Volume 6, Number 2
Jason Sachs is Director of Early Childhood Education for Boston Public Schools, where he oversees preschool and kindergarten programs across the district. A graduate of the Harvard Graduate School of Education, he worked previously in the Massachusetts Department of Education’s Division of Early Learning Services and has served on the Governing Board of the National Association for the Education of Young Children (NAEYC). Ben Mardell is Professor in the Graduate School of Education at Lesley University, where his concentrations include early-childhood education and Reggio Emilia–inspired teaching. His publications include From Basketball to the Beatles: In Search of Compelling Early Childhood Curriculum. Marina Boni is Early Childhood Mentor in the Boston Public Schools. Previously she taught for nineteen years at the Cambridgeport Children’s Center, which follows a Reggio Emilia–inspired teaching philosophy. Here Sachs, Mardell, and Boni discuss the Boston Public Schools’ Boston Listens Program—informed principally by Vivian Paley’s work on storytelling and learning—and how teachers in the program use storytelling and story acting to promote language and literacy in young children. Key words: Boston Public Schools; language; literacy; story acting; storytelling; Vivian Paley
In a wide-ranging essay that reviews the major theories of plays and relates them to significant notions of the self, the author addresses the question of why we play. He does so to argue that play is a biologically driven project of self-understanding and self-realization, one that humans—although they also share the experience with other creatures—have developed most fully as a part of their psychological and social life. Key words: play and self-realization; rhetorics of play; theories of play
Scholars conventionally find play difficult to define because the concept is complex and ambiguous. The author proffers a definition of play that takes into consideration its dynamic character, posits six basic elements of play (anticipation, surprise, pleasure, understanding, strength, and poise), and explores some of their emotional, physical, and intellectual dimensions. He argues for a play ethos that recognizes play is evolution based and developmentally beneficial. He insists, however, that, at its most elemental, play always promises fun. In this context, any activity that lacks these six elements, he contends, will not fully qualify as play. Key words: definition of play; elements of play; universe of play
In this article, the author synthesizes research from several disciplines to shed light on play’s central role in healthy development. Gordon builds on research in attachment theory that correlates secure attachment in infancy with adult well-being to demonstrate how playfulness might be a lifelong outcome of secure attachment and a primary factor in well-being. She discusses infants enacting the two primary attachment behaviors, attachment and exploration, as protosocial and exploratory play, then shows how these form a foundation for lifelong play and development. She reviews several metaphors for world views that arise from different attachment styles and endure throughout life in ways she claims either enhance or inhibit playfulness. She explores the notion that adults can earn secure attachment through attuned play and restore what she sees as their innate playfulness and well-being. Key words: attachment theory; attuned play; broadening-and-building theory; exploratory play; happiness set point; internal working models (IWM); playfulness and well-being
In an essay on the rationality of play, the author characterizes rationality by the three distinct demands it makes on the individual—demands for autonomy, solidarity, and integrity. He develops each of these as they apply to the sport of sailing, using the example of two deep-ocean expeditions to arrive at a concept of deep play he sees as one solution to the existential problem of living rationally. In the course of doing so, he suggests why so many disparate activities fall under this concept of deep play and concludes with a reflection on how deep play transcends sports. Key words: autonomy; Bernard Moitessier; integrity; deep play; rationality of play; sailing; solidarity
Century of the Child: Growing by Design, 1900–2000, by curator Juliet Kinchin and curatorial assistant Aidan O’Connor and published by the Museum of Modern Art (MOMA), accompanies the ambitious and introspective exhibition of the same title that opened at MOMA in New York 2012. This book resembles other coffee table books—beautiful color and black-and-white photographs fill the pages and the content presents a broad survey of the subject—and proves a noteworthy source for general readers interested in learning more about the convergence of twentieth- century material culture and childhood.
In Play in the Early Years, Marilyn Fleer communicates the importance of play in young children’s early education and development. Focusing primarily on the role of play in the Australian government’s Early Years Learning Framework (a curriculum for children from birth to age five), she uses a variety of theoretical perspectives to develop a schema to help the reader understand children’s play. Her schema considers the setting (such as school, home, playground) in which play takes place and the nature of play. She encourages readers to reflect on their own personal memories, perspectives, and expectations of play to become aware of the value of children’s play. Fleer also describes a systematic analysis of teaching based on children’s play in early-childhood education. She demonstrates the ways in which others have understood play in different eras, cultures, and early-childhood education settings (such as child care, family child care, schools, and community groups). The book discusses a wide range of topics, including perspectives on play from different individuals such as infants, children, teachers, families, communities, classrooms, and various early-childhood settings; different theories of play including classical, developmental, and post-developmental; integrating play into the early-childhood education curriculum; promoting children’s play development; using cultural technologies in children’s play; using play for assessment purposes; and advocating for play.
Why do we play ball? The Ball: The Object of the Game begins with the conceit that John Fox—prompted by an offhand question tossed out by his seven-year-old son—embarked on a quest to articulate why humans play ball. Although the underlying motivation for the work clearly comes from the years he spent researching an ancient Mayan ball game, this father-son moment of bonding sets up the book’s conversational tone and serves as its narrative thread. Fox begins by claiming the ball as a universal object: one that has been differently bounced, kicked, thrown, and batted about by cultures for all of human history. He wisely declines an attempt at an encyclopedia of ball games, and instead chooses to focus on eight exemplary ball sports from the past and present, those that, “best reveal . . . key historical moments in the evolution of ball games, from the ancient world to the present” (p. 10). Fox gives sustained attention to the Kirkwall Ba’, jeu de paume (or royal tennis), the Mayan ball game and its present-day iteration ulama, the American Indian tradition of lacrosse, American baseball, football, and basketball, and, at the end, a nod to soccer. As Fox elaborates these examples of balls being batted around for the purposes of pick-up play, complex ritual, and major media event, another question comes to the fore: How do the ways we play, and their differences, matter?
A few pages into David Ewalt’s autoethnography of Dungeons and Dragons (D&D), I learned what to expect. “I am not a wizard,” Ewalt writes, “but I play one every Tuesday night” (p. 4). Technically, Ewalt plays a cleric, a divine spell caster as opposed to an arcane spell caster like a wizard, but his point is clear: playing D&D is a you-and-not-you proposition; like acting, it occupies a place between true life and delusion, reality and fantasy. In Of Dice and Men, Ewalt takes on several tasks: he documents the history of D&D, joins and describes multiple gaming sessions, and (most interestingly to me) analyzes the reasons he and other people play the game. He approaches this task in a journalistic fashion, getting the facts and seeking out people and places close to the phenomenon. The book is structured as a journey, or a series of chapters about episodes leading from Ewalt’s rediscovery of D&D to his pilgrimage closer to its source. Ewalt puts himself into the story in autoethnographic fashion, including moments where he cites his own gaming adventures and writes about the actions and choices of his characters and the characters of his fellow players. These segments are interspersed with the journalistic and reflective passages and are intended to bolster Ewalt’s findings and analysis with in situ examples from the game.
From Double Dutch to limbo competitions, games that meld music, performance, and play are easy to find. In more recent years, the rise and spread of digital technologies have given way to a whole new, and ever-widening, range of practices that combine, recombine, and expand upon this tradition. This is particularly true of digital games (video games, arcade games, and computer games) in which music has long fulfilled a core function, both in terms of adding significantly to games’ narratives and aesthetics, as well as providing an intuitive way of giving feedback to players. Some of the early arcade games had soundtracks that contained hidden clues about the right time to make a particular move or that forewarned players they were running out of time or were about to experience a change of speed. More recently, rhythm games, such as PaRappa the Rapper (1996) and Dance Dance Revolution (1998), have incorporated beat as a core component of their game-play mechanics—where a player’s moves are only successful if made in musical time. As digital games have become more social (and more socially acceptable), events such as weekly Rock Band competitions at the local pub and sharing a musical creation made in the game Sound Shapes (2012) with thousands of other players online are increasingly common.
In Raising the Stakes: E-Sports and the Professionalization of Computer Gaming, author T. L. Taylor examines the ups and downs of a slowly emerging industry, e-sports (electronic sports). The e-sports industry aims to turn real-time video game competition into the next major professional sport—complete with franchises, broadcast tournaments, superstar players, and mogul team and league managers. Those who would make e-sports a success point to South Korea, the only country so far in which the industry has taken hold. Taylor tells us that tournaments like the World Cyber Games draw sponsors like Coca-Cola, Microsoft, and Samsung and that Korean Telecom companies, and even the Korean Navy have—or sponsor—teams. Outside of the promised land of South Korea, however, e-sports have struggled and exist as a generally small, niche industry.
Scott G. Eberle is Vice President for Play Studies at The Strong and Editor of the American Journal of Play. An intellectual historian, he has developed dozens of exhibits for The Strong museum, lectured widely on historical interpretation, and contributed to the Journal of Museum Education, Death Studies, and History News. He is the author, coauthor, and coeditor of four books, including Classic Toys of the National Toy Hall of Fame: A Celebration of the Greatest Toys of All Time! He is currently coediting the Handbook of the Study of Play, and he regularly contributes blogs to Psychology Today.
Patrick Goold is Associate Professor of Philosophy at Virginia Wesleyan College. His research focuses on the philosophy of sports, rationality, and practical rationality. In addition to numerous articles, his publications include Modern Philosophy—From Descartes to Nietzsche: An Anthology, of which he is coeditor. An avid sailor, he is also coeditor of Sailing-Philosophy for Everyone: Catching the Drift of Why We Sail.
Gwen Gordon is an artist, filmmaker, and play consultant in California. She has designed and built Muppets for Sesame Street Workshop, assisted in research at the MIT Media Lab, and consulted with Xerox, PARC, and IDEO. She served as creative director for a PBS pilot that won five Emmy Awards and is currently producing the documentary Seriously! The Future Depends on Play.
Thomas S. Henricks is Distinguished University Professor at Elon University. His interests as a sociologist include social theory, modernization and change, popular culture, social stratification, race and ethnic relations, and, particularly, play and sports. His numerous publications include Disputed Pleasures: Sport and Society in Preindustrial England; Play Reconsidered: Sociological Perspectives on Human Pleasure; and Selves, Societies, and Emotions: Understanding the Pathways of Experience.