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EED380

Kindergarten Methods/Fall 2011

Patty McDonald

READING TOPIC: PLAY AND THE BRAIN


I first became interested in doing more reading on play, exercise and the brain when the principal at my son's school started keeping whole grade levels of kids in from recess because they were noisy at lunch. Then the following year she cut recess from 25 minutes to 15. I was livid. Even without knowing the research I knew play was important. But I needed facts to back up my opinions, so I started reading. I first heard about the surprising results of a PE program at Naperville Central High School in Illinois. Where excersise in the morning boosted kids performance and grades in the classes immediately followed. That lead me to the book by John Ratey--Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain. This book presented scientific research that was showing a correlation between exersice and the creation of new brain cells. I thought the impacts of this new research would certainly reach the schools, as well as the medical community--especially in the areas of Alzheimers and Parkinsons. Well, it has had impact in the medical community, but I'm still waiting for the educational community to catch on. When I took this class and further explored the topic of play and the brain I was even more flabergasted that the educational community continues to down play the roll of play for our children. There is a strong scientific argument for play. There is research grounded in evolutionary biology & experimental neuroscience that shows that the efffects of play are central to neurological growth and development. New research has even found that exercise increases mitochondrial development not just in muscle tissue, but in all of the tissues--including the brain. One more way that exercise and play aids in the building of cognitively flexible brains that are complex, skilled, responsive, and socially adept. John Byers, then a zoologist at the University of Idaho, was conducting research on animals and play when he discovered that most animals (including humans) have a pattern of play, which if graphed is an inverted U--with the peak of play during the juvenile period. One day as he was perusing the library, not quite knowing what he was looking for, he came across a graph of the growth curve of the cerebellum in humans. It was the same! It looked as if the rate of play synchronized with the growth rate of the cerebellum. This discovery sparked more research on play and the brain. Sergio Pellis, a neuroscientist at the University of Lethbridge, Alberta, Canada, extrapolated that kids who were exposed to rough-and-tumble play (or roughhousing) were better at solving social problems. This was based on his research with rats. He discovered that rats that were deprived of play developed abnormalities in the brain--they had immature patterns of neuronal connections in the medial prefrontal cortex (less pruning of the nuero pathways -- leaving a tangle of pathways to get through to solve problems). Jaak Panksepp, behavioral neuroscientist from Bowling Green State University in Ohio, also did experiments on rats--he found out that a damaged frontal cortex led to hyperactivity. This is the same part of the brain that is developmentally delayed in children with ADHD. The good news for the rats was that an extra hour of play a day effectively reduced the hyperactivity. Too bad this hasn't been followed up with kids with ADHD. There is still debate among scientists about the long term and short term effects of play. And there are still skeptics out there who don't agree. But the research only validates what I feel I know about play--it is important in the daily life of children. It is important for all of the reasons expressed in the literature you posted for us to read, its intrinsic value and for the development of the brain.

EED380

Kindergarten Methods/Fall 2011

Patty McDonald

Resources

Taking Play Seriously by Robin Marantz Henig The Neurobiology of Play by dlende Rough play a key to brain development by Jeff Wiebe Miscellaneous other journal abstracts/interview/etc

Spark: The Revolutionary New Science of Exercise and the Brain by John Ratey (Little Brown & Co., 2008) How Exercise Can Strengthen the Brain by Gretchen Reynolds Play, Learning and the Brain; The Open University Links and downloads from website: www.pattymacwebdesign.com/eed380/