The Power of Play: A Review of Part 1, The Changing World of Play

I happen to be one of those lucky moms whose toddler sleeps a good 12-13 hours a night, so I actually have time for reading and blogging. I have to admit, I’m pretty spoiled and need to mentally prepare myself for a new baby to dominate my time again. However, with some of this free time, I’m reading the book The Power of Play, by David Elkind, Ph.d. It’s been an interested read so far and I recommend this book for parents and professionals who work with children. Even with my training in play therapy, I’m learning a lot about the purpose of play and what is really out there to help our kids develop appropriately.

Part 1: The Changing World of Play

His book covers so many angles of play and child development that it’s hard to put into words just one focus or idea in this section. It’s the wide range of ideas that prompted me to go ahead and write a review of this book in parts. There are 4 chapters in this section titled “Play, Love, and Work: An Essential Trio,” “Toys Aren’t Us,” “Screen Play and Iconic Literacy,” and “Child Play and Parent Angst.” Now that I’m writing these down, I can see how this book may seem dry for many readers, but I assure you, Dr. Elkind is a fun and creative writer!

He starts off with some statistics on play. Here are a few that stuck with me-

  • Children have lost 12 hours of free time a week, including 8 hours of unstructured play and outdoor activities in the last 20 years.
  • Over the last 2 decades, the amount of time kids spend in organized sports has doubled.
  • Over 20 percent of the child population suffers from emotional, behavioral, and developmental problems, which are suspected to be partly a result of the change in their play activities.

The last bullet point should really get people’s attention. It seems that something is wrong. We have more “educational toys” than ever and the organized sports are meant to be a good thing for our kids. So what is the problem? These types of questions are addressed in the first section. Now, I am not what you would call an extremist in my approach to most things. If studies say that drinking cokes are bad for you, I will probably let myself splurge on a coke every now and then. Life is about balance, which is why I was glad to read the author also has a similar approach. Organized sports and “educational” toys are not bad for kids, and I believe have a positive purpose and outcome. However, they need to be limited just like anything else. I have touched on this topic before, but kids need unstructured, free play. This book explained the developmental reasons for this much better than I could, even breaking it up by developmental ages (infant, elementary, adolescents, etc.)

The author also talks about the history of toys, benefits of toys, and types of toys. I thought it was an interesting point that the older toys, such as the wooden wind up ones, served a greater developmental purpose than the plastic, electronic toys today. From a sensory approach, toys used to be mostly wooden, cotton, and other “warmer” materials that appeal to a child’s senses, much more than a plastic toy ever will. And take a wind up toy for example. Kids like to explore and figure out how things work. A winding toy is not so complicated that a child can take it apart and experiment to figure out how it works, thereby rewarding them for their engineering efforts, increasing their self esteem, and encourage further exploration. There is no way a child can figure out how a computer chip works!

Another key point he makes is how children are now viewed as consumers. Most will agree that the constant advertising to children, despite what may be in their best interest, puts a lot of pressure on parents today. We don’t want our kids to be “left out” because they don’t have the latest talking cartoon character or xbox game. What a difficult struggle this makes for many parents!

And finally, he goes into the specific media in our society today- tv, computers, video game systems. There are reviews on specific programs for kids, such as Leapfrog products and Baby Einstein for tots, and Spy Fox and Professor Fizzwizzle for school-age kids. I have not played these games, nor has my toddler, but it’s a good reference for parents if you would like an educated assessment of the good and the bad in these products.

I’m in Part 2, “Play, Learning, and Development” now and so far so good! I’ll post a review on this section when I get through. I’m always up for recommendations on good books so if you have one I would love to hear!

You may also like to read my review on Brain Rules for Baby.

Check out my collection of books I have ready, am currently reading, or want to read at!

Author: Kim Peterson, MA, LPC-S, RPT

Kim is a Licensed Professional Counselor, Clinical Supervisor, and Registered Play Therapist in Dallas, Texas.

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