The defining characteristics of play hold clues to play's value in children's development.
I was interested to see you define a difference between play and being playful. I use the two words to talk about learning to write. When we explore an idea using prompts then we write in a "playful" explorative way. When children pick up materials for themselves and make books/signs/menus then that is writing "play". Many teacher have only learned to teach writing in a structured manner so bringing in both "playful" and "play" is important to instilling a love of writing. Thanks for your informative newsletters.
What about video games? They seem to satisfy the defining terms offered above for play.
Most of the kids I know play a LOT of video games or games on their phones or other screens. With this in mind, can we then say that kids don't get enough play?
(Came here from the discussion at Haidt's "After Babel": https://jonathanhaidt.substack.com/p/the-play-deficit)
I think it can be a great challenge for adults to really engage in full play with children, but not impossible. I make it a rule for myself that I will only join if I'm actually having fun! (and invited... I treat that as a great honour) It's also great fun when playing for example boardgames to have the option to adapt the rules if needed to make it sometimes more accessible for less experienced players but also presenting a "real" challenge for those who seek that experience... I'm always amazed how young people (that are not indoctrinated to much by the coercive and competitive nature mainly presented in the mainstream world...) manage to include all age groups and make it fun for everybody ❤️ it's often so easy for them to find solutions and in contrast for most adults simply impossible. That's probably the cause why so many young people can not picture adults in play... they are simply no fun 😅 and play is indeed a very serious thing (and that's no contradiction to the fun part)
Another book recommendation! Item #2 reminds me of The Regiment and The White Regiment by John Dalmas (The Kalif's War in the same series isn't as good). It's a sci-fi series about mercenaries and their philosophy in which is the highest "level" for any activity, including war.
I am enjoying this substack and, as an educational researcher, am appreciative of your work and advocacy for play. However, I am pondering whether or not the “self-directed” requirement in your definition of play, which excludes all adult-directed activities from the research category of play, helps to clarify and delimit the phenomenon for future research.
Gordon Burghardt’s seminal 2005 book The Genesis of Animal Play: Testing the Limits begins with a photograph of a mother bonobo bouncing her infant with her feet. Do you exclude this behavior from the research category of play since it is adult-directed? If so, how does your definition of play improve on Burghardt’s (1. Limited immediate function, 2. Endogenous component, 3. Structural or temporal difference, 4. Repeated performance, 5. Relaxed field) in terms of clarifying and delimiting the phenomenon of play for scientific and interdisciplinary study?
My sense is that you are making a thought-provoking and counter-cultural argument for the educational benefits of self-directed play in humans. And I am persuaded by many aspects of this argument. But to exclude all adult-directed activities from the research category of play seems curious.
In any case, I am grateful for your work and would love to hear your thoughts!
When I first 'discovered' play as a scholarly topic -- a strange confluence of a running injury, doctoral research into technology, and the US Air strategy school -- I printed 2 of your articles (Scholarpedia was one of them, I think). They served as a gateway into a more in-depth study that is nearing a decade now.
I enjoyed learning more about what is and is not play. I worked at an early childhood center that valued play, but adults (I have to include myself
here as well!) were often frustrated when children did not play with the items as intended or follow other adult-prescribed rules. I know educators mean well but I think we often miss the mark because we are worried what others might think or deem acceptable and of educational value.