I’m thinking, I must be raising a genius! This kid could be reading in six months!
But then the child expert side of me interrupts: Are you nuts? First of all, why does a 3-year-old need to read and, secondly, neuroscience does not support reading until the age of 8.
As a society, we get so hung up on academic skills. In fact, though, social skills, rather than academic capabilities, are a far better indicator of future success.
Ultimately, as a mom and an educator, I am most proud that I have a 3-year-old who can play. She can play with me; she can play by herself; and she can play with her peers. She develops elaborate play schemes with dragons and princesses, even in spite of the fact that I have modeled our play after phenomenal women in history! Play scenarios set aside, her activities support language development far beyond her years. Through play, she has experimented with vocabulary, grammar and sentence structure. She builds relationships in her play in which characters constructively work together to achieve a common goal.
As academic expectations quickly trickle down from grade to grade, it is imperative that we as parents not lose sight of the importance of play. It is my greatest fear that we are letting our children engage far too long in screen time and not enough in face time. When friends ask me, “What’s a good app that supports language development?” I always reply, “None.” Don’t get me wrong, I let my daughter play on the iPad from time to time, but it is not so that she can learn anything. It’s so that I can grab a few quiet minutes to tackle life as a working mom of two small children.
Language development is supported by surrounding our children with rich language experiences, but most parents may wonder: What is a rich language experience? And how on earth am I going to find time in my day to do it.
Our family’s best language experiences happen in the car when we’re using our imaginations. We pretend to suit up in our astronaut gear, then I start the countdown and we blast off into space. In the car we dodge space trees, space rocks and even space geese! We collaboratively work together to mend holes in our spacecraft. As a language expert, I’m teaching my daughter to stay on topic, to take conversational turns, to really listen to what her conversational partner is saying and ultimately, to work collaboratively, using language to solve the problem and share an experience.
Yes, I’m one of those weird people who doesn’t want my child to read at an early age. During these early years, I hope that she will have fun childhood experiences that she treasures. I hope she will develop a sense of self. I hope that she will learn to problem-solve with her friends. I hope that she will have the same experiences that I was fortunate to have as a child, when no one cared whether or not I could read at age 3, and the only work I had to do was play!
This article appeared as the March 26, 2015 blog post in BostonParents Paper.