My cousin Jeannie, who is a kindergarten teacher and also worked with autistic children for many years, sent me a very interesting article about children and play. I’m including a short section of the article and the link below. My mom (also a kindergarten teacher) and Jeannie often have conversations about the importance of play in child development. I guess I absorbed that since I’ve spent a lot of years fostering my own children’s play (as well as doing that for my classes when I was a teacher. Moreover, everything I’m reading in the Schaeffer book supports this idea of play as the best tool for learning.
However, I don’t think I’d ever read this research on self-talk and self-regulation. All of my kids have engaged in lots of self-talk during play (although generally Sophie and Mollie talk to one another and have done so since they were very little, but I think in their case that amounts to a kind of self-talk). The connection with self-regulation explains something I was quite astonished about when Brendan went to school. He was such an active and difficult toddler, but when he went to pre-school I was amazed to see that he was one of the best in the class at sitting still and listening. Even when all of the other students were out of control, he would sit staring at something, thinking. Considering this evidence about the importance of self-talk, I’d now have to conclude it was because he had spent so much time in imaginative play. As a preschooler, he constantly told stories to himself about Thomas the train, Rescue Heroes and then Legos In fact, he still tells Lego stories and has moved into making Lego movies, which are basically just filmed versions of his stories.
Here is a small part of the article with the link at the end:
“Encourage Children to Talk to Themselves: “Like adults, children spontaneously speak to themselves to guide and manage their own behavior,” Berk says. “In fact, children often use self-guiding comments recently picked up from their interactions with adults, signaling that they are beginning to apply those strategies to themselves.
“Permitting and encouraging children to be verbally active — to speak to themselves while engaged in challenging tasks — fosters concentration, effort, problem-solving, and task success.” — Alix Spiegel
….According to Berk, one reason make-believe is such a powerful tool for building self-discipline is because during make-believe, children engage in what’s called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.
“In fact, if we compare preschoolers’ activities and the amount of private speech that occurs across them, we find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play,” Berk says. “And this type of self-regulating language… has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions.”
And it’s not just children who use private speech to control themselves. If we look at adult use of private speech, Berk says, “we’re often using it to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions.”
Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. Essentially, because children’s play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids’ toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren’t getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity, says Berk, the results are clear: Self-regulation improves.”