Volume 2, Number 2
Vivian Gussin Paley is a teacher, writer, lecturer, and advocate for the importance of play for young children. Author of a dozen books about children learning through play, she has received numerous honors and awards including an Erickson Institute Award for Service to Children, a MacArthur Foundation Fellows award, and a John Dewey Society’s Outstanding Achievement Award. Paley taught early-childhood classes for thirty-seven years—chiefly at the University of Chicago Laboratory Schools—and in her books she describes and reflects on her own learning experiences shared with thousands of students. Her writings focus primarily on three major areas of concern she sees in children: fantasy, friendship, and fairness. Paley learned early the value of observing and listening to children, recording and studying what they said and did in her classroom, and using what she discovered to improve her teaching and children’s lives. In all of this, Paley has been a gatherer and teller of stories, and she remains so in this interview and in her continuing work as a sought-after speaker and consultant. Her latest book, forthcoming in 2010, is The Boy on the Beach: Building Community through Play.
This article looks anew at the important role of physically active, outdoor play in children's social and cognitive development and the role of adults in supporting active, child-directed outdoor play. The authors describe the concept of play ecologies to highlight how children experience their environment as enlivened by their interactive inquiry. Using two episodes of physically active play, the authors discuss the purpose and sequence of the play in the context of the children's peer culture. They make policy recommendations to help teachers, parents, and organizations increase and enhance physically active play among young children.
Play often rewards us with a thrill or a sense of wonder. But, just over the edge of play, uncanny objects like dolls, automata, robots, and realistic animations may become monstrous rather than marvelous. Drawing from diverse sources, literary evidence, psychological and psychoanalytic theory, new insights in neuroscience, marketing literature, robotics, and new testimony from survey respondents, this article pinpoints a moment when surprise turns to shock and play drains away. Play is surely difficult to define, but demarcating its porous boundary—where what one moment creates joy can, in the next, cause dread—is a useful step toward describing this shifting phenomenon.
Over the last four decades, electronic games have profoundly changed the way people play, learn, and connect with each other. Despite the tremendous impact of electronic games, however, until recently, relatively few programs existed to preserve them for future generations of players and researchers. Recognizing the need to save the original content and intellectual property of electronic games from media rot, obsolescence, and loss, the Game Preservation Special Interest Group of the International Game Developers Association has issued a white paper summarizing why electronic games should be preserved, problems that must be solved to do so, some potential solutions, and why all these issues should matter to everyone interested in electronic games and play in general. In the white paper, the editing of which was partially supported by the Preserving Virtual Worlds project and by funds from the Library of Congress, its editor and six authors (Rachel Donahue created a survey for IGDA members not included in this article) issue a call for heightened awareness of the need to preserve electronic games—endangered by relatively rapid electronic decay and intellectual neglect alike—for play scholarship and for the culture of the twenty-first century.
In the 1980s and 1990s, I taught a class of 200 to 250 students an Introduction to Leisure Studies at the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign and often showed a film titled Leisure: Living with the 20– Hour Week. Produced in 1970, it heralded a new age of leisure with people working only twenty hours per week or maybe six months per year and having access to new kinds of resorts all over the world. Freedom and escape would be everywhere. The new era was scheduled to begin in the 1980s, and the profound changes that would usher it in were in the area of technology, specifically the mechanization and automation of work. The film had been created even before the introduction of useful personal computers such as the Apple II in 1977 and the IBM PC in 1981, but its various narrators boldly predicted the end of work as we know it. Machines, the film forecast, would be doing it all for us. Not only did the predictions fail to materialize, but by the mid-1980s, the film was simply silly. The predictions—as well as the clothes and hairstyles of those in the film—evoked peals of laughter in my classes. My point in showing the film was to illustrate the peril in making predictions. As someone once said, more or less (the quote has been attributed to a host of wits from Yogi Berra to Albert Einstein), “It’s difficult to make predictions, especially about the future.”
In The Musical Playground, ethnomusicologist Kathryn Marsh issues a challenge to educators, music teachers, and all adults invested in the creative development of children, to question long-held, entrenched assumptions and beliefs about children's musical development, metacognitive abilities, and creativity and the importance of play. Marsh believes that the pervasive distinction between the playground and the classroom has had a negative effect on the full development of the creative potential of children and has resulted from adult-centered perceptions of child development that have created theoretical blinders. She presents a compelling case in general for taking the play of children seriously and in particular for recognizing the creative, cognitive, linguistic, and kinesthetic complexities of children's spontaneous musical play from all over the world. As evidence for her argument, Marsh presents carefully observed, documented, and analyzed data from her fifteen-year, cross-cultural study of children's musical play in schools both urban and rural from remote locations in Australia to sites in the United Kingdom, Norway, the United States, and South Korea.
In Theory of Mind: How Children Understand Others’ Thoughts and Feelings, Martin J. Doherty presents an accessible and thorough summary of the history and evolution of research into children’s theory of mind (ToM) understanding. Developing ToM understanding is a key accomplishment in children’s cognitive and social development. In chapter 2, Doherty indicates that understanding others’ intentions, desires, and beliefs allows us to predict, explain, and manipulate others’ behaviors. The importance of these skills for human cognition should not be underestimated, and Doherty concisely outlines what thirty years of research have to say about how children of different ages understand various mental states. Doherty concludes a key shift occurs in children’s understanding of false beliefs between the ages of three and four, at which time many researchers claim children have developed theory of mind (ToM) understanding. Doherty discusses the likely precursors to this understanding—pretense and the understanding of visual attention.
I had extremely high hopes and many expectations when my wife and I purchased our first Labrador retriever puppy in 2006. Romantic notions of training our Lab pup to be an empathic and obedient play-therapy dog danced through my head. Cotton, as he was soon to be named, was neither obedient nor empathic upon arrival at our home. In fact, he was stubborn, excitable, hyperactive, and occasionally naughty. There was a fleeting moment in those early days when my heart sank at the thought that Cotton might not be the therapy dog that I dreamed of.
Offering more than 450 entries written by 130 authors from around the world, the sprawling, two-volume Encyclopedia of Play gives newcomers speedy access to many topics that range from the daffy ("Blinky Bill," "Gollywogs," and "Hit the Rat") to the deep ("Daydreaming," "Play as Catharsis," and "Playground as Politics"). For more experienced hands, the volumes provide topical reminders and organizing cues: "Adlerian Play Therapy," "Symbol Formation and Play," and "Theology of Play" are good places to start if one is brushing up. The editor, historian Rodney P. Carlisle, observes that play and games as universal expressions represent both the "dispersion of culture and the underlying structure of human nature" (p. xi). Thus while moving from A to Z, the Encyclopedia follows themes in the cultural anthropology and sociology of play, explores topics in play's history and psychology, sketches the highlights of play in more than ninety countries, and tells brief stories of many specific playthings and games. Brian Sutton-Smith, who wrote the foreword, delights in the profusion of subjects—"the cauldron of multiplicitous ambiguity" (p. ix)—that appears in the Encyclopedia of Play.
Historians are, in general, uneasy about claims of a “golden age.” The phrase suggests nostalgia for a simpler, more pleasurable time. When dealing with childhood memories—and certainly family vacations produce formative memories—the tendency to identify a golden age is even more powerful. Susan Sessions Rugh manages largely, although not entirely, to avoid the pitfalls of oversimplification and romanticization that seem so inherent to such narratives, although she does identify postwar America—from the late 1940s to the early 1970s—as the golden age of family vacations.
Part of Routledge’s Contesting Early Childhood series, Brian Edmiston’s Forming Ethical Identities in Early Childhood Play adds to the growing literature on the experience of classroom play. In particular, he explores some of the meanings of ethical relationships that are inherent in the social context of early-childhood classrooms. Unlike John Dewey, with his pragmatic notion about play and classroom community, Edmiston works from a dialogic perspective; play activities are where ethical identities are “authored” by the participants. Rather than seeing play primarily as a developmental phenomenon like Jean Piaget or Lev S. Vygotsky, Edmiston elaborates on the moral meanings that contribute to who players are as they create classroom play. This approach to understanding play adds a whole new layer to the sets of meanings that we can consider when we practice and study classroom play.
In Boxing: A Cultural History, Kasia Boddy, a lecturer in the Department of English at University College in London, gives us an encyclopedic survey of the ring in art and literature. This is a big, beautiful book. Reaktion Publishers printed it on high-quality, oversized paper to accommodate 150 illustrations, and these images are an integral part of the book's purpose.
Every couple of months, it seems, I have a colleague, graduate student, or journalist approach me for advice on writing up something ethnographic or sociological about their weekly pickup basketball game. An avid, if physically challenged, Thursday- night player myself, I find this desire to help others (if not oneself) understand why running up and down a court with nine other people trying to throw a leather ball through a steel hoop is so compelling and full of meaning rather heartwarming. Yet I am typically cautious to the point of discouraging in dealing with such inquiries. It is, after all, far more difficult than most imagine to say something of interest or import in this well-worn terrain. Thomas Mc Laughlin’s contribution to the genre rises above all this. Unparalleled in scope, coverage, quality of writing, and depth of thought, Give and Go sets a standard for others to learn from and aspire to.
The rich history of games, whether for adults or children, shows that they have been used for much more than just entertainment. One of my favorite online resources to demonstrate this, Cornell University Library’s “Pastimes and Paradigms: Games We Play,” is filled with images and descriptions of board and card games that were used for education, ethical indoctrination, political campaigns, and brand promotion. Indeed, Monopoly has its roots in a Single Taxer’s propaganda tool called The Landlord’s Game.
The Alliance for Childhood is an international, nonprofit advocacy group composed of leaders in education, health, and other fields who care fervently about the well-being and the suffering of our kids today. This new publication seeks to create greater awareness and outcry concerning the demise of play in early-childhood education. The coauthors—both well-known educators, writers, and champions of children—present recent research and identify play culprits in schools and society, and then follow with important and informed suggestions to try to get us back on track to restoring play to its rightful place in our nation’s kindergartens and other early-childhood educational settings.
A Mandate for Playful Learning in the Preschool: Presenting the Evidence offers strong new ammunition desperately needed to halt the forces that devalue play. However, do not look for charming little vignettes that illustrate engaging play scenes. They are not here. Rather, the fact that this book gets right to the points that it so compellingly makes may, in itself, attract busy readers as well as give believers resource material for framing their own approaches.
Henry Lowood is Curator for History of Science & Technology Collections and Film & Media Studies in the Stanford University Libraries. Author of dozens of scholarly articles and chapters in collected works, he is also codirector of the Stanford Humanities Lab and director of its How They Got Game Project: The History of Video Games in Interactive Simulations. He also represents the university in Preserving Virtual Worlds, a collaborative project of the University of Illinois at Urbana–Champaign, the University of Maryland, the Rochester Institute of Technology, and Stanford to explore methods for preserving digital games and interactive fiction in partnership with the Library of Congress. Devin Monnens works in game design and information technology in the United States. Zach Vowell is Archivist in the Videogame Archive at the Dolph Briscoe Center for American History at the University of Texas at Austin. Judd Ethan Ruggill is Assistant Professor of Communication Studies at Arizona State University and is the author of numerous articles and chapters in books. Ken S. McAllister is Associate Professor of Rhetoric at the University of Arizona and the author of Game Work: Language, Power, and Computer Game Culture. Ruggill and McAllister are coauthors of Fluency in Play: Computer Game Design for Less Commonly Taught Language Pedagogy and codirectors of the Learning Games Initiative, a research collaborative of scholars from more than a dozen universities. Andrew Anderson works in game design and information technology in the United Kingdom.
Scott G. Eberle is Vice President for Interpretation at Strong National Museum of Play. An intellectual historian, he has developed dozens of exhibits for the museum and contributed articles to periodicals ranging from History News to Death Studies. He is the author, coauthor, or coeditor of books on frontier entrepreneur Benjamin Rathbun, the history of Buffalo and Erie County, and the diverse collections of the Buffalo and Erie County Historical Society. His most recent book is Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: A Celebration of the Greatest Toys of All Time! Currently he and play scholar Stuart Brown are working on an interdisciplinary study exploring the elements of play.
Jane P. Perry is Research Coordinator and Teacher at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center at the University of California, Berkeley. She trains graduate students on research protocols, supervises research projects, and serves as a spokesperson on issues related to child development. Her personal research interests are outdoor play, playgrounds, and children’s social interactions. She has contributed to a number of educational periodicals and books and is the author of Outdoor Play: Teaching Strategies with Young Children. Lisa Branum is Administrative Research Assistant at the Harold E. Jones Child Study Center.