explaining play

I mentioned this book already (Animal Play; Evolutionary, Comparative and Ecological Perspectives, Eds Marc Bekoff and John A Byers (1998)) – but again, it’s great, and reading a different essay, I still really like how this book looks at play.

I particularly like how relevant Animal Play is to play-based learning theories in early childhood education (even if it is an old book – but it was reccommended to us by a top scientist, so maybe that doesn’t make its date of publication insignificant?)…. Anyway, so here are some of the points I liked from Thompson’s essay:

“Many young mammals play and we still do not really understand why. The play literature abounds with hypotheses and speculation…, but quantitative support for most functional hypotheses is in frustratingly short supply.” (p.183) “In this paper, I will briefly consider several aspects of play that seem inadequately explained by current theory. These include (1) the possible implications of the brief, repetitive nature of ply behaviors, (2) whether or not play is a unitary category, (3) the ambiguous relationship between [-p.184] play and aggression, and (4) the question of whether play is competitive. I will then suggest an alternative interpretation of play: that play is a mechanism by which  developing individual can assess its capabilities.” (pp.183-184)

Perhaps the critical characteristic of play behavior patterns is not their duration so much as their repetitive nature.” (p.184)

“Play has traditional been classified into three basic categories: (1) object play, which involves the manipulation of inanimate things; (2) locomotor play, which consists of activities such as running and rotational body movements; and (3) social play, which involves two or more individuals [-p.185] that respond to each other’s actions (Fagen 1981).” (pp.184-185) “Any truly satisfying explanation for play needs to account for all three of these forms.” (p.185)

“Play provides developing individuals with immediate feedback on their physical abilities, and this feedback can be used to regulate future activities. I will refer to this as self assessment.” (p.192)

“Another aspect of the progressive nature of play, as it relates to self assessment, is the tendency for play to become increasingly social as development progresses. In many species manipulative and locomotor play predominate during early life…. More interactive forms of play (e.g., play fighting) usually arise later, perhaps after the requisite physical skills have been developed through solitary manipulative and locomotor play.” (p.196)

Pairs of individuals with more one-sided relationships are less likely to play together. If the play interactions of once well-matched partners become increasingly one-sided, a shift in preferred partners is predicted. / Social play is progressive in that play partners are typically also developing individuals. Play partners that are well-matched (i.e., of similar developmntal state) at any given point in time are likely to remain well-matched as long as they continuing to develop at approximately the same rate. This suggests that young individuals should exhibit clear play partner preferences and that these preferences should be highly stable over the course of development.” (p.195)

“Self assessment theory may provide a framework for the speculative link between play and creativity. Self assessment depends upon testing the limits of physical competence. As an individual becomes increasingly competent at a particular test, novel tests of greater difficulty must be generated. Since switching to more challenging tests involves escalation of risk, it is critical that all relevant physical parameters be tested thoroughly prior to attempting a test that would expose the individual to greatly increased risk. In other words, the more well-rounded the feedback, the more informed the decision. Therefore, tests should encompass a wide range of situations that are unfamiliar and unanticipated. Novelty in play would further be favored by natural selection if an individual benefits from being able to assess the full range of competencies prior to their actual use in a fitness-related context.” (p.197)

“Self assessment provides a means for a developing individual to evaluate the effectiveness of its play experiences and modfy its play for optimal benefit while minimzing energy expenditure and exposure to predators. Therefore, self assessment in play could have evolved concurrently with other hypothesized functions, such as the development of predatory and competitive social skills.” (p.199)

If animals are using self assessment to manage their play, this might help explain some of the difficulties in studying play. Given self assessment during play, there need be no straightforward relationship between play content and frequency under self-selected conditions and predicted outcome variables such as predatory and fighting skill. Self assessment provides a mechanism of self correction and a means of buffering development against perturbations in the physical and social environment. This capability for developmental flexibility might be extremely important for species in which the social or physical environmnt is unpredictable or unstable. …Rather than increasing physical capabilities or speeding up the acquisition of skills, play may simply ensure that development proceeds normally in differing (and potentially unpredictable) environments. In this context, it is interesting that play seems extremely sensitive to subtle perturbations in the physical and social environment (Thompson 1996b).” (p200)

Ref: (emphases in blue bold mine) Katerina V Thompson ‘Self assessment in juvenile play’ pp183-204 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, Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, Standardised Testing and tagged , , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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