A 2007 report from the American Academy of Pediatrics showed that children today have less time for unstructured play and fewer opportunities to use their imagination. Instead of play, their lives are marked by a more hurried lifestyle and a focus on academics or enrichment activities. Despite this decrease in unstructured play time, psychologists at Case Western Reserve University suggest that children’s imaginations aren’t suffering as a result. In an article published in the Creativity Research Journal, Faculty Associate and psychology professor Sandra Russ and doctoral student and Brisky Fellowship recipient Jessica Dillon analyzed 14 play studies that were conducted in Dr. Russ’ lab between 1985 and 2008. They found that although the amount of playtime has decreased over the years, children’s use of imagination in play has increased significantly over time.
The focus of Dr. Russ’ research are the effects of pretend play on child development.. Research in her lab has shown that children who use their imagination and express emotion during play have enhanced problem solving skills, creativity, and emotion regulation. In their analysis Russ and Dillon sought to examine if having less time for unstructured play affected the processes in play that influence cognition and emotional development. They found that even though children have less time to play, the cognitive processes that occur in play are still continuing to develop.
Dr. Russ believes believes these results demonstrate the resiliency of children and their inherent need for unstructured play time. She also suggests that video games or the increased complexity of the world that children live in may be contributing to this increase in imagination. Future research will need to investigate if expressing emotion and imagination in play is still as important in helping children develop creativity. Although children have less time for unstructured play, Dr. Russ still encourage parents to find time for it, because it facilitates cognitive and emotional development.
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