Roberta Golinkoff on play and learning at the Ultimate Block Party
Roberta Michnick Golinkoff believes that American children don’t get enough time to play and that it’s negatively impacting their development. With joint appointments to the Departments of Psychology and Linguistics at the University of Delaware, Dr. Golinkoff’s work has centered on the questions of how children learn language and benefit from playful learning.
On Sunday, October 3, Golinkoff will be bringing her work to life in New York’s Central Park in the Ultimate Block Party, an event she co-founded that will transform the Naumburg Bandshell area into a playground with skyscraper building challenges, dance parties and other activities aimed at reinforcing the idea that play is learning. We asked Dr. Golinkoff about the Block Party and why she sees nothing frivolous in play. (Full disclosure: Dr. Golinkoff is a family friend and I have followed her work for several years.)
Dowser: Are kids truly not playing enough?
Golinkoff: Kids aren’t getting enough play either at home or in school. Do you remember how we loved to learn? That all started in play. Kids are spending gobs of time on electronic media and they are not being engaged in school but memorizing too much. This is not what kids need to succeed in the new global economy. They need to understand what they are learning and to cultivate their creativity. All this starts in the sandbox!
What can we expect to see at the Ultimate Block Party?
About 25 activities and events that kids will love. The key is that these activities are all based on a nugget of science. We will be giving out a 75-page playbook for free that contains information on play and playful learning. The book will also have activities to continue to do at home.
Can you tell me a little bit about Play for Tomorrow, the event organizers?
We are a small group of five who care deeply about our children’s future and the future of our country. This is a problem like global warming. If we don’t address it now then kids won’t be prepared to be in the workforce in 2040. We will continue to fall behind.
What do you see as the future of the Ultimate Block Party?
This is really the kick-off for a whole movement. We will have an Ultimate Block Party each year in other states and countries, and a website called LEARN that will give away the science of learning. We will also have a publishing arm that will begin with the book, Becoming: The Genius of Child’s Play, which will showcase well-known individuals and how they played.
What do you see as the long-term goals of promoting play?
We want to change the way Americans think about play and about education. We are not serving our children well — as all the international indicators show — and the answer is not drill and kill. It’s to help kids learn by becoming engaged and interested and not memorizing facts that will be out of date in a year. The world is changing so fast that kids need skills to become life-long learners!
What is it about play that if kids don’t have it, they’ll be unprepared to be a part of the workforce in 2040?
We used to think that all kids needed for success was the three R’s [reading, writing and arithmetic]. But now, with the world the size of a walnut, and knowledge doubling every 2.5 years, kids need a set of skills to succeed that they didn’t need as much in the past.
We talk about the six C’s: collaboration (teamwork, social skills); communication (speaking, writing, listening, taking another’s point of view); content (reading, math, history and science, arts and music, to name a few); critical thinking (evaluating and interpreting the breadth and depth of information available); creative innovation (moving beyond what is known); and confidence (risk taking, perseverance). So if kids only get the 3 R’s they will be unprepared to help us maintain our economic preeminence and our standard of living will decline. And kids need these skills for their personal happiness as well.
October 3, 2010, 11:00 a.m. – 5:00 p.m.
Naumburg Bandshell, New York City’s Central Park
This interview was edited and condensed.
Photo: Hygiene Matters