Kids play less, but imagination soars

Despite less time for free play, children play more imaginatively, according to researchers who’ve tracked children’s play for 23 years.

In an analysis published in May 2011 in the Creativity Research Journal and posted online last month, researchers from Case Western University in Cleveland found elementary school children in 2008 were significantly more imaginative and took greater comfort in playing make-believe than their counterparts in 1985 despite having less time either during or after school for free play.

Children ages 6 to 10 are videotaped for five minutes each while playing with three blocks and two hand-puppets, reports Ed Week. Researchers analyze each child’s imagination, emotional expression, actions, and storytelling.
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Children who rate highly in imaginative and emotional play “show better coping skills, creativity, and problem solving than students who rate low on the play scale,” according to Sandra Russ, a psychology professor who co-authored the study.

Children average eight fewer hours of unstructured playtime each week than they did 25 years ago, according to David Elkind, a professor emeritus of child development at Tufts. That excludes video games or organized sports. He blames overprotective parents.

Russ thinks children are finding ways to “sneak in” pretend play. “Children are resilient,” she said. “It’s possible they are playing more than we think they are, that they’re squeezing it in somewhere during the day, at night, when they’re not being taken to sports or dancing class.”

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