Inquiring into Play – Part II

As I mentioned in my last post, I decided to use a recent Washington Post article by Alfie Kohn discussing his thoughts on How children’s ‘play’ is being sneakily redefined to inquire within and “aloud” about some of my thoughts on play. Below are my reflections on his last two propositions (listed in bold).

4. The point of play is that it has no point.

This fourth idea is one I feel like simultaneously celebrating and questioning. It seems hard to dispute the value of defining play as a “process, not product” and allowing it to have no other goal than play itself yet play can produce amazing “products” (e.g., cognitive learning, social development), right? But maybe I’m conflicted about this for reasons similar to Kohn and the desire to promote increased play by hailing its positive benefits. Maybe I too am sneakily trying to redefine play as something like “self-initiated cognitive activity” in order to help it survive in our schools and educational contexts. Maybe redefining play to try and promote it is the wrong approach and for all of my good intentions in promoting play, I too am pushing for its relabeling instead of fighting for the intrinsic value of play, regardless of its related benefits in learning and development for people of all ages.

5. Play isn’t the only alternative to “work.” 

I was intrigued by the assertion that in addition to work and play, there is learning (“whose primary purpose is neither play-like enjoyment nor work-like competition of products”). It reminded me of another play article I read recently by the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC) about “Debunking the Play vs. Learning Dichotomy.” In the article, Dr. Snow argues that “maintaining the dichotomy between play and instruction is a distraction” and that we need to examine play and learning together and explore (play?) with finding a balance between them in the classroom. I don’t believe Kohn is arguing for an either/or mentality but he does seem to be suggesting that there can be a clear distinction between play and learning. I wonder how separate the concepts can and should be? If we use the perspective discussed in the NAEYC article above and define play as an activity leading to and producing benefits like increased creativity and problem solving skills, does it still fit Kohn’s requirement for “pure play”?

All of these thoughts also reminded me of a recent article in Psychology Today about “the roles of play and curiosity as foundations for learning” and the question of “evolutionary mismatch.” Has all of the controversy over play arisen because of how much our schools have changed and the mismatch between our inherent desire to be self-directed, curious, and playful running up against standardized curricula and pressure to direct students’ learning?

As is often the case, my inquiry has lead to further questions and areas for now deeper inquiry but I hope others will add their thoughts and we can explore these ideas together. “Play is hard to maintain as you get older. You get less playful. You shouldn’t, of course” (R. Feynman – Physicist). Play might be hard to maintain but I think fighting to maintain it in our lives and in our children’s lives is important and if we use children as our inspiration I think we can all find ways to bring more play into our daily lives. 🙂


4 responses to “Inquiring into Play – Part II

  1. Interesting reflections. Also liked the links to articles I have not previously read.
    I have worked with true early learners since 1988 in my own family home child care. I started with the idea that play was important enough that it would be the foundation of my program. Country Fun an early education learning space ~ where play equals learning. It continues to remain so. I include both teacher and child directed activities, but a large portion of our day is just open play. Through my daily observations of children that remain with me for many years, I am very aware of the learning that occurs from this free play.

  2. The comment by wccproviders should have gone through as Country Fun – – I also administer our local providers’ group blog which is the wccproviders connection.

  3. That’s great that you have founded your program on play! Have you struggled at all with parents who push for more teacher-directed or academic-focused activities?

  4. Pingback: Education by mosaic - Pearltrees

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