Wednesday, June 4, 2014

The power of early childhood play -- on future income, for one

Guest blogger Marj Hyde, Coordinator of First Steps Ann Arbor

While I was on my way to work this week, I heard an NPR story that started with this sad and disturbing fact: due to malnourishment, some 200 million toddlers in poor countries have under-developed brains. 

The next statement almost made me slam on the brakes: "Playing with babies and toddlers helps undo the damage caused by lack of nutrition in the early years." 

Wait a minute! Undo the damage?  

The study, detailed in the journal Science, followed babies and toddlers who were small for their age with underdeveloped brains in Kingston, Jamaica, beginning in 1986. These families received weekly home visits from trained community health workers for two years. Workers taught the parents to play with their children using items found in the home. 

Over the next 20 years, these children were compared to two similar groups who were also small for their age. One of these groups received extra food; the other received no intervention. 

The results were compelling. After 20 years, the group whose families received weekly play time instruction:

  • Scored higher on IQ and self control and lower on aggression
  • Earned 25% more than the other two groups
  • Had caught up with children born without deficits in the same year

Why is this relevant to me and possibly to you, too? As the coordinator of First Steps - Ann Arbor, my job is to provide opportunities for parent-child play for Ann Arbor families. First Steps offers 30 different weekly adult/child classes where everyone plays together. 

Sometimes I hear observers say, "But they're not doing anything. They're just playing." Yes, they are just playing and playing is perfect! The stimulation of exploring and interacting through play is just what an infant, toddler or preschooler needs the most. 

If you have children from birth to kindergarten entry, come play with us! Our summer session begins June 14 and goes for 7 weeks, ending the week of August 4. More details are available on our website or by calling (734) 994-2300, ext. 53186.

Want to support early childhood play for all in the Ann Arbor area? Join us for our Friends and Family Bowling fundraiser on Saturday, June 14 from 4:00 - 6:30 p.m. at Colonial Lanes. The First Steps - Ann Arbor PTO is hosting this fundraiser! More information available here or by contacting me at

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