Diane Levin talks about the effect technology and media have on children’s play in the 21st century

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Diane Levin, a professor of early childhood education at Wheelock College. (Photo by Román Castellanos-Monfil)

As screens become more abundant in today’s world, it’s common to hear parents telling their children to go outside and play instead of being indoors with their devices. Diane Levin agrees that parents need to continue pushing their children to play outside but also be engaged with them during playtime.

Levin, a professor of early childhood education at Wheelock College and a leading expert on children’s play, violence prevention, and media literacy, gave a talk at the Yale School of Management titled “Endangered Play, Endangered Development: Why Play is Even More Important in the 21st Century” on May 4.

She argued that children today are spending more time with screens at younger ages than they have in the past, causing children to be “remote controlled” by the technology. Instead, Levin advocated for toys and activities that allowed children to explore and develop new skills. As an example, she showed the audience how her friend’s son played bowling by lining up colored pencils in a straight line and then bowling them over. She said this taught him about patterns and lines, and developed his hand-eye coordination.

Adults, and parents in particular, are critical to ensuring children play and develop properly, she said. In the past, “free” play meant the child played without any adult guidance. Now “free” play often means there’s little engagement between the adult and the child, Levin said, due to children’s increased dependence on technology for stimulation. With the Common Core curriculum and the rigidity it brings to the classroom, there is more adult guidance but less engagement from children. The balance parents should strive for, she argued, is for high engagement from both adults and children, which helps children become good players, and problem finders and solvers.

Levin ended her talk by encouraging the audience to seek out toys and resources that promote healthy play and avoid those that undermine it. A co-founder of TRUCE (Teachers Resisting Unhealthy Children’s Entertainment), she believes toys with high value can be enjoyed by all children regardless of gender, be used by children to play alone or with others, appeal to children at different levels of development, and are not linked to video games, computers, TV, or movies.

For more information about TRUCE, including resources for encouraging child-directed free play, visit the website. The talk was co-sponsored by the New Haven Association for the Education of Young Children, Yale WorkLife, the New Haven Public Schools, Southern Connecticut State University, and the Gesell Institute.

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