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A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity
and Free Time Create a Successful Child

by Rae Pica

If you want to raise a truly successful adult, then you need to raise a kid who knows how to play! That is essentially what Rae Pica, educational consultant to multiple childrens' television programs and government agencies, has to tell us. In A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child, Ms Pica discusses how our busy lives have negatively impacted our children and most notably in the loss of free time to play and explore.

The book is extremely readable with many anecdotes and specific real-world examples to hold your attention. Each chapter is highlighted with concrete "Play & Learn Activities" to try with your children, "Reality Checks" that discuss notable research in each area of discussion, and "Superkid Alerts" dispelling the myths of child raising, and concludes with a "Don't Forget" section, summarizing the key points of each chapter.

A Running Start promotes the idea that play provides multiple avenues for learning in a fun and appropriate environment. Hurrying children to read and other academic tasks earlier than they are developmentally prepared to do so is not only useless but may do actual harm to their future learning and lead to the increase in anxiety our society has seen in children in recent decades. However, substituting competitive sports for free play is equally harmful, both physically and mentally. Developmentally appropriate organized activity programs can be a fun and beneficial way for your child to regularly play and move, if chosen correctly, she says in later chapters, but should be based on the child's interests, and children should have plenty of downtime with no planned activities or schoolwork throughout the week.

It's important for children to master fundamental movement, Ms Pica says, before moving on to more complex skills. Those fundamentals are obtained through a child's progression through developmental movements most typically achieved during play and exploration. Pressure to perform skills they are not ready to perform leads to improper movement and frustration for the child when he cannot master a too-hard task. A child's self-esteem can suffer from these demands, while achieving appropriate skills via her own desired effort and appropriate feedback from the adults around her will build her self-esteem.

Kids can be "smart" in many different ways, she writes and cites the work of Howard Gardner, and these different intelligences will be used by each child at different times as needed. Opportunities in play allow children to explore these areas organically; however, the move in our schools away from play and toward standardize testing fails to recognize these differences to the detriment of the students. You don't have to worry that your child will fall behind academically if his preschool or elementary school has a strong focus on free play, music, art, and movement.

A Running Start is a good resource for those who work with young children or parents looking for ideas of how to best benefit their children's mental and physical development through movement and play. While occasionally prone to gross generalizations regarding over-indulgent and overly competitive parents, Rae Pica has grasped the tone of today's educational and parental pitfalls that threaten our young children and has given us an important guidebook for navigating through them.

Thanks to StorkNet moderator Melanie B for writing this review!

To Purchase:
   • A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child at Amazon.com
   • A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child at Amazon UK
   • A Running Start: How Play, Physical Activity and Free Time Create a Successful Child at Amazon Canada

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