July 29, 2008
Taking Play Seriously by Robin Marantz Henig Part IV
Koach Karl continues with this great article on "Play"
‘‘The Future of Play Theory.’’ His findings were taken as evidence that spontaneous free play led to more creative thinking. But then he started to wonder whether he himself had fallen victim to the play ethos.
Idealization is a trap. And it seems most seductive when it comes to play, especially one particular kind: pretend play. This is the kind ethnologists tend to ignore, since it is difficult to argue — though a few scientists have tried — that animals are capable of pretending. Yet for humans, pretend play is one of the most crucial forms of play, occupying at its peak at about age 4 some 20 percent of a child’s day. It includes some of the most wondrous moments of childhood: dramatic play, wordplay, ritual play, symbolic play, games, jokes and imaginary friends. And it is the kind of play that positively screams out for hyperbole when outsiders try to describe it. This is where even coolheaded scientists get florid in their prose — and where play advocates like Stuart Brown and play skeptics like Peter Smith engage in their most vivid disagreements about the ultimate purpose of play.
The skeptical Smith does see some value to fantasy play: when children dress up, make and use props and devise story lines to playact, he says, they learn to use sophisticated language, negotiate roles and exchange information. But he adds that many of these benefits could be gained just as well through other forms of play, work activities and plain old-fashioned instruction. Smith does not deny that playing is great fun — his own children were playing noisily in the background when I phoned him at his home in London, and he never once asked them to hush — but he wants everyone to keep it all in perspective.
Check back next week for the next installment of this article on "Play"