An old one… but still relevant.
This is an edited version of a comment I had written (in 2006) in response to a sister’s thoughts on the Malay language. She had spoken about the Malays in Singapore and the need to return to appreciating the Malay language and heritage to build an outstanding and glorious generation.
In penning down these thoughts, I hope that I don’t appear contentious. Well, actually, who cares if I do? :P First of all, I don’t deny the advantages of learning a language or, for that matter, more than one language – it helps to build rapport and forge friendships and it is certainly an asset for da`wah. I also agree that the Malay language can be profoundly beautiful.
My take on the Malay language is simply this: that it is just another language. I confess, I do not have the interest to expand or cultivate the Malay language nor do I feel mortified that people other than Malays are teaching Malay at varsity level. I may draw a lot of flak for what I am about to say, but you see, even though I am a Malay, I do not find it necessary. By this, I mean vital to my identity or mission in life. Lest I be misconstrued as a ‘banana’ (i.e., that I am “yellow on the outside but think I am white on the inside”), let me clarify that I do not think that English is superior to Malay either. :)
What makes a Malay “Malay”? Is it the ancestry? Is it the language? Is it the mores he adopts? I remember the Malay movies I watched when I was growing up. They emphasized certain traits like honour, courage, hospitality and gentility (sopan-santun) and back then, I thought these formed the core of our identity.
The more I think about the matter, though, the more convinced I am that race or culture are secondary at best and irrelevant at worst. I have a HUGE problem with the Malay culture – and here I stress once again that I am a Malay and have no problem saying I am one, in case someone feels like walloping me – especially when people place it above religion. I am tired of attending events with music and free mixing. I am tired of hearing how a man must provide hantaran for his bride. (Look it up… these are wedding gifts and money that are given to the bride and do not come under mahr.) I am tired of people saying, “Tapi ini budaya kita!” (“But this is our culture!”) even when told that a certain action is bid`ah and haram.
I used to work in a Malay/Muslim (I hate that term – why not just “Muslim”? but I digress…) organisation and come Bulan Bahasa (Malay Language Month), we would get requests from other Malay organisations asking us to support or sponsor their efforts to promote the Malay language/culture. There were a few worthy causes, but many involved things that are questionable or haram (music, dance etc). In general, it was a reflection of how we Malays are just not understanding the reality of our sad situation.
As a teenager, I had teachers who, seeing how the Malays were lagging academically, pushed us on. Religion was never mentioned, only ethnic pride. I suppose they felt that Islam was a given and was thus taken for granted. I never questioned it then either, but I think that had they instead brought religion to the forefront and used that as a means to attain excellence, how much better it would have been. They would have gone to the root of the problem and achieved success that went beyond the books.
Pride in language and culture are but flawed stategies to success. We can’t gain honour or achieve kegemilangan by promoting our culture or language. We can only get it by striving for the pleasure of Allah and we can only do this if we obey Him and put our deen supreme. This we can only do with knowledge and how can we truly understand if we do not know the language in which Allah spoke to us?
The sister mentioned in her blog, “So before we start learning about other people’s language and religion, shouldn’t we be experts in our own language and religion first?” If we were to try to be experts in our own religion first, then I think that our time and effort would be better spent, not on Malay, but on Arabic. It is infinitely more beautiful and complex than any other language.
Most of all, it is the language of our faith.
Language can shape one’s character, so if we were to hope for excellence for the Malays, then again, I think the best language would be through Arabic. Ibn Taymiyyah rahimahullah said, “Using a language has a profound effect on one’s thinking, behavior and religious commitment. It also affects one’s resemblance to the early generations of this Ummah, the Shahaabah and the Taabi’een. Trying to emulate them refines one’s thinking, religious commitment and behavior.”
Why do the Malays continue to harp on how important Malay is? Why are we so sad that our youngsters are not fluent in it? Why do we not instead grieve over the fact that we cannot understand the Book that holds the key to our salvation?
I am not trying to say one should simply sweep Malay under the carpet; neither am I saying that we should deny our Malay heritage. I am just saying that we are Muslims first and last and that Arabic should be our lingua franca.
After all, what are the Malays without Islam? Nothing much really.
Q&A: The Best Kind of Play for Kids
by Vikki Valentine
Taken from National Public Radio
Play has never seemed more like work.
Sending kids off to play used to be a break – for children and their parents. But now, with thousands of play options, from elaborate princess dresses and video games, to a cultural emphasis on structuring every minute of a child’s time, play has become stressful and expensive.
But neuroscientist Adele Diamond and psychologist Deborah Leong have good news: The best kind of play costs nothing and really only has one main requirement – imagination.
When children learn to rely on themselves for playtime – improvising props, making up games and stories – they’re actually developing critical cognitive skills, including an important one called “executive function,” they say. Essentially, executive function is the ability to regulate one’s own behavior – a key skill for controlling emotions, resisting impulses and exerting self control and discipline.
Diamond is a professor of developmental cognitive neuroscience at the University of British Columbia. Leong is a professor of psychology at Metropolitan State College of Denver, and co-author of the book, Tools of the Mind: The Vygotskian Approach to Early Childhood Education.
Below, they answer your questions on how children can get the most out of play.
Almost all people agree that video games can be a downfall for our children. Do you think that Wii gaming is going in a better direction as far as getting children moving with video games? – Carol Halliburton, Dover, Tenn.
Wii will certainly help with visual-motor skills and perhaps reducing obesity, but I do not think it will help with executive functions. A superior Wii player will react automatically. For improving executive functions, you need games that require children to stop and think, where their first impulse would often not lead to the best result. Certainly, a video game could be constructed that challenged executive function skills, but I have not seen any like that. – Adele Diamond
We are looking at preschools for our twins. What questions should we ask? If they allow free time for play, is that enough? – Lisa Payne, Los Angeles
You should ask how much time is devoted to play each day and whether it’s free play or supervised or planned play.
Free time for play is better than no or little play, but it is not enough.
For example, social pretend play is an excellent means for exercising and building up the executive functions of working memory (children must hold their own role and those of others in mind), inhibitory control (children must inhibit acting out of character), and cognitive flexibility (children must flexibly adjust to unexpected twists and turns in the evolving plot). But social pretend play doesn’t have much value if children are free to abandon a play scenario after a few moments or are not held accountable for staying within their chosen role.
And play needs to be facilitated by adults who are trained in observing children and in understanding how play contributes to children’s mastery of concepts and skills. – Adele Diamond
My son is a 4-year-old who loves to engage in imaginative play. His favorite is to pretend that we are an animal family of some kind. But he will not do this kind of play alone. He insists on having a playmate, either me or a child his age. Is this a problem? – Martha Stinson, Alexandria, Va.
It is not at all important that he play alone. It’s very good that he enjoys social imaginative play. – Adele Diamond
Is there any way to turn the process around again in the adolescent years? Is there a way through imaginative play to restore in high school students what they may have lost out on in their early childhood years? – Beverly Opalka, Waukegan, Ill.
Yes, imaginative play can be helpful at any age, as can martial arts, dance, music, many sports or storytelling. What you are looking for is a fun activity that requires sustained concentration, holding information in mind and using it (often complex information), and something that requires resisting what might be your first inclination. – Adele Diamond
I teach kindergarten and I notice that a lot of play focuses on recreating TV shows or movies. How can I encourage more creative play? – Julie Bernstein, Oak Park, Il.
Vivian Gussin Paley, a longtime kindergarten teacher and MacArthur “genius” award winner, has written wonderful books about having children make up stories and then act them out with their classmates. The children took great pride in seeing their stories become the study of a class drama. I suggest that you take a look at her books. – Adele Diamond
You suggest encouraging children to talk to themselves. How does one do this? – Cat Gould, Phoenix, Ore.
When you, as an adult, want to make sure that you remember to do something correctly, you may silently repeat the instruction to yourself. It helps you to regulate your behavior. The same is true for children, but even more so. They need more support for self-regulation, and they can’t yet do that silently, so they say it out loud.
With a 5-year-old, you can tell him that if he repeats something to himself, it will help him to remember. So if they are trying to learn to spell something, for example, tell them they will remember it better if they spell it silently to themselves.
With even younger children, have them tell a friend or say it aloud to help themselves remember. So, for example, if a child is trying to remember his phone number, we would ask the child to say the phone number, or we would ask the child to tell a friend the phone number. – Deborah Leong
I teach kindergarten in a public school. How much of a full 7.5-hour day do you recommend be given to play? How do I defend this choice to parents and administrators who want to see children learning to read at this age? – Lauren Salazar, Springfield, Va.
We believe that children in kindergarten should engage in play at least 30 to 40 minutes each day. This is not just wandering around from thing to thing, but planning the play in advance with other children â€” where the play is negotiated with the group, where there are roles and pretend scenarios, based on books, that develop and change with the story line.
This kind of play is about developing reading skills, and it promotes the kind of creativity and flexibility in thinking that is measured in creativity tests. When children engage in this kind of make-believe play â€” which is more akin to dramatizing the storyâ€” they are playing with the components of the story, and they deepen their understanding of the story line, and how they can change the story.
For instance, I saw these little girls, they were playing Cinderella, and one time they would pretend the step-sisters were nice, and one time they would pretend Cinderella was mean. They were playing around with the characters and the story line, which helps the comprehension skills they’ll need when they’re fluent readers.
The second thing is that they are really immersing themselves in the world of the author, just like when an adult reads a book and the words disappear â€” you’re living the story, and that’s what they’re practicing doing. It’s really important in kindergarten that the play be a take-off on stories they read or that are read to them. Preschoolers play what they know, what they’ve experienced. But in kindergarten, play should be totally imaginary. – Deborah Leong and Adele Diamond
Does supplying children with props for unstructured imaginative play, such as simple costumes and accessories, help or hinder their level of self-regulation? – Deana Porretta, Clarksville, Tenn.
The more children need to use their imagination and hold in mind what they selected a given object would stand for, or what role each person decided to play, the better. Therefore, it’s better not to use costumes or accessories that are targeted for specific scenarios, e.g. doctor or fireman, but rather for children to use available materials to come up with their own way to identify the fireman and what they want to stand for the water hose. – Adele Diamond
I am virtually a single mother to a 4-year-old healthy, smart, happy girl. In order for me to be able to get things done, I have resorted to TV and DVD movies to keep her unfocused on me. What is the acceptable max amount of TV time? – Githa Spring Hampson, Santa Monica, Calif.
There is no set amount of time, but the less time the better. Getting your child interested in drawing something, stacking blocks, building (or dismantling) something, or telling a story to a stuffed animal would be far better for her development if you can get her engaged in that. – Adele Diamond
I have a 13-month-old son. What kind of activities could you suggest for that age group to encourage imagination? – Connie Clifford, Freeport, Maine
You can play hiding games with him, where you hide something and he needs to find it. You can turn those into a problem-solving task by putting a barrier in the shortest path to the hidden treat so that your son needs to detour around to retrieve what you’ve hidden.
You can also play simple versions of the game Concentration. You have a set of cards that are put in rows and columns, and you get to turn over two cards on your turn. If those cards match, you get to keep the cards.
Say you turn over a panda bear as your first card – you have to remember where the other panda is.
You don’t need cards – you can use cups with little toys underneath, like little animals or little balls. But they only get to keep the toys when they have two of a kind.
Or try multiple-step imitation games, such as putting a tiny animal on one end of a stick from an ice cream pop (using the stick as a lever), and then showing the child that if you press down on the other end of the stick, the tiny animal goes flying. Such imitation games tax working memory and could be great fun for your son for long extended periods at a time. – Adele Diamond
My daughter will be 3 next month. She loves imaginative play, but when we play together, she is extremely bossy toward me. She constantly tells me I am doing things “wrong.” Do I indulge her and let her make all the rules? – Sheri Hyman, Brooklyn, N.Y.
Your daughter sounds very normal for her age. She is engaging in “other regulation,” that is, regulating other people. “Other regulation” is the first step in learning to regulate oneself. It is easier to see what others should do, and when others make mistakes, than to see what you yourself should do and when you yourself make a mistake.
It is fine to talk about taking turns, but she may not be able to do that quite yet. You could suggest what to do, such as, “We could do this or this,” and then, importantly, let your daughter choose.
You could also perhaps turn the pretend situation into your child telling a “dolly” what to do. Sometimes giving an inanimate object the duty of doing what your daughter wants can help a lot.
Note, it is one thing when you are playing with your child, and another when you are telling her to go to bed. It’s not good to give into her whims when you are telling her to do something she needs to do. â€” Deborah Leong
Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills
by Alix Spiegel
February 21, 2008
Taken from National Public Radio
On October 3, 1955, the Mickey Mouse Club debuted on television. As we all now know, the show quickly became a cultural icon, one of those phenomena that helped define an era.
What is less remembered but equally, if not more, important, is that another transformative cultural event happened that day: The Mattel toy company began advertising a gun called the “Thunder Burp.”
I know – who’s ever heard of the Thunder Burp?
Well, no one.
The reason the advertisement is significant is because it marked the first time that any toy company had attempted to peddle merchandise on television outside of the Christmas season. Until 1955, ad budgets at toy companies were minuscule, so the only time they could afford to hawk their wares on TV was during Christmas. But then came Mattel and the Thunder Burp, which, according to Howard Chudacoff, a cultural historian at Brown University, was a kind of historical watershed. Almost overnight, children’s play became focused, as never before, on things – the toys themselves.
“It’s interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys,” says Chudacoff. “Whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object.”
Chudacoff’s recently published history of child’s play argues that for most of human history what children did when they played was roam in packs large or small, more or less unsupervised, and engage in freewheeling imaginative play. They were pirates and princesses, aristocrats and action heroes. Basically, says Chudacoff, they spent most of their time doing what looked like nothing much at all.
“They improvised play, whether it was in the outdoors… or whether it was on a street corner or somebody’s back yard,” Chudacoff says. “They improvised their own play; they regulated their play; they made up their own rules.”
But during the second half of the 20th century, Chudacoff argues, play changed radically. Instead of spending their time in autonomous shifting make-believe, children were supplied with ever more specific toys for play and predetermined scripts. Essentially, instead of playing pirate with a tree branch they played Star Wars with a toy light saber. Chudacoff calls this the commercialization and co-optation of child’s play – a trend which begins to shrink the size of children’s imaginative space.
But commercialization isn’t the only reason imagination comes under siege. In the second half of the 20th century, Chudacoff says, parents became increasingly concerned about safety, and were driven to create play environments that were secure and could not be penetrated by threats of the outside world. Karate classes, gymnastics, summer camps – these create safe environments for children, Chudacoff says. And they also do something more: for middle-class parents increasingly worried about achievement, they offer to enrich a child’s mind.
Change in Play, Change in Kids
Clearly the way that children spend their time has changed. Here’s the issue: A growing number of psychologists believe that these changes in what children do has also changed kids’ cognitive and emotional development.
It turns out that all that time spent playing make-believe actually helped children develop a critical cognitive skill called executive function. Executive function has a number of different elements, but a central one is the ability to self-regulate. Kids with good self-regulation are able to control their emotions and behavior, resist impulses, and exert self-control and discipline.
We know that children’s capacity for self-regulation has diminished. A recent study replicated a study of self-regulation first done in the late 1940s, in which psychological researchers asked kids ages 3, 5 and 7 to do a number of exercises. One of those exercises included standing perfectly still without moving. The 3-year-olds couldn’t stand still at all, the 5-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the 7-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked. In 2001, researchers repeated this experiment. But, psychologist Elena Bodrova at Mid-Continent Research for Education and Learning says, the results were very different.
“Today’s 5-year-olds were acting at the level of 3-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s 7-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a 5-year-old 60 years ago,” Bodrova explains. “So the results were very sad.”
Sad because self-regulation is incredibly important. Poor executive function is associated with high dropout rates, drug use and crime. In fact, good executive function is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ. Children who are able to manage their feelings and pay attention are better able to learn. As executive function researcher Laura Berk explains, “Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.”
The Importance of Self-Regulation
According to Berk, one reason make-believe is such a powerful tool for building self-discipline is because during make-believe, children engage in what’s called private speech: They talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it.
“In fact, if we compare preschoolers’ activities and the amount of private speech that occurs across them, we find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play,” Berk says. “And this type of self-regulating language… has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions.”
And it’s not just children who use private speech to control themselves. If we look at adult use of private speech, Berk says, “we’re often using it to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions.”
Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. Essentially, because children’s play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids’ toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren’t getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity, says Berk, the results are clear: Self-regulation improves.
“One index that researchers, including myself, have used… is the extent to which a child, for example, cleans up independently after a free-choice period in preschool,” Berk says. “We find that children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that responsibility with… greater willingness, and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting.”
Despite the evidence of the benefits of imaginative play, however, even in the context of preschool young children’s play is in decline. According to Yale psychological researcher Dorothy Singer, teachers and school administrators just don’t see the value.
“Because of the testing, and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals. Play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time,” Singer says. “I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills.”
It seems that in the rush to give children every advantage – to protect them, to stimulate them, to enrich them – our culture has unwittingly compromised one of the activities that helped children most. All that wasted time was not such a waste after all.
February 22, 2008
NPR reporter Alix Spiegel reports on how play has shifted focus from “activity” to “things.”
MATT MARTINEZ: Great, great, great. I’m very excited. The number-one-most-e-mailed story at npr.org is headlined: Old-fashioned play builds serious skills, with an S not a Z, unfortunately. It’s by NPR science reporter Alix Spiegel, and it basically traces how childhood has been changing, and she starts with an episode of “The Mickey Mouse Club.” She says that’s a turning-point of sorts.
In 1955, it basically changed the way that children would be spending their time, and some experts say the shift has altered children’s imaginations, the way that the minds develop. So here she is explaining what happened that day.
ALIX SPIEGEL, reporting:
It was during the first episode of “The Mickey Mouse Club” that the Mattel Toy Company introduced a new product, a toy gun that the company claimed had almost magical properties.
(Soundbite of television advertisement)
(Soundbite of Thunder Burp toy gun)
Unidentified Announcer: It’s broken the sound barrier. It’s the Mattel Thunder Burp with a real, vibro-sonic sound chamber that’s loaded forever and ever. No batteries, no caps. That Thunder Burp looks like real, sounds like real.
(Soundbite of Thunder Burp toy gun)
SPIEGEL: Historian Howard Chudacoff says that until that October afternoon, no toy company had ever tried to sell merchandise on television year-round. The only time toy manufacturers advertised on TV was during Christmas.
But then came Mattel and the burp gun, and according to Chudacoff, a professor at Brown University who recently wrote a history of child’s play, almost overnight, children’s play became focused as never before on the toy itself.
Professor HOWARD CHUDACOFF (Cultural Historian, Brown University): It’s interesting to me that when we talk about play today, the first thing that comes to mind are toys, whereas when I would think of play in the 19th century, I would think of activity rather than an object.
SPIEGEL: You see for most of human history, what children did when children played was engage in free-wheeling, imaginative play, elaborate narratives of pirates and princesses. Basically, they spent most of their time doing what looked like nothing much at all.
Prof. CHUDACOFF: They improvised play, whether it was in the outdoors, the fields and the forests, or whether it was on a street-corner or somebody’s backyard. They improvised their own play. They regulated their play. They made up their own rules.
SPIEGEL: But Chudacoff argues once TV and toys began to supply children with ever-more-specific scripts and special props for their stories, the size of children’s imaginative space begins to shrink, and that’s not the only way that imagination comes under siege, according to Chudacoff.
In the second half of the 20th century, he says, parents were increasingly concerned about safety, which again affected play.
Prof. CHUDACOFF: Because then adults wanted to structure it more, to create environments that are safe, that are secure, that cannot be penetrated from the threats from the outside world.
SPIEGEL: To protect their children, parents began to place their kids in adult-moderated activities, which says Chudacoff, has another benefit, especially to middle-class parents worried about achievement. They promise enrichment.
Prof. CHUDACOFF: You know, karate classes and gymnastics, summer camps not only create safe environments for children but also give them enriched lives and ways to create self-esteem.
SPIEGEL: So clearly, the way that most children spent their time has changed, and of course there have been other changes in the lives of kids, but a growing number of psychologists believe that these changes in how children play have led to changes in their cognitive and emotional development. Here’s some of the evidence.
Back in the late 1940s, some psychological researchers did a series of tests on children. In one of the tests, they asked kids ages three, five and seven to stand perfectly still without moving. The three-year-olds couldn’t do this exercise at all, the five-year-olds could do it for about three minutes, and the seven-year-olds could stand pretty much as long as the researchers asked.
In 2001, some researchers actually repeated this experiment. But as psychologist Elena Bodrova explains, the results were very different.
Ms. ELENA BODROVA (National Institute for Early Education Research): Today’s five-year-olds were acting at the level of three-year-olds 60 years ago, and today’s seven-year-olds were barely approaching the level of a five-year-olds 60 years ago, so the results were very sad.
SPIEGEL: Sad because the children were less able to do something called self-regulation. Self-regulation is the ability to control emotions and behavior. It’s a key component of a broader set of skills called executive function. Kids with good self-regulation aren’t impulsive, they have self-control, discipline, and this self-regulation is incredibly important. In fact, good self-regulation is a better predictor of success in school than a child’s IQ.
Ms. LAURA BERK (Executive Function Researcher, Illinois State University): Self-regulation predicts effective development in virtually every domain.
SPIEGEL: This is executive function researcher Laura Berk of Illinois State University. She says make-believe is a powerful tool for building self-regulation. That’s because during make-believe, children engage in what’s called private speech: they talk to themselves about what they are going to do and how they are going to do it, laying out the rules of play for themselves.
Ms. BERK: We find that this self-regulating language is highest during make-believe play, and this type of self-regulating language, which we call private speech, has been shown in many studies to be predictive of executive functions.
SPIEGEL: Basically, it’s through this private speech that children control and regulate themselves. In fact, private speech is how adults control and regulate themselves, too.
Ms. BERK: If we look our own use of private speech, what we find is that we’re often using it to surmount obstacles, to master cognitive and social skills, and to manage our emotions.
SPIEGEL: Unfortunately, the more structured the play, the more children’s private speech declines. Essentially what’s happening is that because children’s play is so focused on lessons and leagues, and because kids’ toys increasingly inhibit imaginative play, kids aren’t getting a chance to practice policing themselves. When they have that opportunity, the results are clear: Self-regulation improves.
Ms. BERK: One index that researchers, including myself, have used to look at that is the extent to which a child, for example, cleans up independently after a free-choice period in preschool. We find that children who are most effective at complex make-believe play take on that responsibility with greater willingness and even will assist others in doing so without teacher prompting.
SPIEGEL: Despite the evidence of the benefits of imaginative play, a number of child-development experts say free-choice play is in decline even in preschool. Here’s psychological researcher Dorothy Singer of Yale.
Dr. DOROTHY SINGER (Psychological Researcher, Yale University): Because of the testing and the emphasis now that you have to really pass these tests, teachers are starting earlier and earlier to drill the kids in their basic fundamentals, so that play is viewed as unnecessary, a waste of time. I mean, I have so many articles that have documented the shortening of free play for children, where the teachers in these schools are using the time for cognitive skills.
SPIEGEL: Singer and others argue that it’s not actually helpful to leave imaginative play behind. They say that all that wasted time is really not such waste after all.
STEWART: That’s NPR’s Alix Spiegel with the most e-mailed story right now on npr.org. You can see a list of all of the most e-mailed stories you heard on today’s show npr.org/bryantpark.
Taken from: NPR – The Evolution of Play
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