Recent research from the University of Otago, New Zealand may have found why structured play is important for toddlers. The study, which was published in Scientific Reports, looked at the effects of a play-based intervention program on preschoolers’ self-regulatory skills.
Self-regulation doesn’t come naturally for most kiddos. But it’s a necessity for school readiness and later success. While lacking self-control to some degree is normal for a young child, when it becomes a problem the experts often need to step in. Enter the University of Otago study.
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The study looked at 60 families with children ages three to four, assigning each participant group to one of two behavioral management methods. One group participated in the proposed experimental play intervention, Enhancing Neurobehavioural Gains with the Aid of Games and Exercise—a.k.a. ENGAGE. The ENGAGE method included learning self-regulation skills by playing games such as puzzles, hop scotch, musical statues and blocks. The other group received treatment with the current gold standard for pre-k kiddo behavior management in New Zealand, the Positive Parenting Programme or Triple P.
So what did the study find? The children who participated in ENGAGE did just as well, in terms of self-regulation development, as those who were in the Triple P group. Lead author Dr. Dione Healey, of the Department of Psychology said, “Our results indicate that parents spending regular one-on-one time playing with their young children has the same positive effect on children’s behavior as using behavior management techniques which have a long history of being effective in managing child behavior.”
Healey also added, “With ENGAGE, we now have an additional treatment option for young, at-risk children that is enjoyable, low cost, easily accessible and associated with long-term maintenance of treatment gains. It’s good to have a choice of equally effective options as what works well for one family may not work as well for another.”