UNDERSTANDING PLAY, INDIAN PERSPECTIVE.

Play is of utmost importance as it contributes to the physical, social, cognitive and emotional well being of a child as well as adults too. The United Nations High Commission for Human Rights have recognised play as a right of every child. Looking back at the blogs that have been written, all of it traces the history of play in the western civilisation, and it’s very evident that the westerners did realise the value of play in a child’s life, and going forward play has been recognised as a right by the UN.
Tracing the history of play of western civilisation has been effortless as all the literature is available at a click. Tracing the history of play of Indian civilisation has been a herculean task, and it’s amazing to know that history of play in India can be traced to the 2500 BC, that is during the Indus Valley Civilisation period.
Meera Oka, et al., conducted a study on “A profile of children’s play in urban India”, where inferences can be drawn regarding the value and meaning of play in the Indian context which is a little different from the western context. Play has been described at two levels, one is ‘Bal Leela’, play viewed at a micro level,  is the most important feature and typical of childhood, on a day to day basis. ‘Leela’, at the macro level, is viewed philosophically, to understand the very nature of human existence, which views the entire universe as a creation and play. Analysis of commentaries from scriptures of Madhavananda (1978), Nikhilananda (1987), White(1994), Parthasarthy(1990); as well as poets like Kabir, Tagore, Ramdas and Rahim, suggest that child’s play are the antecedent of philosophy. These eminent authors viewed child’s play from two perspectives. One is appreciating a child’s prudence of getting into and out of play. The second perspective highlights upon the manner in which children engross themselves in play not bothered about their surroundings. Here are few excerpts as taken from the study conducted by Meera Oka, et al to help understand the link between philosophy and play.
Madhavananda’s commentary on ‘Bhagwat’:
As a child does while playing one should be completely absorbed and dedicated to the activity one undertakes and yet have the awareness of its temporary nature, and of life itself.
Nikhilananda’s translation of ‘Atmabodh’:
During childhood one is completely lost in play, during adolescence in studying, and during adulthood in home and responsibility, so where is the time to attend to God!
 Madhavananda’s commentary on ‘Vivekachudamani’ :
A child plays with its toys forgetting hunger and bodily pains…. Exactly so does the man with real knowledge take pleasure in reality, without ideas of ‘I’ or ‘mine’ (as in possession).
Kabir’s poem:
Worship, service, holy fasts and conduct that conforms, to canonical law….
Are like a girls’s play with her dolls,
To give up this make believe will be hard…
Tagore’s poem:
Tempest roams in the pathless sky
Ships get wrecked in the trackless water
Death is abroad and children play.


With this introduction to Indian perspective of play, let’s look at the concept of play during the Indus Valley civilisation in the next blog.

By Dr.Srividya.K

KINDERGARTEN

Play is the highest expression of human development in childhood for it alone is the free expression of what is in a child’s soul. – Friedrich Froebel
Friedrich Froebel, known as the ‘Father of Kindergarten’, was the first person to lay the foundation for modern education, and also stressed on the importance of play. His philosophy revolutionised the concept of play. He recognised the fact that children have unique needs and capabilities, which has to be tapped, to help children preform to their full potential. Froebel was  an ardent follower of Pestalozzi, whose philosophy he took forward and refined it, creating the concept of ‘kindergarten’, and also developed educational toys called as ‘gifts’ for children.
Let’s look in detail the meaning and concept behind kindergarten approach, for which I have to take you back to 18th and 19th century history, which has been a good source for me to know more about Froebel and kindergarten approach or it can be called as philosophy too.
Froebel was also born to a German family, but lost his mother when he was just a nine month old infant. Froebel never got love and attention from his father, which left him with a yearning which was never satisfied. Froebel spent most of his childhood playing in the garden and being amidst nature, which was a great learning experience to him, the of nature was to such and extent that it became a part of his philosophy too.
Literature review suggests that Froebel tried different kinds of employment which was not successful in giving him a sense of satisfaction. Finally a job as a teacher at a  progressive model school in Frankfurt, which worked on the basis of  Pestalozzi’s philosophy, convinced Froebel to take up his vocation as teaching.
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Froebel soon discovered the short comings of Pestalozzi’s philosophy and decided to start a school of his own. In 1837 he founded ‘Child Nurture and Activity Institute’, which he later changed as ‘Kindergarten’.
Kindergarten means ‘garden of children’, to this I also another quote of Froebel, which will help understand the word kindergarten better.  “Children are like tiny flowers: They are varied and need care, but each is beautiful alone and glorious when seen in the community of peers.”
Prior to Froebel’s kindergarten, children under the age of 7 did not attend school. It was believed that young children did not have the ability to focus or to develop cognitive and emotional skills before this age. However, Froebel expressed his own beliefs about the importance of early education in the following way: “. . . because learning begins when consciousness erupts, education must also.” (Cited from Scholastic Early Childhood Today).
Froebel philosophy of kindergarten believes in creative play and self activity, singing and dancing for healthy activity and observing and nurturing plants in a garden for stimulating awareness of the natural world. This philosophy gives freedom to the children to explore things as per their wish, with the role of the teacher being just there to facilitate and encourage their self expression through play. A typical kindergarten approach helps develop physical, emotional and social skills in children.

Froebel believed that women had the natural motherly instincts which made them more suitable to play the role of a teacher, but he looked upon men as fatherly figures too, and felt both must be an important part of a child’s education. Froebel believed in the whole family being a part of the education process and not just the child. This very belief of his comes out of his early life experiences where he didn’t have the blessing of a nurturing environment. A typical classroom set up was also envisaged by Froebel, where children were given table and chair which they could use to work on ‘gifts’.
Froebel’s most important contribution to kindergarten were ‘gifts’ or ‘occupations’. These are  educational toys consisting of spheres, cubes, prisms and other things which were designed to stimulate learning. Also another contribution from Froebel is he started a publishing firm for play and other educational materials, also including a collection of Mother-Play and Nursery Songs, with elaborate explanations of their meanings and use. These books have been translated into many other foreign languages and have been immensely benefited by it.
 The modern day preschools and kindergarten have been benefited a lot by Froebel, but the essence of the philosophy is completely lost. A modern day kindergarten now a days known as ‘PreKG, LKG and UKG’, don’t seem to follow the kindergarten method, but revert to reading and writing, with little importance given to play and singing. ‘Gifts’ are completely out of  the picture, the classroom atmosphere appearing more rigid and disciplined.

Froebel says, “Play is the highest level of child development . . . It gives . . . joy, freedom, contentment, inner and outer rest, peace with the world . . . The plays of childhood are the germinal leaves of all later life.” So lets hope and work towards making play an important part of a child’s life.

By Dr.Srividya.K

PLAY AFORE

We should not teach children the sciences; but give them a taste for them – Rousseau
Jean Jack Rousseau’s philosophy was one among the first to talk about play and also in influencing the ideas of other philosophers about play and education. A peek into Rousseau’s life history will help us understand better about his views on education and play. Rousseau is very famous for his writings in the book ‘Emile – or On Education’, which is about a boy named Emile, which portrays a child’s life at different stages of development. In his book Rousseau gives insights in the upbringing of children, which emphasises on the importance of education and experiences. Rousseau was of the opinion that children must be kept away from books and interactions must happen with the world.
 Literature review throws light upon the fact that, Rousseau never went to school nor had any formal education,or proficiency in reading and writing. He was never allowed to play among children of his own age, all the interactions he had were from his father. To add more Rousseau had five children whom he left for foster care as he felt he was not capable of rearing them, which he regretted later.
Rousseau’s ideas arouse out of his own life experiences and as well because of his proficiency in botany, music and philosophy. The main crux of Rousseau’s philosophy is that children must be left alone to explore the natural world, and believed that play is a child’s right which cannot be contended. According to Rousseau play gave freedom to children, giving way for releasing pent up energy and emotions. Play helps in the development of the senses, and helps children experience world through sensory experiences and being in connection with things. Rousseau believed in learning by doing, rather than learning by reading. One important aspect to note is that it  was Rousseau who was the first to explain the stages in human development.
Rousseau’s work influenced Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi, a Swiss writer, philosopher and defender of the poor also known as “Father of Modern Education” who valued play as central to human fulfilment and achievement at each stage of development (cited in Free Play in Early Childhood). Pestalozzi was influenced by Rousseau’s philosophy and sought to put it into practice.”Imagine a school where children attend 10-hour-long classes, six days a week. Where students teach each other and there are no marks or exams. Children work with saws, hammers, and planes. They operate lathes, a printing press and a bookbindery. Weekends are for hiking (children must have memorised the maps and collected the equipment in advance), swimming, and ice-skating. Core subjects include Chemistry, Physics, Zoology, and Botany. This school wasthebrainchildofPestalozzi.”

Pestalozzi believed in providing public education for poor children. He insisted that every child is innately educable and deserves to be raised as a contributing member of society. And he had actions to match: Pestalozzi took poor children into his own home, and eventually created the YverdonSchool (Citied from Community Play Things by Miriam LeBlanc).

Pestalozzi believed that education should develop the power of ‘head, heart and hand’, the three H’s. Pestalozzi believed in following a curriculum, which fulfils the needs of a child, controlled by the child( child centred approach), developmentally appropriate, linking home and school (association between teachers and parents), using love and not authority in dealing with children and finally teacher training. This work of Pestalozzi, affected the philosophy of Frobel, a German philosopher, who was proposed the kindergarten philosophy and experimented it too.

Let’s look at the kindergarten philosophy in depth the next blog. Until then I would suggest that please do take some time to read up a little on the life histories of Rousseau and Pestalozzi, which I promise will be worth while.
By Dr.Srividya.K

ROMANTIC MOVEMENT

‘Let all the lessons of young children take the form of doing rather than talking, let them learn nothing from books that they can learn from experience’ – Rousseau

In the last blog I had mentioned that the attitudes of philosophers towards the concept of play took over a new meaning during the “romantic movement”. Before I delve more about play, there is a need to understand the meaning of the words “romantic movement”, and what exactly happened in the 18th century to term that period as romantic era or movement. Literature review suggests that the pre -romantic period had set rules for people on the basis of which they had to think, feel and behave. people were expected to use reason over emotion, senses over intellect, and so on. The romantic movement was a backlash against the forms and conventions of the society. Romanticism was concerned with living an unrestrained life. Restrain was placed in the field of art, literature and in general on the society. An artist could never draw or paint whatever he wanted, everything had to be very presentable. Literature gave little scope for feelings and imagination. Using reason was the main criteria, so romanticism came out of all these restraints and fought for a more liberal society. Its not only the people in the field of art or literature started thinking liberally, but also philosophers from various fields of expertise. It is at this time that philosophers like Immanuel Kant, Friedrich von Schiller, Jean Jack Rousseau and Johanna Pestalozzi brought play into fore and valued it.

Kant believed that play for adults helped in enhancing higher thought and imagination, which gave way to thirsting for more knowledge. Kant looked at play from cognitive perspective and never linked it to activities. For Kant play meant “playing within the mind –that is imagination” which was more for adults than for children. In the late 18th century the role of play  in human experience took a big leap with Schiller identifying the play as an integral part of human life.  Schiller’s philosophy of play was concerned to human beings in general and not just for children. According to Schiller, “play is an expenditure of exuberant energy”. Schiller believed, human beings have to work to survive, work consumes human energy, and if there is any energy remaining, that energy is dedicated to play. Schiller says “human beings use play for exploring creativity, for transcending the reality of life in work. This makes play a symbolic activity”. 

Philosophies of play emerged during this era, but failed to explain or describe the actual play of children. Jean Jacques Rousseau, Johann Heinrich Pesralozzi and Friedrich Frobel, were the first philosophers to explain play exclusively in relation to children. Let’s delve more into their philosophies in the next blog. 

By Dr.Srividya.K

WAVE OF THE MAGIC WAND

Do not…keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.

Plato
Greek philosopher
427–347 BC

Reflect upon the above quote, Let its meaning sink in and at the same time, just ponder a bit. If the name of the person was not mentioned below the quote, does it look like a quote taken from the era of ‘BC’?

This quote is apt even today, and Plato’s foresightedness is commendable. But the words in the quote ‘do not’ and ‘but by play’ has been erased off from the lives of children today. At the same time, while I was reading the quote, I felt what were the circumstances that made Plato give such a quote. This made me realise that, the words ‘do not’ and ‘but by play’, was not only erased off from the lives of children today, but earlier also. So, let’s see whether the  17th century philosophers were able to wave their magic wands and explain the significance of play. So without much ado, let’s travel back in time.

Review of literature suggests that, the 17th century philosophers also felt play as a necessity and also a mode by which learning happens. This thought is in tune with Plato’s  belief on the positive  influence of play on children. In the previous blog I had mentioned that there are no supportive literature available about child’s play, but Cohen (1993), reported that the archaeological survey revealed that the Greek children made ‘balls out of pig bladders’ and Roman children played with toy soldiers. It’s said that children’s play, reflected the culture, society they were part of, and in the case of Greek and Roman children, physical activities were prominently seen, which  was a reflection of the adults practices then. However, as discussed earlier, play was not considered worthy enough to be documented.

It was also observed that the 13th century medieval art depicted children involved in play only on the borders of the canvass and was never in the center. By 16thcentury, children’s play became the central interest in artistic representations and then slowly, child’s play made its way into literature during the 17th century due to contributions made by John Locke, Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Frobel. All this does not look as easy as it sounds.

These philosophers started a revolution around 17th century and compelled people to change their perceptions towards the concept and importance of play. Until 17thcentury, children were considered as ‘miniature adults’, and there was no scope for considering childhood as a separate stage of development. The paintings and photos of these medieval times shows children dressed adult-like, very clearly showing children being treated as adults, hence leaving little scope for play. “I remember a scene in the movie ‘Titanic’, where the heroine sadly looks on at a girl barely 10 years old, being taught by her mother etiquette on table”. In fact, movies that were made with the medieval concept depicted the same showing time and again that children from a very young age were trained for adult life and little scope was given for play.

John Locke, a British philosopher, was the first person to acknowledge children and childhood as a separate and important stage. Locke also saw play as a necessary part of childhood and considered children as ‘born players’. Of course Locke may have not written about the connections between play and learning, but felt that play was vital for health and spirit. Locke was also one of the first to advocate the importance of toys for children, but felt adult supervision of play as a necessary aspect.

The dawn of 18thcentury came in the Romantic Movement, where the concept of play came into full force and was also valued. Confucius says “it’s better to play than do nothing”. Let’s see in my next blog why Confucious says so and did our 18thcentury philosophers also think on the same lines. 

Agon, mimesis and chaos


The remarkabe endurance of play and games across centuries, generations, cultures and countries is quite a story. Both natural and man-made playgrounds change with geograohy, time, and necessity. Technology, culture, and interest change children’s toy choices, but their games, laws and seasons for playing them endure in modified fashion.
Frost, 2010
In my previous write up, I had mentioned three words, ‘Agon, mimesis and chaos’, which are the three routes for understanding play. It was Spariosu (1989), who had interpreted these words, explained it’s meaning and significance for the present situation. A more detailed explanation is available in his book on ‘Play and the aesthetic dimension in modern philosophical and scientific discourse’. Let’s look in brief the significance of these three words.
‘Agon’, meaning  conflict, is one way of considering play. It was a belief that, it was the Greek Gods, who put humans to challenges in the form of war, politics and other forms of conflict, that would test the physical and social capabilities. It was believed that the one who was able to overcome the challenges, had the blessings of god. The Ancient Greeks created a sport version of Agon, where different groups would compete against each other, instead of fighting real war, like throwing lances (javelins), heaving stones (shot put), shooting arrows (archery), and other forms of physical competition to know which individual or group had the blessings of god. These form of competitive play in the form of sports and games is still practised.
‘Mimesis’ meaning mimicry. It is believed that the Ancient Greeks would mimic Gods, in various representational forms , to show their devotion towards God. Spariosu says that the greeks acted in ways that were thought to be pleasing to gods. The Greeks imagined God’s way life and interpreted it through dance forms, which they felt would bring them closer to Gods and would possibly beget God’s favour. The Ancient Greek players used masks to take on new roles, scenes of Gods were depicted as symphonizing human actions has evolved into theatre (plays) ,rituals (religious rites) and other symbolic or dramatic portrayals. Mimesis may be interpreted as imitative or expressive, but it involved acting. Imitation, dramatic presentations or enacting by adults or children are forms of symbolic play which is still seen even today as a form of recreation.
‘Chaos’ or the order and disorder of nature, is a way by which ancient people tried to relate to Gods and understand the purpose of humans  in the world. Predictions were considered as a way in trying to understand the actions of gods. By predicting,  Ancient Greeks took a trust in chance, that all actions had godly interventions and will mark one’s path of life. Predictions were done by tossing bones, studying patterns and drawing lots which was believed to reveal the future of a  person. According to Spariosu, this games of chance is also another form of play, that is seen to this day in the form of gambling, board games, flipping coins and so on.
The Ancient Greeks were very clear about the fact that these three forms are a basis for their philosophy of life and had no relationship with play. But thinkers like Spariosu and Lonsdale interpretation has led us to think of the links between play and agos, mimesis, chaos. In the beginning of the blog there is a quote about play by Frost, where he also opines, that with changing times there is definitely a change in the choice of games, but the rules and ways of playing it will always reamin the same, maybe modified to suite particular conditions. For example, a game called Pagade got modified as Ludo, but people play both forms of games. 
 The forms of play that the ancients have discussed applies to both children and adults. However, there is a lack of supportive literature and recordings of children’s play in ancient times. Children’s play came into limelight during the 17th century, where thinkers began to reconsider, and shifted their focus from religion and beliefs. So wait up for the next blog to see the wave of these thinkers magic wand on the philosophy of child’s play.
Dr. Srividya R.

Discovering the history of play


You can’t stop the future, You can’t rewind the past, The only way to learn the secret …is to press play.” 
 Jay Asher
After reading so much about this delightful, all-encompassing phenomenon called Play, I was intrigued to know the history behind it. So I paused and did my bit of rewinding to know more about it. Let me share with you what I learnt, I promise for it to be a fascinating read.
When the word history struck to me, I felt I should rewind back to my childhood days play scenarios, which is also a history now. It was chaotic! I remember lot of dust, dirt and noise surrounding me. The dust and dirt were my favourite clothes and the noise was music to my ears, but not for everyone. The adults were always complaining about the noise levels, and were stuck with the question,”why do you make so much noise, can’t you be quite while playing”!. So this brings up my big question, what was the attitude of our historians towards play. Did they look at play as noisy and disturbing, or was it something else?
It all began in the era of B.C. when philosophies and discoveries by Plato, Socrates, Aristotle and Xenophanes were popular. These philosophers also explored the meaning of play. According to them, play was a way, through which human expression and thought process could be understood. Plato mentioned in ‘The Republic (360 B.C)’, that play builds childhood, which is a form of learning, and the knowledge acquired through it will be used for later life. This philosophy holds good even now, as I know very well all the problem solving skills, creative thinking, critical thinking I developed is through the play activities of my childhood and I get to hone them more even now playing with my next generation.
Interestingly, the Greek’s ancient religious practices, describes a number of play forms, that helped gain an understanding of ancient lives. ‘Agon, mimesis and chaos’, are the three routes for understanding play and we do continue to think of play on these three basis. Now, now! These three words are not making sense at all, right? To know about these words, wait up for the next blog entry. Until then ponder over this game – do you remember Raja, Rani, Mantri and Thief game? Well, if you do, play it once, and then you will never stop. 
– Dr. Srividya R.

Exploring creativity with ‘Wool’

Free play week is when the children are provided with one material in abundance, this week’s material was ‘Wool’. Describing her experience with the material, one of our interns shares, “I particularly loved each moment of this particular Caravan…we played, made so many braids, and danced. The Caravan had so much energy and there was more productivity especially in the craft section. Boys were more excited than the girls and equally patient while we were making those braids.
Kids were waiting for their turns for making braids. I think you don’t need a lot of things for teaching kids, one simple material as wool can teach a lot. For instance patience, craft, adjustment, sharing, and so much more..”
– Simran Agrawal

Mud clay= Fun and Play

During  Free play the children were given mud clay and were given the freedom to explore their creativity. One of our Interns shared how mud clay was used beautifully by the children at the Caravan. “Play with clay is one of the expressive art techniques, and I actually saw theory meeting a practical base in the session. The children were so calm while playing with the clay. The statues they made were absolutely magnificent, and there was a lot of group work, coordination and collaboration that we encountered during the session.”
– Pratishtha Raj

The Community walk experience….

Talking about the Community walk experience, one of the Interns said, “Since it was the community walk today…I walked with these two kids Ramesh and Suresh. I think I was wrong in one major thing….I was under this assumption that the kids if are opening up will only talk about difficulties, disturbing circumstances of life! But Suresh changed that whole perspective and spoke about the Happiness in life. He spoke about how happy his family is. He asked me whether I’ll come to his house because his house is really small and asked whether I’ll mind that aspect. But he also told me that in-spite of the fact that his house is small…he said it’s filled with happiness.  I too told him its the same with me…..small house but loads of happiness…for which he gave me Hi5! He was happy that I was like him too and had a house like him. He was happy about this. Seeing him happy made me happy. A happy happy day it was!”
– Rithika A
  • September, 16th, 2016
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