Friday, February 11, 2011


This time last year I wrote my first post on the subject of play.

In the early days of becoming a mum I happened on the writings of Charlotte Mason who gave me a starting philosophy for play. Over the years of reading on the subject, my interest in the importance of the place of play in children's lives has grown. 

Last month, while 'playing' in a great New Zealand summer ~ in the water, on the beach and in the bush, I read "play" by Stuart Brown with Christopher Vaughan ~ a beautiful green and blue small hard-covered book.

As I read my respect for Stuart Brown grew as I discovered his work involved decades of research in the field watching various animals at play, the study of play deprivation and its connection to the development of hard-core criminal behaviour and teaching in the corporate world to win people to the idea of 'playing'.

I hope to write a few posts based on some of the gems I found in this book.

....... the first quality of play that sets it off from other activities is its APPARENT PURPOSELESSNESS. Play activities don't seem to have any survival value. They don't help in getting money or food.......Play is done for its own sake. That's why some people think of it as a waste of time.
It is also VOLUNTARY - it is not obligatory or required by duty.
Play also has INHERENT ATTRACTION. It's fun. It makes you feel good...... It's a cure for boredom.
Play provides FREEDOM FROM TIME. When we are fully engaged in play, we loose a sense of the passage of time. We also experience DIMINISHED CONSCIOUSNESS OF SELF. We stop worrying about whether we look good or awkward, smart or stupid. We stop thinking about the fact that we are thinking. In imaginary play, we can even be a different self . We are fully in the moment, in the zone.....
Another hallmark of play is that it has IMPROVISATIONAL POTENTIAL. We aren't locked into a rigid way of doing things...... The act of play itself may be outside of "normal" activities. The result is that we stumble upon new behaviours, thoughts, strategies, movements or ways of being....... Those insights weren't the reason (we) played, but they arrived as the result of it. You never really know what's going to happen when you play.
Last, play provides the CONTINUATION DESIRE. We desire to keep doing it, and the pleasure of the experience drives the desire....... If something threatens to stop the fun, we improvise new rules or conditions so that the play doesn't have to end. And when it is over, we want to do it again."
Page 17 - 18 "play" : Stuart Brown.

On returning from my holiday 'play', at the northern end of the simple, slow Tutukaka coast, I was stunned on entering our local mall to see dozens of children playing in the centre's play area. Yes, the play equipment is probably professionally designed. Lovely safety flooring is down to cushion any tumble or fall, if that should occur. But these children were not involved in doing what Stuart Brown's book had described as 'play'.
Mr Brown's seven properties of play is the closest he gets to defining what play is, but I think he has given us sufficient to 'play with' and diagnose if a child is playing or not. So let's look at each.

I love this one because it straight from the start reminds us that we don't need to justify play on some curriculum with tangible outcomes, purposes, future developmental steps...... It's simple, unorganized, individual and unique to each person and for each person.

Well, that rules out kids being 'rail-roaded' into playing in teams they'd rather not be in, or forced to play in ways that they don't choose. This point tells us that the player initiates what, when and how they will play. As a parent it is good to have a whole lot of play gear and things for children to go through and get to know - but they are the ones who should choose how and what to play with and when to finish up to move on to something new.
I enjoyed reading the sections of the book "play" where the author relived his childhood of child dominated afternoons of play, where the kids decided what to play and worked out among themselves how the game was going to be played. Children had the freedom to play without guidance, not being affected in any way because no parents or adults were in sight. (It wasn't because they were away at jobs either).
These photos come from a story in the book where a tame husky dog, Hudson, got involved in an experience of a lifetime. It was the end of winter in Canada's north. Waterways were still frozen and therefore polar bears were very hungry by now, waiting for access to their choice salmon once spring arrived. One such polar bear appeared and moved towards a group of dogs of which Hudson was the leader. Hudson bowed, the bear lolloped and in moments the two were literally playing in full happiness. Then the polar bear turned and went back to where he had come from. Brian La Doone, the owner of Hudson, was amazed. The following day at the same time and place, again the bear appeared and went through the play routine. This went on for a week with a gathered group of spectators growing by the day to watch the spectacle. Meanwhile the temperature was slowly rising, the iced waterways melted and the polar bear came no more.

My friend the dictionary tells me that play is an essential and natural part of our life. A right and function that is a component of being a person. Possibly it is like eating, drinking and sleep.... which we want to do because we must do them to live well. This is why we are attracted to food, drinks, rest and play. We experience feelings of well being , satisfaction, happiness.... after playing, resting, drinking or eating. But play has the bonus ability of curing boredom. The other three meet our needs but play extends and develops us and this is very attractive even addictive to us.

There are things I remember doing as a girl where I became so absorbed that I didn't miss not sleeping or eating. Time had flown and it was irrelevant to me that Mum had yelled out saying dinner was on the table and now getting cold. I was satisfied as I played.

This describes the state where children are freed to be themselves. They don't feel they are being observed, checked on or compared with others. They could be on their own playing or with other like-minded players. They are relaxed and at ease with themselves, with what they are doing and life at the moment.

The best way to understand this point is to listen to some music by people such as Ray Charles, Louis Armstrong or Billy Holiday, or watch some Appalachian mountain cloggers perform. This tap dance style and these jazz musicians do not perform to a predetermined script, they improvise. Every time they sing, play or dance a particular piece, it will be unique - a one-off. 
In relation to play, improvisation is one of the most creative, exciting and exhilarating aspects, which lead children to develop in all areas of life. For creative people and children, this side of play needs to be regularly practiced.

Here we have a cycle.  want to play - play - love of the experience builds bigger hopes to...
                                      want to play - play - ...........
The seventh property of play also speaks of a base on which future skills of prolonged concentration in all sorts of areas of life, will develop.

You may be thinking so what, seven properties of play. What's it got to do with my children and their playing?

THISWEEKWITHTHEKIDS you could think of what your child's favourite play occupation is. Or the environment where your child plays most. Now re read the seven properties of play and carefully decide if they are experiencing each for themselves.
You may conclude that play at your house needs to change. Do it, and enjoy play as it was intended to be enjoyed.


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