Tag Archives: The Value of Play

Princeton University study: Baby and adult brains ‘sync up’ during play

11 Jan

Children are not “mini mes” or short adults. They are children and they should have time to play, to dream, and to use their imagination. Dan Childs of ABC News reports in the story, Recess ‘Crucial’ for Kids, Pediatricians’ Group Says:

The statement by the American Academy of Pediatrics is the latest salvo in the long-running debate over how much of a young child’s time at school should be devoted to academics — and how much should go to free, unstructured playtime.
The authors of the policy statement write that the AAP “believes that recess is a crucial and necessary component of a child’s development and, as such, it should not be withheld for punitive or academic reasons.”
“The AAP has, in recent years, tried to focus the attention of parents, school officials and policymakers on the fact that kids are losing their free play,” said the AAP’s Dr. Robert Murray, one of the lead authors of the statement. “We are overstructuring their day. … They lose that creative free play, which we think is so important.”
The statement, which cites two decades worth of scientific evidence, points to the various benefits of recess. While physical activity is among these, so too are some less obvious boons such as cognitive benefits, better attention during class, and enhanced social and emotional development. http://abcnews.go.com/Health/recess-crucial-kids-aap-policy-statement/story?id=18083935#.UOZ606zIlIq

The goal of this society should be to raise healthy and happy children who will grow into concerned and involved adults who care about their fellow citizens and environment. In order to accomplish this goal, all children must receive a good basic education and in order to achieve that goal, children must arrive at school, ready to learn.

Debbie Rhea wrote the thoughtful Education Week commentary, Give Students Time to Play:

It seems counterintuitive to think that less classroom time and more outdoor play would lead to a better education for kids. After all, what many in our country, including most recently New Jersey Gov. Chris Christie, have prescribed are longer days in the classroom. But longer days on task don’t equate to better results. Instead, they translate into more burnout, lower test scores, and more of the same. All work and no play really does make dull boys and girls.
For years, educators have tried different strategies of more testing and of more time on task to reverse these trends, but they have proved to be unsuccessful. The answer is not additional in-class sitting time. What kids need is time to move and have unstructured play.
On a recent sabbatical, I spent six weeks in Finland studying how that country practices education. Reading, science, and math are important in the Finnish education system, but so are social studies, physical education, arts, music, foreign languages, and a number of practical skills. The school day in Finland looks much different from the school day in the United States.
“We should not sacrifice recess time for classroom time, and neither should be used to discipline students.”
In the United States, for example, a 1st grader attends school 35 hours a week, seven hours a day. In Finland, a 1st grader spends 22.5 hours a week in school, or 4.5 hours a day. Three hours each day are spent on content in the classroom, and another 1.5 hours are spent on recess or “unstructured outdoor play.” Some elementary schools in the United States do not have recess time built into their schedules, let alone outdoor recess.
Kids are built to move. Having more time for unstructured outdoor play is like handing them a reset button. It not only helps to break up their day, but it also allows them to blow off steam, while giving them an opportunity to move and redirect their energy to something more meaningful once they return to the classroom.
When a human sits for longer than about 20 minutes, the physiology of the brain and body changes. Gravity begins to pool blood into the hamstrings, robbing the brain of needed oxygen and glucose, or brain fuel. The brain essentially just falls asleep when we sit for too long. Moving and being active stimulates the neurons that fire in the brain. When you are sitting, those neurons don’t fire.
Getting students out of their chairs and moving outdoors is essential. A 2008 study published in JAMA Opthamology found that 42 percent of people in the United States between the ages of 12 and 54 are nearsighted. But 40 years ago, that number was only 25 percent, a change that can’t be explained by heredity. Time indoors can weaken our vision, especially if we are staring at computer screens and not looking away for long periods of time. Additional studies have also shown that when people have inadequate daylight exposure at work, particularly in areas that have poor indoor lighting, it can disrupt their circadian rhythms—the cycle that allows for healthy sleep. When these rhythms are thrown off, it can have a negative impact on academic performance.
I’m such a believer in more unstructured outdoor play and recess throughout the day that I’ve launched a pilot program called Project ISIS—Innovating Strategies, Inspiring Students—that is being implemented in two Texas private schools, with an additional three public elementary schools in that state coming on board by the fall. While the program doesn’t reduce the number of hours spent at school, it does build in more outside recess time. Students get two 15-minute unstructured outdoor-play breaks in the morning (one is right before lunch, the other is a full lunch with a short recess afterward), and then two more 15-minute recess breaks in the afternoon. These schools will continue to have physical education as a content area.
We should not sacrifice recess time for classroom time, and neither should be used to discipline students. The more movement children have throughout the day, the better they will be with attentional focus, behavioral issues, and academic performance…. http://www.edweek.org/ew/articles/2014/02/26/22rhea.h33.html?tkn=VRYFMBKESIDvZIGHetFWpKk1lBN%2FPqxFrjSh&intc=es
We must not so over-schedule children that they have no time to play and to dream.

Related:

The ‘whole child’ approach to education
https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/the-whole-child-approach-to-education/

Science Daily reported in Baby and adult brains ‘sync up’ during play: It’s not your imagination — you and your baby really are on the same wavelength:

Have you ever played with a baby and felt a sense of connection, even though they couldn’t yet talk to you? New research suggests that you might quite literally be “on the same wavelength,” experiencing similar brain activity in the same brain regions.
A team of Princeton researchers has conducted the first study of how baby and adult brains interact during natural play, and they found measurable similarities in their neural activity. In other words, baby and adult brain activity rose and fell together as they shared toys and eye contact. The research was conducted at the Princeton Baby Lab, where University researchers study how babies learn to see, talk and understand the world.
“Previous research has shown that adults’ brains sync up when they watch movies and listen to stories, but little is known about how this ‘neural synchrony’ develops in the first years of life,” said Elise Piazza, an associate research scholar in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI) and the first author on a paper published Dec. 17, 2019, in Psychological Science.
Piazza and her co-authors — Liat Hasenfratz, an associate research scholar in PNI; Uri Hasson, a professor of psychology and neuroscience; and Casey Lew-Williams, an associate professor of psychology — posited that neural synchrony has important implications for social development and language learning.
Studying real-life, face-to-face communication between babies and adults is quite difficult. Most past studies of neural coupling, many of which were conducted in Hasson’s lab, involved scanning adults’ brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in separate sessions, while the adults lay down and watched movies or listened to stories….https://www.sciencedaily.com/releases/2020/01/200109163956.htm

Here is the press release from Princeton:

Baby and adult brains ‘sync up’ during play, finds Princeton Baby Lab
Liz Fuller-Wright, Office of Communications
Jan. 9, 2020 12:44 p.m.
Have you ever played with a baby and felt a sense of connection, even though they couldn’t yet talk to you? New research suggests that you might quite literally be “on the same wavelength,” experiencing similar brain activity in the same brain regions.
A team of Princeton researchers has conducted the first study of how baby and adult brains interact during natural play, and they found measurable similarities in their neural activity. In other words, baby and adult brain activity rose and fell together as they shared toys and eye contact. The research was conducted at the Princeton Baby Lab, where University researchers study how babies learn to see, talk and understand the world.
“Previous research has shown that adults’ brains sync up when they watch movies and listen to stories, but little is known about how this ‘neural synchrony’ develops in the first years of life,” said Elise Piazza, an associate research scholar in the Princeton Neuroscience Institute (PNI) and the first author on a paper published Dec. 17, 2019, in Psychological Science.
Piazza and her co-authors — Liat Hasenfratz, an associate research scholar in PNI; Uri Hasson, a professor of psychology and neuroscience; and Casey Lew-Williams, an associate professor of psychology — posited that neural synchrony has important implications for social development and language learning.
Studying real-life, face-to-face communication between babies and adults is quite difficult. Most past studies of neural coupling, many of which were conducted in Hasson’s lab, involved scanning adults’ brains with functional magnetic resonance imaging (fMRI), in separate sessions, while the adults lay down and watched movies or listened to stories.
But to study real-time communication, the researchers needed to create a child-friendly method of recording brain activity simultaneously from baby and adult brains. With funding from the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Grant, the researchers developed a new dual-brain neuroimaging system that uses functional near-infrared spectroscopy (fNIRS), which is highly safe and records oxygenation in the blood as a proxy for neural activity. The setup allowed the researchers to record the neural coordination between babies and an adult while they played with toys, sang songs and read a book.
The same adult interacted with all 42 infants and toddlers who participated in the study. Of those, 21 had to be excluded because they “squirmed excessively,” and three others flat-out refused to wear the cap, leaving 18 children, ranging in age from 9 months to 15 months.
The experiment had two portions. In one, the adult experimenter spent five minutes interacting directly with a child — playing with toys, singing nursery rhymes or reading Goodnight Moon — while the child sat on their parent’s lap. In the other, the experimenter turned to the side and told a story to another adult while the child played quietly with their parent.
The caps collected data from 57 channels of the brain known to be involved in prediction, language processing and understanding other people’s perspectives.
When they looked at the data, the researchers found that during the face-to-face sessions, the babies’ brains were synchronized with the adult’s brain in several areas known to be involved in high-level understanding of the world — perhaps helping the children decode the overall meaning of a story or analyze the motives of the adult reading to them.
When the adult and infant were turned away from each other and engaging with other people, the coupling between them disappeared.
That fit with researchers’ expectations, but the data also had surprises in store. For example, the strongest coupling occurred in the prefrontal cortex, which is involved in learning, planning and executive functioning and was previously thought to be quite underdeveloped during infancy.
“We were also surprised to find that the infant brain was often ‘leading’ the adult brain by a few seconds, suggesting that babies do not just passively receive input but may guide adults toward the next thing they’re going to focus on: which toy to pick up, which words to say,” said Lew-Williams, who is a co-director of the Princeton Baby Lab.
“While communicating, the adult and child seem to form a feedback loop,” Piazza added. “That is, the adult’s brain seemed to predict when the infants would smile, the infants’ brains anticipated when the adult would use more ‘baby talk,’ and both brains tracked joint eye contact and joint attention to toys. So, when a baby and adult play together, their brains influence each other in dynamic ways.”
This two-brain approach to neuroscience could open doors to understanding how coupling with caregivers breaks down in atypical development — such as in children diagnosed with autism — as well as how educators can optimize their teaching approaches to accommodate children’s diverse brains.
The researchers are continuing to investigate how this neural coupling relates to preschoolers’ early language learning.
“Infant and adult brains are coupled to the dynamics of natural communication,” by Elise A. Piazza, Liat Hasenfratz, Uri Hasson and Casey Lew-Williams, was published Dec. 17, 2019, in Psychological Science. This work was supported by the Princeton University C. V. Starr Fellowship to E. A. Piazza; the Eric and Wendy Schmidt Transformative Technology Award to E. A. Piazza, U. Hasson and C. Lew-Williams; National Institutes of Health Grant 5DP1HD091948 to U. Hasson; and NIH Grants R01HD095912 and R03HD079779 to C. Lew-Williams.

Citation:

Baby and adult brains ‘sync up’ during play
It’s not your imagination — you and your baby really are on the same wavelength
Date: January 9, 2020
Source: Princeton University
Summary:
A team of researchers has conducted the first study of how baby and adult brains interact during natural play, and they found measurable connections in their neural activity. In other words, baby and adult brain activity rose and fell together as they shared toys and eye contact.

Journal Reference:
Elise A. Piazza, Liat Hasenfratz, Uri Hasson, Casey Lew-Williams. Infant and Adult Brains Are Coupled to the Dynamics of Natural Communication. Psychological Science, 2019; 095679761987869 DOI: 10.1177/0956797619878698

Our goal as a society should be:

A healthy child in a healthy family who attends a healthy school in a healthy neighborhood ©

Related:

The ‘whole child’ approach to education https://drwilda.wordpress.com/2012/02/10/the-whole-child-approach-to-education/

Childhood obesity: Recess is being cut in low-income schools https://drwilda.com/2011/12/15/childhood-obesity-recess-is-being-cut-in-low-income-schools/

Louisiana study: Fit children score higher on standardized tests https://drwilda.com/2012/05/08/louisiana-study-fit-children-score-higher-on-standardized-tests/

Seattle Research Institute study about outside play https://drwilda.wordpress.com/tag/childrens-physical-activity/

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