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The Hood Magazine

A Different Perspective on Early Childhood Learning

02/25/2018 04:06PM ● By Digital Media Director

By: Jenny Miller, Outdoor Immersion Play

Creative. Adaptable. Able to work as part of a team. Able to make decisions and solve problems. Able to plan, organize and prioritize tasks.

Sounds like attributes a potential employer may be looking for, don’t they? Well, you’re right! These are actually some of the skills potential employers are looking for in the current job market according to articles in national business magazines. 

 Now, what if I told you that these skills all start in the sandbox? Yup, you read that right.  Whether or not a person has the specific skills listed above depends on their executive functioning and self-regulation skills. The Center on the Developing Child at Harvard University defines executive functioning and self-regulation skills as “the mental processes that enable us to plan, focus attention, remember instructions, and juggle multiple tasks successfully.” We are not born with these skills, but they are developed through healthy relationships and interactions during a child’s early years. Children hone these skills through practice. The way children practice these skills is through play, and in particular child-led play. The word “self” in “self-regulation” is key – kids who are always told what to do and how to do it may not develop the means and motivation necessary to fully develop in this area.

Here's where the sandbox comes in. We don’t need to tell children how to use a sandbox, they will just go there with their friends and start playing. During the course of their play they will have to be creative and make a plan. They will have to prioritize and organize the different parts of what they are making. They will have to work as a team to carry out their plan. They may run into problems, which they will have to adapt to and solve. It may come easily or it may be very difficult depending on a variety of factors such as weather, how detailed their plan is, and whether or not they agree with the other children every step of the way. The child will learn to persevere and meet their goals, and will carry those small lessons forward into their next play experience. 

All childhood experiences build upon one another to determine a person’s level of executive functioning and self-regulation skills as an adult. As parents it is our responsibility to make sure our children have enough unstructured playtime for their brains to develop properly while they are young. These skills lay a proper foundation for future learning, and should not be overlooked even though they are difficult to measure.  With so many fun activities and amazing new technologies for our kids to experience these days, it is too easy for busy families to ignore play as a childhood need. In the best interests of healthy child development we need to be conscious about making time for our children to play just as we make time for other activities. Do your child’s brain development a favor and make some time for PLAY today!!