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October 24, 2002 Education alumna's research shows benefits of solitary play




by Melanie Takefman

Research by Concordia education graduate Bronwen Lloyd and Professor Nina Howe indicates that solitary play can enhance a child’s imagination and creativity.

Their findings have piqued the interest of the education community and the national media because solitude is often considered detrimental to a child’s social skills. Similarly, preschool curricula emphasize peer interaction and group activities.

In research that began as a master’s thesis for Concordia’s child studies program, Lloyd found that four- and five-year-old children who engage in dramatic play (make-believe) alone scored higher in assessments of divergent thinking skills.

Divergent thinking denotes flexibility and finding solutions to problems that can be open-ended,

such as painting to create a picture. Convergent thinking is linked to problem-solving and logic, such as mathematics.

In Lloyd’s research, 72 children were observed in standardized tests for both types of thinking skills.

“Spaces for solitary play allow children to remove themselves from the hustle and bustle around them — a place to think and daydream,” Lloyd told the National Post in an article dated April 20. Lloyd and Howe’s findings were recently published in Early Childhood Education Quarterly.

Lloyd conducted her fieldwork in six Halifax child care centres and then collaborated with Howe, her thesis supervisor, in analyzing and publishing their findings. Since the article was published, Lloyd has been featured on several CBC radio shows as well as in The Globe and Mail.

Both Lloyd and Howe hope that preschool teachers will appreciate the value of solitary play and also provide more materials for open-ended activities like sand and art supplies, that promote divergent thinking.

“Children need private space,” Howe said. “They don’t always have to be part of the big community.” While too much solitary activity is not healthy, Howe said that finding a balance between individual and group activities is “a matter of knowing the individual child.”

Lloyd added that teachers should allow children not to share their toys from time to time. “In our research, the rethinking of the cognitive value of solitary play is warranted, specifically in facilitating creativity,” she wrote in an email from Halifax. “If we accept solitary play as a developmentally appropriate mode of play across the preschool years, then we need to encourage it in play environments.”

Lloyd earned her master’s degree from Concordia in 1997 and currently works as an early childhood development officer with the Nova Scotia Department of Community Services’ Children’s Unit in Halifax.

Her job consists of licensing child care centres and integrating children with special needs into the system.

Nina Howe is currently on sabbatical. She is trained as a developmental psychologist and teacher. Her research focuses on children’s social development.