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Tuesday, April 08, 2008
Kids Benefit when the Gang Comes Out to Play

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By Grace Chen

What fun is being a kid – if there are no other kids around to play? Not only is group interaction fun for kids, but it is also important for their development. Social learning is how kids should learn certain traits and skills, according to child psychologist Albert Bandura.

“Playgroups,” as they are sometimes called, occur when kids get together over a project, or around a toy designed for social learning. In these group environments, children learn real-life lessons by seeing the ways in which their peers tackle situations. There is growing concern that kids who spend time viewing life from the perspective of television or video games are missing out on the necessary social skills to learn healthy auto-responses. Auto-responses to social situations are our quick reactions to the world around us.

When a child is given a video game, or subjected to television content to watch and interact with, he or she is being fed pre-scripted information. A parent watching as the child receives this information is powerless to stop the television or video game and explain to it that it is wrong. A parent can only stop the child from viewing this information, leaving the child confused as to appropriate content because the child only sees a one-sided, or non-argued scenario.

But the opposite happens when children play together under parental supervision. Reality unfolds before the eyes of all of the participants equally. An interjecting parent can rationalize with a misbehaved child in front of all the children, thus rationalizing the reality of the situation. When one child is corrected, all the children are positively affected.

Which skills do children learn socially that they can’t learn from video games, electronic toys or television?

According to Psychiatrists Edna Ambrose and Alice Miel in their study called Children's Social Learning: Implications of Research and Expert Study, children in groups learn:

  • Appropriate sharing of ideas, norms and group conscience

  • Cultural awareness; for example, it is considered polite to shake hands in our culture

  • Democratic values like majority rules, and one- for- you, one- for- me

  • Social attitudes toward gender, grown-ups and siblings

  • Hand-to-eye coordination and motor skills

There is another benefit to children playing with a group toy, or in a playgroup setting: They learn how to work as a team. In his management research entitled Action Learning Via Teamwork, noted author and management expert Charles Margerison said that team learning is something everyone can use in the work place. The Team Management models and profiles are particularly relevant in helping the groups establish effective ways of working. “The group needs to identify real work projects that the group thinks are important. The group then shares and compares until a solution is met. Kids who work on a group project at play will learn how to outperform other managers in adulthood.

What about kids playing video games, or watching television as a group?

“It just doesn’t have the same positive effect” says Bandura. “Kids who watch T.V. as a group don’t interact in the useful way they interact when the television does not dominate the groups’ common focus.”

By focusing on a group game or toy that is moveable, solvable and conceptually transparent, kids will benefit socially, emotionally and democratically. Say yes to having the gang over for play-time, and turn off the television for education’s sake.

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