“It is in playing, and only in playing, that the individual child or adult is able to be creative and to use the whole personality, and it is only in being creative that the individual discovers the self.” – D.W.Winnicott
Older adults are an important part of the population, and according to Federal Interagency Forum on Aging Related Statistics the older adults are growing in numbers, living longer and are more active than the previous older generations. Research shows that majority of the studies focused on the health of older adults related to problems and diseases. Therefore few researchers have tired to look at the playful disposition of adults and its influence on their health. Yarnal, 2004 opined that playfulness also holds great potential for contributing to healthy aging. Elder, Johnson, and Crosnoe (2003) have also stressed that playfulness and having fun in later life may contribute to the maintenance of cognitive functioning, emotional growth, and healthy aging overall. Bartlett and Peel 2005 define this playfulness of older adults as a “process of adaptation to physical and psycho-social changes across the life course to attain optimal physical, mental and social well being in old-age.”
Guitard, Ferland, and Dutil (2005) identified few playful characteristics of older adults which are creativity, curiosity, pleasure, and a sense of humor. Playful older adults are mischievous, naughty, have a disposition towards being funny. Carver and White opine that these characteristics show the cognitive capacity of older adults.
Playful older adults are happy, joyful and enthusiastic in their approach to life which shows them being positive emotionally. Tugade and Fredrickson refer to this disposition of Playful older adults as being ‘psychologically upbeat’. Research studies by Miller and Ferland suggests that playful older adults can be a very novel and at their creative best too.
Research studies have proved that by encouraging playfulness in older adults it would help them to deal with everyday stressors, leads to healthy ageing, can balance between positive and negative emotional health as well good cognitive functioning.
Yarnal and Xinyi QianOlder (2011), ‘Adult Playfulness An Innovative Construct and Measurement for Healthy Aging Research’, American Journal of Play, volume 4, number 1, pg 52-79.
By Dr Srividya K
Kenneth Rubin and his associates in their research work on social and non social play, have tried to distinguish the difference between social and non social play.
Rubin, Fein and Vandenberg (1983) defined play in terms of the following characteristics:
(1) Play is not governed by appetitive drives, compliance with social demands, or by inducements external to the behavior itself; instead play is intrinsically motivated.
(2) play is spontaneous, free from external sanctions, and its goals are self-imposed.
(3) play asks “What can I do with this object or person?” (this differentiates play from exploration which asks “What
is this object /person and what I do with it/him/her?”).
(4) play is not a serious rendition of an activity or a behavior it resembles; instead it consists of activities that can be labelled as pretense .
(5) play is free from externally imposed rules.
(6) play involves active engagement.
According to Rubin and associates , “Social play compromises the associated constructs of social participation, social competence, and sociability, and typically involves two (or more) children participating in functional-sensorimotor, constructive, and dramatic activities, and games-with-rules. It also comprises active conversations between children as they go about interacting with each other, negotiating play roles and game rules”.
‘Nonsocial play is defined as the display of solitary activities and behaviors in the presence of other potential play partners’. Thus according to this definition a child sitting and all alone in any given environment is not engaging in nonsocial play are there are not other play mates surrounding them.
To understand more about nonsocial play, a tool named ‘The Play Observation Scale’, was developed by Rubin in the 1970’s to make observations on the structural components of play. This tool was constructed along the lines of Parten’s and Smilansky’s classification of play. During the administration process of tool, and analysis of the results three distinct sub types of nonsocial forms of play was classified based on the type of play children were involved in.
These sub types are Reticent behaviour is a play behaviour where the children are either onlooker (observing other children at play) or unoccupied (looking aimlessly, just roaming around, without any goal). Solitary – passive play is a play behaviour that characterizes a child quietly involving oneself with exploring objects in a very inert manner playing all alone. Solitary – active play is a play behaviour where the child is actively involved in playing with or without objects and more importantly in the presence of other children.
These nonsocial forms of play can have various meaning, depends on the circumstances and the developmental milestone achievement of a child with various degrees of psycho social development.
By Dr Srividya K
Pretend play is a very important part of the developmental aspect which is very normal as well helps in enhancing the cognitive, emotional, language and social skills. Also through pretend play a child is naturally learning to solve problems, think creatively and critically.
Researchers have identified stages in pretend play, and given below is an amalgamation of a few, and these stages are observed in a typical development. Researchers like Weitzman and Greenberg, Sherri Johnson opinionated that pretend play starts by around the age of 12 months and may end up pretend playing for 5-6 hours per day.
During 12-18 months toddlers try to pretend play simple actions like sleeping, brushing or eating with real objects. Pretend play is restricted to pretending about themselves. From 18-24 months the pretend play moves from pretending on oneself to pretending with others. Children will play with toys or other adults, still using real objects for pretending at the same time making imitating adult like actions.
From 24-30 months a toddler’s language development moves past from using single words to speaking in half broken, grammatically not so correct sentences. actions that a child performs are the ones the child is very familiar with. At this point, the child is able to pretend roles by combining lots of actions like putting a baby to sleep, or imitating a cooking process. Cognitively they are able to think of not using realistic objects frequently. 30 – 36 months actions tread the path of less familiar roles and pretending is possible without the real objects and as make believe imaginary objects.
36 months on wards, children are in the preschooler stage, they socialize with other children, have complex thinking capacity, and hence they are able to pretend play in a group. Children role play on imaginary themes, use props, can scrip small dramas.
Pretend play provides for the child with a lot of opportunities to relive moments that they might have observed in their surroundings, giving them a way to vent their feelings and a sense of satisfaction.
By Dr Srividya K
Do not…keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.
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.
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.
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.
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.
The sun beat down strongly on the group of children and volunteers playing in the grounds. But they were not to be deterred. The fact that it was the hottest summer in 85 years did not seem to bother any of them. When it was time to leave, the children all cried out, “noooooooooooooooo akka (older sister), nooooooooooooooo anna (older brother), please don’t go, let’s play some more”. The volunteers promised to be back the next day and packed up the materials at the summer camp before returning to base. On the way out, they had to wade through the sea of children waiting to say bye or inviting them to visit their homes or just hugging them and giving them one of their favourite crafts which they had made that day as a token of their love.
This was the usual scene which was witnessed in all the five summer camps held during the hottest summer that any of the team members of headstreams had ever experienced in their lives. The day after the last camp, as we sat down to share our memories of the summer camps, everybody was brimming with stories and anecdotes of what had happened during the 20 days of camps when a team consisting of 26 of us had reached out to over 1100 children through play. As we reflected on what we had achieved, the list was endless. Physical development, cognitive development, psycho-social development, relationships built, strengths affirmed and so on. These were points which had convinced us to use play as an approach in our work with children and youth in the first place, but one thing that really stood out for me was the one where we arrived at the fact that what we did actually helped deepen democracy. The reasoning was simple but not simplistic, it was deep and plain for all of us to see.
Our summer camps which were built around the concept of play provided children and the volunteers the opportunity to use different mediums such as art, craft, music, stories, theatre and games to express their thoughts, feelings, ideas and build relationships. Children had the autonomy to choose what medium they wanted to use, the type of expression they wanted to display and how they wanted to do it. There were no competitions in identifying the best artist or musician or actor but each one used the medium that connected to them, to bring out the best in themselves. There were minimal hierarchies in terms of age or skill or position and in play each of us just learnt from each other and supported each other in the various tasks we did throughout the day. Shining examples of spontaneous equity was seen when those who needed more help were eagerly supported by the other children or volunteers who stayed with the child until they had completed the chosen activity. Freedom, autonomy, respect, dignity, equity – these were not mere theoretical concepts but were visible in some form or the other all through the twenty days.
We also reflected on how in our mainstream education system these concepts were often overlooked. A top-down, didactic model of education, where everybody was forced to learn the same things, irrespective of interest, aptitude, context or relevance was what most children experienced. Standardised tests which valued those who could learn by rote and reproduce from memory created a new hierarchy of “good students” which excluded more than it included in its graded system of finding favour with school and society. Any skill other than the one recognised by the mainstream school system was not valued among children. For instance, you could be a great artist, or have an interest in music or the liberal arts or even be a really kind person, but none of these were valued. By the time one navigated through the schooling system, many of them ended up labelled as ‘misfits’, ‘good for nothings’, ‘not much talent to speak of’, and so on, with most of them believing it to be true of themselves. So for most children, the ideals of democracy were only concepts printed on paper in their text-books and not something they experienced until perhaps when they were 18 years old and could begin to vote. The summer camps in contrast turned out to be sandboxes where the children could exercise their notions of freedom, autonomy and choice in an environment which fostered equity, respect and dignity.
As we were winding up our meeting, we received a call from a child who asked for her favourite volunteer. ‘Anuakka’, she complained, ‘why didn’t you conduct the summer camp for a longer time this year. What do you want us to do for the rest of the summer?’