Monday, December 21, 2009

Where the Action Is: On the Site of the "Playful" Life (Part 5: Children at Play)

Lately I haven't been able to keep up with my series of posts on play. Teaching a new course both this and next term, coupled with taking on some new administrative responsibilities, and polishing some other pieces of work, all necessitated putting my research on play on the back burner for a few months.

So as a treat to myself I have put aside some time over the holiday break to read this book, entitled Children at Play. Like aging, I believe play is among one of the most important neglected issues of our times.

What I intend to with my blog is make a note of some important parts of Chudacoff's (CH) book so I can easily refer back to them in the future. So below are my notes on the first 50 pages of the book.

The book will focus on children between the ages of 6-12. And in the intro CH notes Mark Twain's definition of play: "Work consists of whatever a body is obliged to do. Play consists of whatever a body is not obliged to do" (1). CH notes that it is almost impossible to provide a single, acceptable definition of play.

For Twain's character Tom Sawyer (pictured above), play is, notes CH, spontaneous, joyous activity. But CH notes that play experts also emphasize the functional, utilitarian qualities of play. Play helps an individual acquire vital social, emotional, physical and cognitive skills (1).

The psychologist Garvey identifies 4 components of children's play: (1) it is pleasurable; (2) play has no extrinsic value; (3) play is freely chosen; and (4) play involves active engagement on the part of the player (3).

And CH considers 4 components of play: (a) the environment (setting where play occurs), (b) the materials, (c) dramatis personae, and (d) freedom (how much control a child has over the activity.

Chapter 1 of the book considers play in America from 1600-1800. CH distinguishes between different racial groups- whites, African and Indian peoples- as well as boys and girls. Most play during the colonial era took place outdoors. Only a small minority of the population lived in cities.

Ch summarizes the situation of preadolescence children during this era as follows:

...While Indians, African Americans and whites made important contributions to the family economy, they were at times able to build their own play culture, more alternative than oppositional, around a mostly unstructured kind of play. Whether roaming through woods and interacting with nature along the way, or creating fantasies and games with self-fashioned playthings, or simply socializing with siblings and, when available, other children, young people in their preteen years manifested a definite play instinct. This is not to deny that challenges and hardhsip filled their lives; they toiled in fields and households, they fought illness and sorrow, they endured dry summers and harsh winters, and they struggled with warnings of dire consequences for defying parents and God. Still, they tried, and sometimes succeeded, to follow their own "inclinations" (38).

That's all for now in terms of a few notes from the Intro and Ch. 1. I hope to do another post or two on the rest of the book over the holiday period.