play and narrative

Stuart Brown explains: “Play’s process of capturing a pretend narrative and combining it with the reality of one’s experience in a playful setting is, at least in childhood, how we develop our major personal understanding of how the world works. We do so initially by imagining possibilities – simulating what might be, and then testing this against what actually is.
Though this may seem to be a primarily childish trait, close examination of adult internal narratives (our stream of consciousness) reveals something similar. Our adult imaginations are also continually active, predicting the future and examining the consequences of our behavior before it takes place. Just as in children, adult streams of consciousness are enriched through the simulations of childlike imaginative play. We all daydream about events in our future – even if we are not consciously aware f it. These thoughts leave an imprint on our brains.” (p.36)

This notion of play as a ‘pretend narrative’ or a simulation is one I’ve come across many times before and it’s one that seems pretty fundamental to biological conceptions of ‘play’ as a behaviour. The narrative and the cognitive are tied together in this conception of play and the role of play in brain development (for example, Brown writes: “The genius of play is that, in playing, we create imaginative new cognitive combinations. And in creating those novel combinations, we find what works.” (p.37))… but what of metaphor?

Well, Brown also writes: “Movement is primal and accompanies all the elements of play we are examining, even word or image movement in imaginative play. If you don’t understand and appreciate human movement, you won’t really understand yourself or play. Learning about self-movement creates a structure for an individual’s knowledge of the world – it is a way of knowing. Through movement play, we think in motion. Movement structures our knowledge of the world, space, time, and our relationship to others. We’ve internalized movement, space, and time so completely that we need to take a step back (a movement metaphor) to realize how much we think in these terms. Our knowledge of the physical world, based in movement, explains why we describe emotions with terms like ‘close,’ ‘distant,’ ‘open,’ ‘closed.’ We say we ‘grasp’ ideas, or ‘wrestle’ with them, or ‘stumble’ upon them.” (p.84)

Anyway, that’s in terms of how we understand the concept… narrative is also a form of play, as Brown discusses (labelling it ‘Storytelling and Narrative Play’):

“Storytelling has been identified as the unit of human understanding. It occupies a central place in early development and [-p.92] learning about the world, oneself, and one’s place in it. A critical function of the dominant left hemisphere of the brain is to continually make up stories about why things are the way they are, which becomes our understanding of the world. Stories are a way of putting disparate pieces of information into a unified context. As we grow, the drama of stories enliven us and the narrative structure tells us something about how things are and how things should be….” (pp.91-92)

Ref: (italics in original; emphases in blue bold mine) Stuart Brown (2009) Play: How it shapes the brain, opens the imagination, and invigorates the soul. Avery: New York


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 Metaphors and Narratives around children and learners, play and tagged , , , , , , , . Bookmark the permalink.

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