Play is the highest form of research – Albert Einstein
The above quote has a very deep meaning and reflects Einstein’s depth of understanding on play as being vital to human development. Earlier the classical theories looked at play from a very philosophical perspective, and viewing play as a form for release of pent up energy. The contemporary theorists view of play is according to the likes of Einstein’s quote. Play was viewed by the contemporary theorist from a developmental perspective.
According to Sandie Rollins’s, Sigmund Freud looked at play from a therapeutic perspective. Freud in his book on “Beyond the Pleasure Principle”, describes play as a mechanism for the child through which the child tries to master previously experienced traumatic events. Anna Freud viewed play as both adaptive and defensive for dealing anxiety.
Bruner, 1972 stated that play had a major role of rehearsing, where the child rehearses actions pertaining to real life situations in a safe, risk-free environment, where the child is preparing himself/herself to face the difficult situation in a less stressful way.
According to Dewey, play is a subconscious activity that helps an individual develop both mentally and socially. It should be separate from work as play helps a child to grow into a working world. As children become adults, they no longer “play” but seek amusement from their occupation. This childhood activity of play prepares them to become healthy working adults.
Maria Montessori, postulated that “play is the child’s work.” Montessori believed in sensory play, where the child learns through play from hands on experiences, with the help of a teacher helping the child play to learn.
According to Lewin and Buytendijk’s Infantile dynamics, play happens because cognitively the child is unable to judge the difference between the real and unreal world. The child plays because it’s pre-wired in the not to show any other forms of behaviours other than play. Later, Piaget explain play as occurring in stages in his theory of cognitive development. The stages are;
- Functional play, (sensori motor stage), wherein the child explores his surroundings with the help of his senses and gains an understanding of the environment, which is play for the child.
- Symbolic play (pre operational stage), the child is trying to represent things around symbolically.
- Games with rules (Concrete operation stage), the child at this stage is ready to play more constructive games involving rules.
According to Vygotsky, play is a means by which the child is trying to learn to be social. Children encounter others while playing, where they learn to interact using language and role play.
It’s very clear from the above discussion that various theorists viewed play from different perspectives like therapeutic according to Freud, sensory according to Montessori, intellectual according to Lewin and Piaget and social according to Vygotsky. All these theories are just a bird’s eye view, there are many more theories of play which explains play from even more different perspectives.
By Dr Srividya K.
‘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.
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