Section A: Knowledge of the Developmental Milestones During middle childhood, children’s play undergoes several changes, the most obvious of which is children engage in games with rules. These rule-oriented games include informally organized games as well as formally organized sports, such as little league, club or intramural sports. The former category may be variants on popular sports games, well-known childhood games such as red rover, and invented games that children develop on their own. The principal commonality is that these games have a set of rules and often have multiple roles for players. While informal outdoor play allows children to develop rules and try out multiple scenarios, formal, organized sports allows children to learn rules, appreciate their personal skills, and develop their position on a team. Both types of rule-oriented games are important for developing social competencies and enhanced cognitive capabilities. This milestone develops as children begin to develop more improved motor coordination, a better capacity for information processing, and a heightened social maturity (Berk, 2007, p. 294). The physical skills at play in rule-oriented games include flexibility, balance, agility, and force, reflective of increased muscle strength. All four of these are basic motor capacities which become more refined with the gross motor development of middle childhood. Additionally, children’s enhanced capacity for information processing and gains in reaction time and perspective taking—the ability to understand the motivations and roles of others—enable more sophisticated game play. At this critical juncture school age children’s ability to react to relevant information increases tremendously, i.e. their attention becomes more selective (Kail, 2003). However, it is important to note that these gross motor and associated cognitive skills are in a stage of development, and as such more basic childhood games should precede children’s participation in formal sports like tennis, basketball and football.
The attainment of this milestone, which typically begins to emerge after age five, can be assessed through observation of a child’s play with their peers, as well as through practice, by signing a child up for adult-organized youth sports. The former is much easier to assess, as one should witness a child of age six playing games with their peers. You can overhear children establishing rules for their game play and fine tuning the roles of different individuals. A normally developing child should be cooperating and working out rules for indoor and outdoor games with their friends. A child’s participation in the latter type of rule-oriented games, namely organized sports, is contingent upon parental decision-making.
Section B: Educational Importance of Milestones Research demonstrates that creating and participating in rule-oriented games increases a child’s social skills and improves a child’s peer relations (Fletcher, Nickerson, & Wright, 2003). The cooperation required in child invention of rule-oriented games is substantial practice for cooperation that occurs throughout a child’s academic life. Students with more refined social skills are less alienated at school, are better equipped to deal with conflict, and work better with others, which frequently is necessary to succeed in academics. The 2003 study cited above found that participation in structured leisure activities, in this case sports, not only resulted in higher levels of maturity and teacher ratings of social competency, but also in higher academic grades and teacher ratings of academic competency. One explanation for the increase in cognitive proficiencies could be that rule-oriented play has children experimenting with rules and strategies to various extents, relying on logical reasoning.
Additionally, school age children’s participation in informal outdoor play and organized youth sports can