Thursday, February 5, 2009

What do rats & children have in common?

The need for play! (No, they're not both found at the Children's Museum...) Our staff have shared several interesting articles and stories recently. First, Graphic Designer Valerie Haggerty-Silva found a terrific article in Scientific American, The Serious Need for Play – endorsed by Museum director Janice O'Donnell as "Good reading and excellent source for PROOF that kids need free play."

Then Janice passed along a Psychology Today blog post about the connections between rats, children and play. In response, AmeriCorps Museum Educator Paul Fenton shared the following story:
I've told this story to a few people at the museum but it reminded me of research I was involved in as a psychology undergraduate because it involves rats and play.

The experiment we did had two groups of rats, one group placed in pairs able to freely play and one group placed in pairs who had a mesh separating the two rats. They could smell each other, see each other, they could huddle and touch enough to stay warm (very important for rats) but they couldn't engage in full-body gross motor rough-and-tumble play.

We got very robust results showing that brain cell growth in the hippocampus was higher in the group that could play. The hippocampus is a very important part of the brain with major functions including involvement in memory, helping short term memories become long-term memories and sensory processing.

Obviously no one has duplicated this with humans but my professor is confident they are generalizable. So it turns out play helps your brain in a very direct, quantifiable way.

This just goes to show that there's a lot of good work being done to study the importance of play - and that many people are talking and thinking about the same things as we are here in Providence!

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