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

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.