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Let your kids play or they might become ADHD (or worse... not test well)

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Lead from the Start: Let your kids play or they might become ADHD (or worse... not test well)

Thursday, March 06, 2008

Let your kids play or they might become ADHD (or worse... not test well)

There are a bunch of issues tied up in the recent NPR series on "executive function" development and the "serious play" of kids that are bound to be a bruhaha of bloggers-a-buzz with comments, opinions, scientific and anecdotal evidence confirming and denying what preschool teachers have known for a very long time. Play is good. For everyone.

I see these articles fitting into a general shift in consciousness that has percolated up from NCLB and other standards type reforms that, because they are not based on reality, would only work if we had a set of test ready tots. So I am faced with the same disillusionment that I looked at the Yes We Can video. Kids need to play, because of well, a lot of things including executive function. Also, it develops creativity, social/emotional well being, imagination, emergent language and literacy, logical thinking, and the ability to live as a proactive member of society. I have learned that you can develop all of the higher level thinking skills and content knowledge in play.

At the same time the article seems to be bent towards the idea that we should let kids play so that they are more compliant members of society. To borrow an idea from musician and professor, Dr. Kurt Stemhagen, "We need to feed poor kids free breakfast at school because it is the right moral/ethical thing to do, not because it increases test scores." I feel the same way about play which is why I have a hard time with the following.

According to executive function researcher Adele Diamond, all of these little exercises genuinely do improve the ability of children to control themselves. Diamond, professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of British Columbia, recalls the very first time she ever set foot in a Tools of the Mind classroom.

"I was totally blown away. The kids were sitting together working quietly. It was like a second-grade classroom instead of a preschool classroom. I couldn't believe it," Diamond says.

Later, trying to do another one of those things that researchers love to do, she applies a finding in one area to a problem in another area.

Diamond says there are potential benefits to this training that go beyond improved executive-function scores. She and several other researchers argue that children's reduced self-regulation skills may be showing up in the numbers of kids diagnosed with Attention Deficit Hyperactivity Disorder.

"I think a lot of kids get diagnosed with ADHD now, not all but many just because they never learned how to exercise self-control, self-regulation, the executive functions early," she says.

So here we are with kids who are diagnosed with ADHD because they didn't develop self control. Is it possible this is true? Yes, but I hope we don't just let our kids play because we are afraid they will become ADHD, Or, so that they will pass a test.


At 7:58 AM, Blogger Stemhagen said...

I have to credit Nel Noddings with the "why we ought to feed kids" argument (I believe she makes it in Happiness and Education). The same sort of argument happens all the time. Take, for example, an article I saw recently about research that found that it costs more in later incarceration than it does to educate well in the first place. The study's authors concluded that since it'll cost more to put students in prison that it well to educate them well that we ought to spend the money needed to educate them well in the first place. Think about this for a moment...according to this way of thinking, if prison was less expensive, then we should opt for mass incarceration over free public education.

Interestingly, I've spoken with several classes about this study and the students tend to feel that the researchers were just making the kind of argument they needed to make in order to make the case for increased funding for schools. I think that this is a dangerous business, as once we start justifying things only according to their ability to make other things happen (an instrumental justification) we reduce the likelihood that anyone will listen to us if we make a moral or other sort of justification for something.

A good example of this is the way that music education has been touted as a way to boost math scores. While this might, in the short term, allow music ed. to get more funding (or at least to be allowed to continue) it also make sit less likely that we’ll be able to talk about why music matters for anything other than instrumental reasons. If we later find out that music doesn’t actually boost math scores, that shouldn’t make it any less important a part of the curriculum. The trouble is if we argue for the music-math links we are arguing, in at least a little way, against the worth of music education on its own.

Getting back to why we feed kids, it seems obvious that it should have absolutely nothing to do with studies that link nutrition to test scores!

At 8:02 AM, Blogger Stemhagen said...

I got cut off before I could type my last couple of lines...

It's incredibly disturbing to think that it could even be suggested that kids will only be allowed to play if it can be demonstrated that play and ADHD are inversely proportional.

At 5:23 AM, Blogger Kelly - PTT said...

Very interesting post. I like your site. I'm a pre-K counselor, and will return for more insight on this age student. Thank you!

Here via COE - my Flat Stanely post is included as well.

At 2:29 PM, Blogger Jose said...

The first thing that comes to mind reading this is how my kids don't even have any recess. They need to get all that excess energy out of their systems, thus preventing teachers from having to wonder when the kids will be quiet and get back to work. Wow.

At 3:11 PM, Blogger loonyhiker said...

What about that old saying about "All work and no play makes Jack (and Jill) a dull boy (girl)"? I think play is an important tool in teaching social skills as children reach different developmental levels. In fact, I think it is harmful and negligent by not letting children play.


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