November's 'Penn College & You' Explores 'Children & Play'

Published 10.31.2002


Parents struggling to strike the ideal balance between play and structured activities for their children will want to watch November's episode of the "Penn College & You," which helps dispel common misconceptions and illustrates the vital role of play in the learning and development processes.

"Play is when children consolidate their learning when they set their own plans and their own goals and carry through on them," says Karen Woland Payne, director of the Children's Learning Center at Penn College, adding this represents "the highest level of thinking."

Payne and "Penn College & You" host Tom Speicher explore the value of play in the latest installment of the series, which began its eighth season in September. The award-winning program extends the expertise of faculty and staff at Pennsylvania College of Technology, a special-mission affiliate of The Pennsylvania State University, to viewers nationwide.

In the Williamsport area, the show airs Tuesday at 7 and 7:30 p.m. on SCN Channel 2. It's broadcast nationwide to all DISH Network subscribers on Universityhouse Channel 9411 on the last Saturday and Sunday of the month at 11 a.m. MST. Other Pennsylvania cable systems airing the show this season are: Altoona, Danville/Lewisburg/Milton/Watsontown, Erie, Harrisburg, Hazleton, Lehighton, Mansfield/Wellsboro, Reading, Wilkes-Barre and York.

The notion that playtime for children is simply a waste of time is faulty, Payne says, countering that play helps kids become creative thinkers and develop language and social skills. Parents should curb the urge to schedule a nonstop slate of programmed and structured activities for children, she says, explaining they need time "to just play, to be children and to enjoy life."

Parents who don't heed this advice may find their overscheduled, overburdened children are "burned out" by the later development stages when their activities should start to become more structured.

Payne says children in the Toddler Room at the Children's Learning Center at Penn College develop fine-motor activity by using tools in their play, and they learn basic elements of physics and geometry by playing with building blocks or shape-sorting toys.

In the "Children and Play" episode, she describes the progression of play, beginning with "solitary play," in which children manipulate their environment by themselves and act instinctively, through "associative play," when they learn how to communicate and cooperate with other children and play games with established rules.

The important role that older children play in helping younger children learn and develop is also explored.

"The slightly older child is a wonderful role model," she notes, "because it's very attainable for the younger child."

Payne also addresses how children in many communities today don't interact as much with their peers in nonstructured play activities. And, the show looks at the dangers posed by increased TV-watching, a passive activity that can lead to obesity and doesn't allow for the beneficial "give and take" needed in the language-development process.

Ideally, children need blocks of play sessions lasting "an hour or more at certain times," Payne concludes, with younger children requiring longer periods devoted to pure play.

Speicher and Payne also discuss the importance of reading to young children, an activity that she says should begin as soon as the child is able to focus on that activity for even brief periods of time.

For more information about the Children's Learning Center at Penn College, visit online.