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Sign up for our Today In Entertainment Newsletter. Please forward this error screen to 67. Please forward this error screen to 172. Please forward this error screen to 67. Can the Right Kinds of Play Teach Self-Control? She was bent low over her clipboard, a stubby pencil in her hand, slowly scratching out the letters in the book’s title, one by one: T H E.
Jocelyn said, staring forcefully at her classmate. Henry, sitting next to her, sighed dramatically. I’m going as fast as I can! She brushed a strand of hair out of her eyes and plowed ahead: V E R Y.
The three children were seated at their classroom’s listening center, where their assignment was to leaf through a book together while listening on headphones to a CD with the voice of a teacher reading it aloud. The book in question was lying on the table in front of Jocelyn, and every few seconds, Abigail would jump up and lean over Jocelyn to peer at the cover, checking what came next in the title. Henry fiddled with the CD player. Like Abigail and Jocelyn, he was a kindergarten student in Red Bank, a small town near the New Jersey shore. He and Jocelyn had long ago finished writing the title of the book on their lesson plans. They already had their headphones on.
The only thing standing between them and the story was the pencil clutched in their classmate’s hand. For all their impatience, they knew the rule of the listening center: You don’t start listening to the story until everyone is ready. The Tools of the Mind program at a school in Red Bank, N. He grabbed his face and lowered his head to the desk with a clunk. Abigail was hopping up and down now.
She bounced from foot to foot, still writing: P I L. His finger hovered over the play button on the CD player . Abigail etched out her last few letters and put on her headphones. When the CD finished, each child took a piece of paper and drew three pictures to illustrate what happened at the beginning, in the middle and at the end of the book. Over the last few years, a new buzz phrase has emerged among scholars and scientists who study early-childhood development, a phrase that sounds more as if it belongs in the boardroom than the classroom: executive function. The ability of young children to control their emotional and cognitive impulses, it turns out, is a remarkably strong indicator of both short-term and long-term success, academic and otherwise. In some studies, self-regulation skills have been shown to predict academic achievement more reliably than I.
There is a popular belief that executive-function skills are fixed early on, a function of genes and parenting, and that other than medication, there’s not much that teachers and professionals can do to affect children’s impulsive behavior. In fact, though, there is growing evidence that the opposite is true, that executive-function skills are relatively malleable — quite possibly more malleable than I. And at the end of the experiment, the students dutifully reported that they now had more self-control than when they started the program. Which is why Abigail, Henry and Jocelyn are potentially so important.
They and their classmates are enrolled in Tools of the Mind, a relatively new program dedicated to improving the self-regulation abilities of young children, starting as early as age 3. At the heart of the Tools of the Mind methodology is a simple but surprising idea: that the key to developing self-regulation is play, and lots of it. Please verify you’re not a robot by clicking the box. You must select a newsletter to subscribe to. You agree to receive occasional updates and special offers for The New York Times’s products and services. You are already subscribed to this email.
View all New York Times newsletters. More recently, though, a backlash has been growing against the preacademic approach among educators and child psychologists who argue that it misses the whole point of early-childhood education. On the surface, Bodrova and Leong would seem to belong to the second camp. They say, after all, that play should have a central place in early-childhood classrooms. Bodrova and Leong began working together with early-childhood teachers in 1992, soon after Bodrova immigrated from Russia to be a visiting professor at Metropolitan State College of Denver, where Leong was a professor of child development.
When they visited local classrooms, they were struck by how out of control things often seemed. Dramatic play, believed to improve cognitive self-control, is a central part of the Tools of the Mind curriculum. Bodrova and Leong had both studied Vygotsky, and they discussed whether some of his methods might help improve the climate of these classrooms. For Vygotsky, the real purpose of early-childhood education was not to learn content, like the letters of the alphabet or the names of shapes and colors and animals.