Friday, September 21, 2018

Getting into the Literature on Play (Part 3)

Unlike the lengthy and dense academic book of The Genesis of Animal Play, Elkind's (E.) The Power of Play is shorter book written for a general audience. I was able to get through it in a day and thought I would highlight a few points that can be helpful to me in writing something on this topic.

I really like the Preface where E. warns of the dangers of hurrying children to grow and become consumers, this risks their physical and mental health, creativity, etc. E. posits a developmental theory of play. I could hear Burghardt's voice in the back on my mind as a I read this saying there is there is no one thing play evolved to develop, but E. develops an integrated theory that links love, work and play so perhaps the two theorists are not that far apart (?).

E.'s theory is based on Freud's motivational orientation and Jean Piaget, who has a great quote: "Play is the answer to the question, How does anything new ever come about?". E. emphasizes the intellectual, social and emotional development play helps facilitate. He claims we have 3 inborn drives- for love, for work and for play. These develop over 4 major periods of the human lifespan. This summarizes E.'s argument:

Stage 1: infancy and early children: play is most central, how we learn during infancy.

Stage 2: Elementary years (starts around age 6/7): the disposition to work (meaning adapt to the external world) becomes a child's primary dynamic. They are learning to adapt to the demands of the social world.

Stage 3: Adolescence: love becomes the dominant predisposition, teens have less interest in work or play. By ages 16-19 they reach an equilibrium on love, play and work.

Stage 4: Adulthood: the 3 things are fully separated- work, play, and love. Play is seen as more recreational, and it can lose some of the creative function it performed for us as kids. But he notes it can still be creative with things like cooking, pottery, etc.

On p. 12 there is a very helpful discussion of "flow", which I note to ensure I come back to it and use that in my book.

As a parent I read with interest the chapters on how toys have changed (now almost all plastic), and the prevalence of screen play (which E. says has dramatically contributed to changing the world of children's play). I was very touched by the chapter on "Light-hearted Parenting", which I would like to think captures the parental ideals I try to live up to. Such a parent makes an ongoing effort to integrate play, love and work into their child-rearing practices (171). We should use humour to socialize and discipline our children, share our passions with them, and establish patterns of family play and game and experience sharing. The light-hearted parent avoids what E. calls the EGOCENTRIC TRAP, which involves looking at situations entirely from our own perspective and failing to take the child's point of view. The best defence against the EGOCENTRIC TRAP is having the ability to laugh at ourselves and at life's wry twists.

This book contains looks of good insights and the themes for me to keep in mind are the dangers of raising children as consumers vs as children, how play is integrated with love and work, and the lifespan perspective- that how and why we play changes over the course of the human lifespan.

Next on my reading list, which follows nicely from E's book, is Play=Learning. This is the academic book I suspect will provide me with the most empirical insights to build some plausible developmental story about the importance of play for individual and collective wellbeing.

But after spending this week working through 3 different books on play already, I intend to spend this weekend enjoying the unique play opportunities offered by this beautiful island of Oahu! As Burghardt notes in the final sentence of his book- "The ultimate paradox may be that play can only be understood through itself". So I'm off to play for a few days! :)