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The Power of Play

Whether it's a family checkers tournament or an afternoon spent examining anthills in the backyard, play is an integral part of a happy, healthy childhood. The following collection of articles and essays offer a starting point for exploring how children play and how powerful play can be. Play helps us become creative and critical thinkers, and guides us to be more productive and socially adept. Play keeps us imaginative and curious. What can we do to encourage play? We can give our children the time, the space and the tools; the rest is up to them. Old cardboard tubes, used Styrofoam packing, scraps of yarn ... these may seem like ordinary objects you might naturally want to toss out. Don't. In the hands of your child, they are gold. They are building blocks of a powerful learning experience called open-ended play. While parental involvement is key to great playtime experiences, parents shouldn't feel a need to join in every aspect of their child's play. In fact, active time spent alone or with peers is an equally important part of a child's development. Invention at Play, a hands-on exhibition created by the Smithsonian’s Lemelson Center and the Science Museum of Minnesota, takes a new look at invention by exploring its relationship to play in the past, present, and future. So why don't I like edutainment? The problem is with the way that creators of today's edutainment products tend to think about learning and education. Too often, they view education as a bitter medicine that needs the sugar-coating of entertainment to become palatable. Free your mind of preconceptions of what toys should look like; think of how children play. Then head for the nearest supermarket, an old-fashioned five and dime (if you're lucky enough to find one; otherwise, try a craft or discount store), or even the hardware store. Walking into a toy store these days feels like walking into the movie Toy Story: it seems as if all of the toys have come to life. Start talking to a teddy bear, and it talks back to you. Sing a song to the bear, and it starts dancing. The technology is amazing. But are these toys really what's best for children?


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