November 17, 2011

"How children’s ‘play’ is being sneakily redefined."

Redefined? What is the right definition? It seems to me that the definition — for education policy discussion purposes — should embody our reasons for thinking that play is something we should care about children getting the chance to do.

25 comments:

edutcher said...

If adults have to define it, they've taken it over, but I guess this is an outflow of the whole Tiger Mom thing.

I'm just surprised the WaPo dislikes it.

traditionalguy said...

Some college prep private schools over do the academics first to the exclusion of all free play time.

There has always been a flexible balance between recess, unstructured lunchtime, and after school sports activities, which are versions of free play time.

The question will become how many of those times can be regimented out under some New Theory.

Psychedelic George said...

I've been reading "Hell to Pay," a political biography of Hillary Clinton by Barbara Olson, who was murdered on 9/11.

This is all about using children to increase the size and power of government. If you use children as a wedge issue, consider how hard it becomes for your opponents to attack your goals.

"Oh, but this is for the children! You must not care about children!"

"The pretense that children's issues are somehow above or beyond politics endures and is reinforced by the belief that families are private, nonpolitical units whose interests subsume those of children." - Hillary Clinton

Scott M said...

Play, as far as my kids are concerned, is anything that amuses them that doesn't cause them physical harm and doesn't damage my property. This is my working definition for the 2, 4, and 7 year olds. As they get older, and the 7-year-old is on the cusp, of course this will change a bit. To my infinite chagrin, she's VERY interested in boys already.

Patrick said...

Fucking google ate my long comment. Why doesn't that ever happen to the short ones?

Sorun said...

I live a block from an elementary school, and I can hear screaming kids non-stop for two hours in the middle of the day. Presumably they're playing kickball or something similar like I did decades ago.

The non-stop screaming indicates the play is working. A ball and a game. What needs to be analysed and re-engineered?

MayBee said...

What's scary is how "educational policy" is being sneakily redefined.

Michelle Dulak Thomson said...

The author doesn't know whether to laugh or shudder at this:

“Kids need careful adult guidance and instruction before they are able to play in a productive way.”

I go with "shudder." Jesus God, the thought that the author of that sentence must once have been a child ...

wv: uppetted. You can say that again.

Andrea said...

"the thought that the author of that sentence must once have been a child ..."

The real Revenge of the Nerds. Always the last chosen for the kickball team, but not smart enough to get into the A/V club, they grew up determined that no one else would get to play either.

ricpic said...

Children have to put on helmets before they play nowadays on the theory you can't be too safe. Well, I'm sure do-gooders think so.

Patrick said...

The school my kids attend, which perenially complains about a lack of funding has hired an outfit to "guide" the kids' play during recess. Can't have any fighting, they say. They don't seem to realize that fighting is a part of learning to resolve disputes. Not a great way, but kids need to be allowed to figure things out with each other - including fighting - without an adult sticking her nose into it all of the time. There is precious little opportunity for kids to do so without adult intervention. Too bad.

Earlier this past summer, I was quite heartened to see a group of about 15 kids, ages around 11-13 or so playing baseball at a park, with no adults around "coaching." Too bad that is so rare.

rhhardin said...

Firecrackers in flying paper and balsa model airplanes are a thing of the past.

Of course on the actual school playground all that was allowed was burning leaves with magnifying glasses.

Firecrackers was after school.

DADvocate said...

There's a children's book named "Soccersaurus" about a bunch of kids who get together regularly to play soccer for fun. Then the adults get involved, set up practices, set teams, create leagues, etc. All is ruined. Ruining childhood seems to be the primary goal of the educational set and their supporters since WW II.

Cheryl said...

Just as eductcher said...

If you have to make or encourage a kid to do it, it isn't play.

TMink said...

I disagree that play has no point. Play is self directed. That is completely different. The point is to have an enjoyable experience.

Trey

Amy said...

I have often reflected that this is a direct result of the women's movement. Both parents working all day, kid in daycare, every moment scheduled, twelve months a year. No chance to lay on your back in the grass looking for animal shapes in the clouds,throw rocks in the creek,make wreaths out of daisies, put frogs in your pocket, and all the other things we did in the off-school hours, while our moms were HOME.
A friend's daughter, when asked where she wanted to go on vacation, said "Home." She was in aftercare every school day and daycare/camp every day all summer. Staying home all day for a week or two was a treat!

So none of this overscheduled, overmanaged, over-taught playing surprises me. It saddens me, but it doesn't surprise me.

Suburbanbanshee said...

St. Thomas Aquinas defined it in several places, because he said it was a necessary relaxation of mind and body for adults as well as students, and for all humans doing any kind of work or learning. But he agrees that it is necessarily done for its own sake:

"An Exposition of the 'On the hebdomads' of Boethius", by
St. Thomas Aquinas.

From a passage discussing Proverbs 8:

"Here one must consider that the contemplation of Wisdom is suitably compared to play on two counts... First, because play is delightful, and the contemplation of Wisdom possesses maximum delight... Second, because things done in play are not ordered to anything else but are sought for their own sake, and this same trait belongs to the delights of Wisdom... one suffers no anxiety, as if waiting for something that might be lacking.

Suburbanbanshee said...

Sorry about the last bit of the quote -- his point was that, if you don't do things for their own sake but as part of a plan, you're not completely relaxed and delighted. There's enjoyment in doing things for a plan, but there's also the strong possibility of disappointment. So an activity undertaken in total freedom from a greater rationale is more truly relaxing and delightful.

Nazianzen saw Creation and God's sustinence of it as essentially an act of love-filled play and delight, and a lot of other theologians also saw God's relationship with us and the love among the Persons of the Trinity, as one of play. (That bit from Proverbs about Wisdom/Christ/the Holy Spirit being one major reason.)

Scott M said...

But he agrees that it is necessarily done for its own sake

In the case of children, though, especially small children, play is how they figure out how the world actually works. Gravity, for instance, and friction. Both of those in bucketfulls.

Henry said...

Scott M wrote: Gravity, for instance, and friction. Both of those in bucketfulls.

Yes. Such as the day my brother and I decided to go sledding down the stairs.

Kirk Parker said...

How delightful to see Aquinas and Boethius mentioned in the same thread.

Craig said...

"Even preschool teachers are told to sacrifice opportunities for imaginative play in favor of drilling young children until they master a defined set of skills."

Why do we even talk about such a thing as a "pre-school" teacher. The term, as it's used, is oxymoronic. Let's face it, pre-school is little more than government-paid day care.

I blame the entire mess on John Dewey who convinced the nation -- quite brilliantly -- that children must be "socialized", that is, put into a room with a gang of little heathens of their own age to learn the, apparently mysterious, mechanism of learning how to get along with other people from other people who don't know how to get along with other people.

Children do need to know how to function in society, but they learn that naturally by imitating older siblings, parents, and grandparents. Children's play is being sneakily redefined, but it was prefigured by the redefinition of education.

Jamie said...
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Jamie said...
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Jamie said...

Craig - I'm a preschool director, and originally I wrote a big long comment that was basically my spiel to prospective preschool parents. Not the right venue for that. So here's what I'd say:

The function of a good preschool today is to provide, in abundance, what too many modern families no longer do provide, or don't provide enough of: an environment in which child-led play is not just permitted but encouraged, facilitated, and (in my opinion, and for the benefit of the parents whose friends are sending their children to "academic" preschools) vigorously defended.

The end of the article, where the author asks what we would do if the benefits of play turned out to be overstated, doesn't even bug me. So many parents come through my doors asking what we'll do to "challenge" their child (who is, of course, an already-reading genius); if they do enroll, they - the parents - begin to change as they see how their child is thriving in a place where dressing up is par for the course, games are played by the rules children create and agree on, "media" means chocolate pudding, feathers, teeny nails, and grass picked from the playground, and the only computers are the ones the children make out of paper or Legos.