UD prof has national 'play date' in New York City
UD's Roberta Golinkoff at play at the Early Learning Center.


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12:57 p.m., Sept. 23, 2010----Building block towers and finger painting a portrait of the dog are important work for kids. Children learn spatial relationships, mathematics skills, social norms and a host of other essential life skills by simply playing.

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Yet, researchers, like University of Delaware education professor Roberta Golinkoff, say kids' days do not include enough free playtime at home or in school, where the emphasis on memorizing facts dominates too much of their time. They contend the overscheduled modern tyke is the victim of a growing crisis, witnessed by increasing child obesity.

Golinkoff, for one, is doing something about it. On Sunday, Oct. 3, she and a consortium of partners will tackle the problem on New York's favorite playground, Central Park, when they host the Ultimate Block Party.

Deemed the first “play date” in a national education movement, the Ultimate Block Party promises to demonstrate the power of fun and games in helping children learn the skills they need to succeed in school and in the global economy.

The event will transform Central Park's Naumberg Bandshell area into a playground with 25 activities for kids to play and learn. Parents will see how kids learn from playful activities first hand, including information about how each activity is based in the science of learning.

Activities include:

  • A make-believe restaurant;
  • A LEGO Extravaganza;
  • Build Your Own Robot;
  • Build Your Own Video Game;
  • A Treasure Hunt;
  • Radio-controlled car races;
  • Hide and Seek;
  • I Spy;
  • Build Your Own Playground; and
  • New York's largest game of Simon Says

Watch a video about the event.

Golinkoff, who is the H. Rodney Sharp Professor of Education at UD, said parents might be surprised to hear that kids learn far more from basic, no-equipment-required activities than the expensive, well-marketed electronic gadgets in their toy boxes.

“Take Simon Says,” Golinkoff said of the game where a leader shouts out commands. “It turns out that Simon Says helps kids develop what we call executive function skills, a fancy name for self-control.”

Self-control and the ability to switch easily from one task to another are skills children need to succeed in the classroom.

“Executive function skills correlate with school achievement more highly than IQ,” she said.

Golinkoff and other educators know that improvements in self-control are just one of play's many benefits, which are often not celebrated, because while scientific findings support playful learning, the science often stays locked in ivory towers and academic journals.

They want the Ultimate Block Party to bring the message to parents, educators, and practitioners who work with children.

The Ultimate Block Party is presented by Play for Tomorrow, a nonprofit organization that champions the crucial role of play in children's development and education.

Play for Tomorrow was founded by a consortium led by the University of Delaware College of Education and Human Development; Temple University CiRCLE (Center for Re-imagining Children's Learning and Education); Children's Museum of Manhattan; and Johns Hopkins University NeuroEducation Initiative and Brain Science Institute.

Activity sponsorship and support for the inaugural year of the Ultimate Block Party includes the National Science Foundation, RIDEMAKERZ, The Goddard School for Early Development, LEGO, Crayola and many others.

Photo by Kathy Atkinson