December 03, 2008

For Children in Case Western Reserve University Psychology Study, it's Time to Play

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Sandra Russ' research group looks at increasing creativity and imagination in play

Preschool visitors between the ages of 4 and 6 to the Children's Museum of Cleveland (CMC) will be invited to participate in a new study from the department of psychology at Case Western Reserve University to boost creativity and imagination in free play.

Nearby moms and caretakers will also engage in the study by watching how the children play and learn how to develop those play skills at home during several planned play sessions a week with mom, dad or the caretaker, according to Sandra Russ, professor of psychology at Case Western Reserve University and the study's principal investigator.

The researchers have partnered with their campus neighbor at the museum for the study "Effects of Play Intervention on Play Skills in Preschool Children."

Russ, along with graduate students Kelly Christian and Karla Fehr and undergraduate Kathryn Clusman, will study approximately 40 children to see if a play intervention, first piloted at the CMC last year, continues to support the hypothesis that play interventions helps children learn how to be better players and use more creativity and imagination in their daily lives.

CMC will help recruit children and parents for the study.

Children will be given verbal and creative assessment tests before and after three interventions or plays sessions.

Russ and her team will meet individually with the children during the interventions at the museum and let children take the lead on playing and telling stories for approximately 20 minutes. Children will play with some basic toys, like blocks and toy cars. They will use the toys as props for the stories they imagine to turn a block into anything from a house, food or whatever goes along with the story line.

This imaginative free play will continue at home as parents or caregivers have two homework assignments to play with the children for two 10-minute sessions during the week.

A control group of children will color picture sheets or put together puzzles or a pre-formed object such as a dinosaur during their play sessions with a facilitator and follow up with similar playtimes with their parents at home. Each group will be evaluated for their imagination and creativity in blind testing before and after the interventions or play sessions.

This study adapts an intervention which was tested on elementary school children in a large inner city school district and found that children did learn how to play better and include more creativity and imagination when given the opportunity and some directions on how to do it.

In previous studies, Russ found these play skills have been shown to relate to how children cope with stressful situations and problem solving. Imagination and emotional expression in play also is linked to creativity, which is independent of intelligence.

"Sometimes all children need is permission to be creative," said Christian, who was involved in the pilot study.

According to Fehr, children use play as an opportunity to explore new ideas, practice expressing how they feel, and what they think about their day to day interactions with people in a safe environment.

"Play is central to a child's development," added Fehr.

Russ said the study also helps parents to be better players with their children. It also helps parents learn to step back and follow the lead of where the child is going.

"Parents may not realize they are dominating the play instead of letting their children play," she said.

Christian finds this young age group a delight to work with, because the story may start out as a trip to the zoo but suddenly those blocks and cars can turn into a birthday party or something else.

That's okay, according to Christian, because the children are using their imaginations.

This study and the pilot study have had some benefits for the children's museum.

"One of the key strategic themes for the Children's Museum of Cleveland, tied to museum mission and vision, is the fostering of creativity, which relates directly to the research project's intended outcomes," said Colleen Cross, CMC's education director.

CMC has created an environment to promote innovative and impactful educational experiences for families with children ages birth through 8 years old. "This research project will hopefully provide the museum with groundbreaking research that will help us create extraordinary exhibits and programming, especially in the area of creativity," Cross said. "The project will gather very unique data that we will help put CMC's programming and exhibits at the top of the children's museum field."

Since Russ and her team performed a pilot study for preschool interventions in play, Cross said the museum has been more thoughtful of the types of objects in exhibits and encourages more parents to follow the lead of their children in exploring the museum's offerings.

"No matter what language one speaks or religion one practices, or salary one earns, it is universally accepted that children learn best through hands-on play and that parents want the best learning opportunity for their children," said Cross.

This study is one of the unique partnerships that Case Western Reserve has with its community neighbors.

Cross said, "As long as an organizations is working to improve early childhood experiences for children, families and teachers, CMC is open to working with them to obtain their goals."

If interested in participating in the study, visit the museum for registration forms.

For more information contact Susan Griffith, 216.368.1004.

Posted by: Kimyette Finley, December 3, 2008 12:29 PM | News Topics: Collaborations/Partnerships, College of Arts and Sciences, Community Outreach, Faculty, HeadlinesMain, Provost Initiatives, Research, Students, news

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