We are reminded every time a new iPod or Facebook upgrade hits the market or a new smart phone is introduced to the public that technology is providing the power to transform our environment. The popularity of video game systems like Nintendo’s Wii, Sony’s Playstation I, II, and III and the many portable electronic handhelds have brought about social change and how people interact with each other. The first thing that comes to mind when talking about play are electronics and toys, kids staying indoors with their stuff.
“It’s interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys,” says Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University. His work argues that when children of past times played they engaged in freewheeling imaginative play. Kids were police officers and robbers, kings and queens, or action heroes and bad guys. What Chudacoff has found is that children spent most of their time doing what looked like nothing at all. “They improvised play, whether it was in the outdoors… or whether it was on a street corner or somebody’s back yard,” Chudacoff says. “They improvised their own play; they regulated their play; they made up their own rules.”
Today a child is more likely to play Star Wars with a light saber instead of playing pirate with a tree branch. Kids are more likely to sit indoors in front of a television set instead of unearthing lost civilizations buried in a family’s flower or vegetable garden. Our world today is the reason imagination comes under siege. However, summer camps like Oasis Day Camp create safe environments and we also do something more: for parents worried about achievement, we offer to enrich a child’s mind.
As owners of Oasis Summer Day Camp, and specialists in child development, we understand allowing time for make-believe allows children to develop critical cognitive skills called executive functioning. Executive functioning has several elements but a core component is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control emotions and behavior, temper impulses, and exert discipline.
Oasis Summer Day Camp realizes make-believe is a vital component during child development because it promotes inner dialogue about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it; a sort of inner speech. Allowing campers moments for unstructured play also provides opportunities to monitor or manage themselves. We believe when this opportunity is provided the results are clear: self-regulation improves. In a world that promotes no “down time” and relies heavily on technology to keep busy we have devalued an activity that helps children. Oasis Summer Day Camp values a little free time, time that is not such a waste after all!