Sunday Books: “The Power of Play”

We are continuing on with our look at Thomas Poplawski’s “Completing the Circle”, available for free at the Waldorf On-Line Library.  Today’s chapter is about the power of play, especially free play.  In a world full of enrichment classes and a myriad of scheduled activities for the youngest children, free play is consistently undervalued.  The author writes:

In school and even at home, there has been the unending effort made to give
the child every possible advantage by pushing early academic learning and the
early development of specific skills, this in spite of the fact that educational research
has found no evidence that such early “enrichment” programming provides any
long-term advantage for most children. Only disabled children and those from
deprived circumstance, like those served in the Head Start program, clearly benefit
from them.”

The author cites that the American school system bias against play may be historically influenced by Maria Montessori’s methods, Puritanism and Freud.    Yet, we all know that imaginative play is a huge correlate to verbal fluency, mathematical thinking, and genera thinking.    But perhaps most importantly,

“Russ concluded, however, that imaginative play is the tool that every child uses to learn to cope with stress in life and that to interfere with the child’s learning how to play in a healthy manner imperils the later development of emotional regulation and coping skills…..

Brown was asked to investigate the background of a young man who some
years ago shot and killed nineteen people from a tower at The University of Texas
in Austin. He found that the man had a history of not playing in his childhood
and adolescence. When Brown went on to examine the lives of other killers, he
found a similar deprivation in their early years. On the other hand, when he made
a study of individuals who had been awarded the famous MacArthur Foundation
“genius” awards, Brown found, almost without exception, a rich background of
play from childhood to adulthood. He went on to help found The Institute for
Play in Carmel, California, because of his conviction that play is essential for the
development of healthy individuals.”

Children today often have a difficult time playing, both alone and with others in a social group, in comparison to children of past years.  And too often, as parents, we don’t let our children get dirty in play (because we have somewhere to go soon) or we are too overscheduled, or we use electronic media to pacify our children and their real need for play.  If children don’t get bored, they will not figure out how to actively play.

The other severe impediment to play is  children who are brought into an adult consciousness.  Children are often just treated as another adult, with too much responsibility for decisions and too heavy of an adult emotional load to carry.  This is an impediment to healthy, free flowing play.

Active play does not mean the adult parent or teacher “just sits in a corner and knits” (as Rainbow Rosebloom wryly put it during the lecture I heard him give last week).  Children need you there with an ear ready.  Too often games can turn into groups of children doing something destructive, which can happen until children are about 10 years of age according to the Gesell Institute, or into a game where one child or a group of children dominate others that are not nice games. 

If you look through the back posts on this blog, there are quite a few about the stages of play and how to foster creative and healthy play.

Many blessings to you,


5 thoughts on “Sunday Books: “The Power of Play”

  1. Just curios about your comment about the children who thrive and should be getting early academics in head start due to the fact they might come from “deprived circumstances”? IMO these children, which include mine (which was not my choice at this time of our lives). Would benefit more from open ended play and less push for early academics. Let me know if I am taking this in wrong?
    Mom to 5 ages 21 to 2 years old

    • Leslie,
      That was a quote from the book not my words. I am not sure what the author meant by “deprived”. My guess is it is less about physical, materialistic circumstances (ie, is he talking about poverty?) or is he referring to the studies regarding homes where less than x number of words per day are spoken to the children and therefore the children do better in a program where they hear more than x words a day for vocabulary development? So, not really clear what studies he is referencing in that quote. Probably looking up the studies that support programs like Head Start could provide some insight into that, if you are curious.
      I agree with you and feel all children need play in the early years as the basis for learning.
      Thanks for writing in,

  2. I was also curious about that comment, as my daughter is considered disabled (she as spina bifida) and already I am getting told that from the age of three and on the early intervention is in a preschool setting, which I am not willing for. I do not want to deprive her of the same childhood I am giving my other children because of her disability. Not to mention we homeschool, so I can just hear the arguments I am going to have to go through! 🙂

    • Emily,
      If you are in the US, and I guess depending on the state you are in, but in my state school therapy is still eligible to your child even if you homeschool (ie, you go to the school for therapy she would be eligible for). If you are involved with Early Intervention, I would start paving the way for what you want and believe is best for your daughter.

      Thank you so much for your comment! I also hope you see the other comment I wrote to someone else who asked about that quote..

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