Play is essential

“Play is seen as a broad category of behavior, as basic in its phenomenology to smart complex animals as sleep and dreams, and as scientifically enigmatic. Its healthy presence seems necessary for the maintenance of flexibility and adaptability.” (p.243)

“The notion that play behavior itself (viewed in ‘slow motion’) may have a sculpting action on neural patterning warrants further research exploration, and seems to place behavior occurring in advance of permanent neurologic changes.” (p.246)

In a study “to understand the motives and life of the Texas mass murderer Charles Whitman” (p.246) “[T]he task force concluded that the conditions which led to his violent and tragically destructive behavior were set in motion early by specific family experiences, which included much physical and emotional abuse, playlessness, paternal over-control, practice with weapons, and other factors, these recurring repeatedly throughout his life.” (p.247)

Referring to the research done as part of this investigation, Brown explains that “What all of these studies repeatedly revealed and what struck our separate research teams as unexpected, was that (among the other findings) normal play behavior was virtually absent throughout the lives of highly violent, anti-social men regardless of demography. …These were not the findings in the comparison groups. Though they reported many stressful life experiences, their capacities to engage a repertoire of coping capacities appeared related to the richness and variety of play experiences, particularly those early in life.” (italics in original, blue bold emphases mine, p.249)

I now perceive healthy varied play in childhood as necessary for the development of empathy, social altruism and the possession of a repertoire of social behaviors enabling the player to handle stress, particularly humiliation and powerlessness. I also have found that general well-being and play are partners, and that it accompanies the most gifted in their adult achievements. Perhaps it allows access to the giftedness we all possess.” (p.250)

“Of course, since play is so integrally linked and seems to ‘borrow’ from other behaviors, and because rigorous research criteria as to the definition of play are lacking, no specific conclusions about play or its absence in the causality of violence and anti-social behavior was then, or is now, fully warranted. But it appears that we all pay a high price for seriously neglecting it.” (p.251)

“Mot adults tend to compartmentalize their adult lives into work-play dichotomies, which is not the way of children. For children, virtually all of their non-survival activities are play.” (p.244) … “I do not recall any specific transitional moments when duty, responsibility, productivity, and other ‘adult’ behaviors became more rewarded than play, or exactly why or when a work-play separation occurred, but it did, and seemed normal. Joseph Meeker examines this process in his book The Comedy of Survival (1997).
My first dawning awareness that play warranted clinical explanation came as a medical student rotating through the hospital pediatric services observing and helping to care for desperately ill infants and children. I became impressed that as sick children began to recover, often the first signal of their return to wellness was their erupting sense of humor, or other signs of a return to spontaneous play. Their playful ways were frequently the most reliable signs of impending recovery and often preceded positive changes in temperature levels or laboratory findings.” (p.245)

Quoting Iraneus Eibl-Eibesfeldt, Brown also points  out: “There is no doubt that animals learn many skills relevant to their specific ecology during play.” (p.252)

“Children’s games also teach how to accept authority, learn strategy, teach them how to win, lose, handicap self-or-other in the service of the game, and much more.
Competent workable group adult behavior probably requires competency learned in group play situations in childhood.” (p.257)

Ref: Stuart Brown ‘Play as an organizing principle: clinical evidence and personal observations’ pp243-259 in Eds Marc Bekoff and John A Byers (1998) Animal Play; Evolutionary, Comparative and Ecological Perspectives. Cambridge University Press: Cambridge, NY, Melbourne


About backyardbooks

This blog is a kind of electronic storage locker for ideas and quotes that inform my research... literary research into fiction for young adults (with a special focus on New Zealand fiction). Kiwis are producing amazing literature for younger readers, but it isn't getting the academic appreciation it deserves. I hope readers of this blog can make use of the material I gather and share by way of promoting our fiction. Cheers!
This entry was posted in early years education, Images of Parent Child and Expert, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, The concept of gifted learners, Understanding Education and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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