Is play valid?

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JOCELYN LAUREL

In an age where living is highly organized and where society seems to make a lot of demands on both adults and children, it seems right to provide the young with skills and experiences as soon as possible, in order that they may be equipped in the best possible way to cope with the world’s demands. And what better way to do so than through the avenue of play.

Play is apparent in almost every occurrence, but due to its extreme and versatile nature, play can be applied in a variety of ways, to describe diverse situations: child’s play; play parts in a drama; playful speech; play in sports; fair play with others. Robert Neale, author of the book In praise of Play: Towards A Psychology of Religion, suggests this very nature of play:

“Play is a term that has been applied to many of the affairs of nature, man and God. We speak of a piston rod playing in its cylinder, a fountain playing streams of water, the play of wind on the fields of grass… we see ourselves as players of games and musical instruments, participants in love play, and as players of both ends against the middle. It has even been asserted that experience itself is the play of the Gods, and that to be in tune with those Gods is to be in play.”

In trying to define children’s play, educators often say that play is the child’s work. This description, however, has led several parents and educators to value only one particular type of play: that which is serious and which they recognize and approve of. This kind of adult-directed play rarely corresponds with real children’s play.

To describe the intrinsic characteristics of play and its vast implication on the education of a child, therefore, the more relevant questions we should ask are: “What is the role of play in the education of children?” and, “Should play be supervised?”

Many will argue that play is so instinctive that it requires no special supervision. Joseph Lee, however, in his book, Play in Education offered the argument that eating is so instinctive, yet there is starvation.

In George E. Johnson’s article “Why teach a Child to Play,” he presents a situation in which man’s leading instincts go unsupervised. He tells of a young boy who was brought to juvenile court for stealing apples. He was warned and let go, but again committed the same crime and once more was sent to juvenile court. Exasperated by this, the probation officer asked the young boy whether he stole the apples because he was hungry or because he just could not help himself. The boy looked surprised, and finally told the officer that he stole the apples not because he cared for them but because he had fun having the owner chase him.

If only his chasing instincts had been supervised—as in the case of another boy whose chasing instincts were managed through games like “tag” and “cops and robbers,” and finally, football. That boy would eventually one day, end up in a stadium packed with almost 25,000 people rising to their feet in enthusiasm, watching him carry the ball for a gain of 50 yards down a protected field.

“The love of chase born in both boys was the same, but the one was supervised and the other not,” concludes Johnson.

Parents and educators alike, therefore have an important role in selecting and transmitting something of value to a youthful population, namely the child. Their efforts in making the learning experience more enjoyable for students is so important in developing the habit of joyfulness, because the more enjoyable the experience, the more inclined the students will be to love work.

Perhaps society is still slow to recognize the importance of children’s play in an educational program because it does not seem to generate end results, which can be considered productive. True, the spirit of play is that it is an end in itself, and children’s activities are spontaneously chosen and can easily be disregarded at a child’s whim. And yet, it is this very same force that makes use of every ounce of energy a child possesses; it encourages his imagination and furnishes him with the sound foundation needed for adulthood.

There is no doubt that faced with broader and more imposing demands on children, the value of play in an educational setting is threatened. Viewed in this light, parents and educators must therefore strive to undertake a more positive attitude towards play and its implicit role in the education of their children. In this way, both parents and educator strengthen their skills and open new areas of thought regarding children’s behavior and learning.

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