American Journal of Play

In this Issue

This issue of the American Journal of Play includes interviews with leading psychologists about playful learning and museum curators about how play changed during the COVID-19 pandemic and the ways in which The Strong sought to collect and preserve artifacts and materials illustrating those changes. The issue also features articles that explore the role of increased playtime and mental well-being during the earliest days of the COVID-19 pandemic lockdown; misalignments in research, public discourse, and classroom realities related to play-based learning; and a review of current research on video game play.

Editor's Note

This issue of the American Journal of Play appears as the world continues to fight a global pandemic that has cost more than three million lives. As some of our authors and interviewees suggest, play has served an important role during the pandemic. Explorations of how we play and what play means to us remain as relevant as ever.
An interview with developmental psychologists and educators Kathy Hirsh- Pasek and Roberta Michnick Golinkoff opens the issue. They discuss playful learning and its relationship to raising and educating successful children in a century that will be characterized by rapid technological and labor force changes. In an interview with the curators of The Strong National Museum of Play, Christopher Bensch, Andrew Borman, Michelle Parnett-Dwyer, and Nicolas Ricketts discuss some of the ways in which play has changed during the pandemic and how the The Strong has sought to document and preserve stories and artifacts about play during this challenging time. Peter Gray draws on self-determination theory and surveys and studies conducted after the first two months of school lockdowns to suggest that, for many children, an increased time for play, increased opportunity to contribute constructively to family life, and increased family togetherness improved mental well-being during the early months of the pandemic. Angela Pyle, Martin A. Pyle, Jessica Prioletta, and Betül Alaca examine misalignments in research, public discourse, and classroom realities related to play-based learning. They suggest that a need exists to develop a broader understanding of play-based learning and its role in classrooms for media outlets and the stakeholders they influence. Video games have become a preferred form of play during the pandemic, and Patrick Markey, Christopher Ferguson, and Lauren Hopkins close the issue with a review of the current research about video game play. Focusing on the areas of social skills, obesity, mood management, visuospatial cognitive abilities, desensitization, violence, and aggression, the authors dispel common myths, consider the medium’s benefits, and conclude that playing video games can be a worthwhile activity for most children when balanced with life’s other responsibilities.

Interviews

Overview

Kathy Hirsh-Pasek is the Stanley and Debra Lefkowitz Faculty Fellow in the Department of Psychology at Temple University and a Senior Fellow at the Brookings Institution. She is the past president of the International Society for Infant Studies, served as the Associate Editor of Child Development and is on the governing counsel of the Society for Research in Child Development. In 2021 she was elected as a member of the National Academy of Education. She is on the advisory board for Nickelodeon, Vroom, the Boston Children’s Museum, Disney Junior, and Jumpstart. Her research examines the development of early language and literacy as well as the role of play in learning. Roberta Michnick Golinkoff is the Unidel H. Rodney Sharp Chair and professor in the School of Education at the University of Delaware. She also holds joint appointments in the Departments of Psychological and Brain Sciences and Linguistics and Cognitive Science. She founded and is the director of the Child’s Play, Learning, and Development Lab at the University of Delaware. Golinkoff is the Treasurer of the International Congress on Infant Studies and was an Associate Editor of Child Development. She consults for numerous organizations (e.g., Jumpstart, the Delaware Children’s Museums, and CHOICES for deaf children) and federal agencies. Her research focuses on language development, the benefits of play, and preschoolers’ early spatial knowledge. In 2021 she was elected as a member of the National Academy of Education. As long-time collaborators, Hirsh-Pasek and Golinkoff have authored fourteen books, including How Babies Talk: The Magic and Mystery of Language in the First Three Years, Einstein Never Used Flash Cards: How Our Children Really Learn—and Why They Need to Play More and Memorize Less, and Becoming Brilliant: What Science Tells Us about Raising Successful Children. Key words: 6 Cs; Learning Science Exchange (LSX); Playful Learning Landscapes; Quick Interactive Language Screener (QUILS)

Overview

Christopher Bensch is vice president for collections and chief curator at The Strong National Museum of Play in Rochester, NY. He oversees the acquisition of and care for the world’s most comprehensive collection of playthings. He also serves as the primary spokesperson for the National Toy Hall of Fame. Andrew Borman is digital games curator at The Strong. He collects digital games and coordinates the museum’s digital game preservation efforts. Michelle Parnett-Dwyer is curator at The Strong. She collects and interprets a comprehensive collection of toys and dolls. Nic Ricketts is curator at The Strong. He acquires and interprets the museum’s collection of board games, puzzles, and other nonelectronic games, as well as photographs, art, and paper ephemera. In this interview, The Strong’s curators discuss the impact of the pandemic on play and the museum’s collecting and preservation efforts. Key words: distance play; electronic games and COVID-19; medicine and toys; play at home; play during a pandemic; toys and diversity; toy industry and pandemics; toy scarcity in a pandemic

Articles

by Peter Gray

Abstract

During the first and second months after school lockdown in spring 2020, the author and others conducted surveys in the United States of children aged eight through thirteen and of parents with children the same ages. Contrary to many expectations, they found the children less anxious than they had been prior to the pandemic. The children were getting more sleep, were much more likely to report themselves as happy than sad, were using their free time to discover and engage in new, self-chosen activities, were helping out at home, were enjoying the extra time with their family, and were gaining new respect and appreciation from their parents. The author concludes that these findings, along with findings from other studies early in the pandemic, suggest an increased time for play, an increased opportunity to contribute constructively to family life, and an increased family togetherness improved the mental well-being of many children during at least the first months of the pandemic. He discusses these results in relation to Self-Determination Theory, which posits that psychological well-being depends upon satisfaction of basic needs for autonomy, competence, and relatedness, all of which may have been satisfied to a greater extent after lockdown than before. Key words: children’s initiative; children’s resilience; coping with stress; COVID- 19; family togetherness; pandemic school lockdown; play and mental health; Self-Determination Theory

by Angela Pyle, Martin A. Pyle, Jessica Prioletta, and Betül Alaca

Abstract

Policy makers around the world increasingly mandate play-based learning in kindergarten classrooms, a pedagogical approach backed by research espousing not only the developmental appropriateness of play-based learning for this age group but also the benefits to students’ academic achievement. Despite these mandates, researchers continue to see a discrepancy between policy and practice. Using the lens of institutional theory, the authors reviewed the issue and discovered that, although free play seems ubiquitous, teacher involvement in play—often fundamental for academic learning—fails to occur in approximately half of the classrooms studied. The researchers found evidence of an entrenched and limited definition of play as being child directed, a definition perpetuated by media depictions. These findings have direct implications for teaching practice, suggesting a need to develop a broader understanding of play-based learning and its role in classrooms for media outlets and the stakeholders they influence. Key words: institutional theory; media and education; play-based learning; teacher perceptions; teacher practice

by Patrick M. Markey, Christopher J. Ferguson, and Lauren I. Hopkins

Abstract

Whether kids should be encouraged to play video games remains a topic of debate among many parents, who often entertain some of the myths associated with video game play. The authors review the latest scientific evidence to dispel worries that video game play contributes to obesity, desensitizes players to real-world violence, and causes aggressive behavior. They also discuss research that demonstrates video game play helps improve social skills and visuospatial cognitive abilities, aids in mood management, and even appears to decrease real-world violence. They conclude that playing video games can be a worthwhile activity for most children when balanced with other life responsibilities. Key words: learning and video games; obesity and video games; play and video games; violence and video games

Book Reviews

by Jaclyn N. Schultz

If shielding children from adult realities was a central tenet of Progressive reform, the George Junior Republic stands out for doing the opposite. Established with the motto “Nothing without labor,” the Republic’s young citizens were literally forced to work or face the prospect of starvation. This occurred at a time when most reformers sought to protect “priceless” children from labor, arguing that employed youth were succumbing to the dangers of industrialization rather than nourishing their playful and inquisitive energies. Perhaps surprisingly, William R. George, the Junior Republic’s founder, moved in the same circles as other Progressives and had their support despite the labor component of his youth-serving institution. How do we reconcile, then, the protectionist narrative associated with Progressive reform
and a Progressive reformatory that sought to temper children through exposure to work?

by Deborah McCoy

The importance of play is widely recognized by those of us working in the field of early childhood education. The book Serious Fun: How Guided Play Extends Children’s Learning, edited by Marie M. Masterson and Holly Bohart, not only addresses the importance of play in pre-school and kindergarten programs but it also explores the importance of guided play and the role of educators in connecting learning goals to children’s play.

by Rick Worch

Playwork as a term for a methodology and service is well known (if not fully understood) in the United Kingdom and a few other geographic regions, but it is not one commonly used in the Americas. Fortunately, playwork does exist and is beginning to flourish in the Americas thanks to the efforts of a few revolutionaries. In addition, many professionals who work with children incorporate elements of playwork in their everyday practice, although they may not be aware of it. This book can help these professionals ground their practices in theory as well as improve them.

by Heather Kuhaneck

This anthology’s seventeen chapters provides an introduction to the various interventions for individuals with Autism Spectrum Disorder (ASD), interventions which are either play based or involve creative expression. The various authors, all experts in their areas of intervention, include professionals from a wide range of disciplines such as marriage and family therapy, school and mental health counsel- ing, pediatric psychology, social work, and expressive arts. The book is organized into four sections—“Foundations,” “Individualized Play-Based Interventions,” “Programmatic Play-Based Intervention,” and “Expressive/Creative Interventions.” Section 1 includes two chapters that explore the neurology of play and the specific issues for individuals with ASD and play. Section 2 includes nine chapters that cover a diverse group of intervention methods including theraplay, canine-assisted play therapy, LEGO-based play therapy, devel- opmental play therapy, and filial therapy. The programs discussed in three chapters of the third section are DIR Floortime, the PLAY project and the ACT project. The final section of artistic and expressive therapies consists of chapters about art, music, and dance therapy.

by Jes Klass

Locally Played: Real-World Games for Stronger Places and Communities by Benjamin Stokes introduces local community games as a distinct game type that involves real-world involvement and helps strengthen communities. As the author writes, “This book is about reclaiming the local roots of play and aligning them with the digital practices and channels that are increasingly central to modern life” (p. 5). He aims to use this distinction to separate local games from other kinds of games and also to bridge the gap between practitioners and scholars. Using several case studies and a multidisciplinary lens, Stokes creates a holistic and socially minded method to design, analyze, optimize, and implement local games. He also offers a framework to define local games and differentiate them from other games happening in local spaces.

by Cody Mejeur

It has become common in the twenty years since the start of the infamous narratology versus ludology debates in game studies for scholars, developers, critics, and players to comment on the supposed antagonism between play and narrative. In Chaucer’s Losers, Tison Pugh challenges the assumptions inherent in this theoretical divide and poses new, queer directions for considering narrative play and playful narratives across media. Although certainly not the first work to consider narrative and play together or to explore the concept of ludonarratology (recent explorations include works by Souvik Mukherjee, Tamer Thabet, and many others), Chaucer’s Losers is innovative for its focus on gender and identity in the dynamic convergence of narrative and play in many types of texts that Pugh calls “ludonarrative artifacts,” including novels, plays, films, and fan creations such as Muggle Quidditch, based on the Harry Potter novels. This eclectic and eyebrow-raising collection of case studies is surprisingly fitting for a book on queer ludonarratology, and it allows Pugh to highlight how ludonarrative takes many forms that all relate to gender and identity in some way and further have queer potentials to disrupt these systems. In this regard, Chaucer’s Losers is a timely intervention in ongoing discussions of
game narrative that rarely consider gender outside of representation of women and LGBTQ characters. That said, while the book draws heavily on game studies research, its case studies are almost exclusively not games (except for one chapter on The Legend of Zelda series). As Pugh states in the book, this is intentional—it pushes for a broader understanding of where we find games and game-like structures—yet readers with backgrounds in games and play may find the lack of game references and examples limiting.

by Edmond Y. Chang

Framed by the cultural and political backdrop of the 2016 election in the United States, the #GamerGate backlash beginning in 2014, and the nascent indie games movement (queer and otherwise), Bonnie Ruberg’s The Queer Games Avant-Garde offers a well-curated, thoughtful, playful, behind-the-sequined-curtain look at the “rising tide of indie games being developed by, about and often for LGBTQ people” (p. 3). Ruberg weaves together working definitions of “queer” and “games” and “avant-garde” and makes astute connections across past, present, and future that leans into the messiness of a diversity of perspectives and lived experiences of the featured artists, writers, organizers, and creators and that emphasizes the powerful idea that “making video games as queer people is a political act” (p. 6). All of the conversations presented within the book are also in conversation with one another, and collected interviews revel in the resonances, frictions, sparks, glitter, and the occasional heavy petting across games, stories, identities, and theories. These postcards from the vanguard allow LGBTQ players, designers, and makers to speak for themselves and to offer insights into the practicalities, economies, and the vagaries of game making and game sharing, as well as of the gaming communities.

Past Issues

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American Journal of Play cover, Volume 12, Number 1, Fall 2019
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Volume 12
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Spring 2020 Issue cover
Volume 12
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Shadow puppet cover
Volume 13
Issue 1