Kids today have far less time for play than some of us remember having in our youths. Between the curtailing of school recess periods, participation in after school and weekend activities and the reluctance of parents to leave their children unsupervised, kids seem to have next to no time for unstructured play. What little time is available is often spent on video and computer games, rather than on playing with toys. What effect has this had on children’s creativity?
To find out, Sandra Russ and Jessica Dillon of Case Western Reserve University compiled data on children at play. Fortuitously, Russ has been conducting studies on children’s play for decades and has videos of children’s play sessions going back to the ‘80’s. The sessions were all administered and scored the same way using the Affect in Play Scale (APS). The APS correlates well to creativity, divergent thinking, coping ability and emotional understanding, though not to intelligence.
Each study followed the exact same protocol so that results could be compared over the years. A 6 to 10 year-old child is presented with two neutral-looking human hand puppets and three wooden blocks to use as she likes. The child is told that the researcher is hoping to learn about play, so please play with the toys and have the puppets speak out loud for the video camera. I’m sure those instructions weren’t at all off-putting for the kids.
In any case, comparing fourteen studies done from 1985 to 2008, the children’s APS scores slowly but steadily increased. In particular, imagination and enjoyment scores have been going up.
Clearly, the lack of free time has not been detrimental to children’s imaginations. Nor has the increased usage of electronic games. That said, I wouldn’t like to see unstructured playtime diminish any further. I’m sure the kids are with me on that one.
Watch Russ describe her research below: