Before knowing much about play, many see play as a small subject, a secondary aspect of children’s development. Surprisingly, this view is reinforced in textbooks on child development — by there being relatively little discussion about children’s play. There are lengthy discussions about brain development, cognitive development, and the development of attachments and moral judgment, but not much about the development of play. This is puzzling and for two reasons in particular. First, given the opportunity,children usually choose to play. Play is, then, a central value for children, which should alert us to the fact that it is important. Second, some of the best minds in psychology and education have studied play and in so doing, have shown that play is indeed complex, beautiful, and important for children’s development. Children’s play is, then, central to providing us with windows on the diverse ways that children show how they are both complex and fascinating as well as strong messages about what supports are needed to help children thrive.
My own research and writing about children’s play has focused mainly on play in early childhood — the development of doll play, block play, drawing, etc.. Out of this work has come ways to describe and evaluate young children’s play as well as a better appreciation of the development and role of imagination in children’s cognitive and social-emotional development. I have also focused on describing ways that play serves as a way children digest the information they learn outside of play — an important function for all those concerned with providing the best education for children.
Early on, I also developed a way for teachers to use co-playing with children as a way to address specific problems certain children have in connecting with other children. This co-playing technique has proven to be an efficient and positive way to integrate socially isolated as well as ‘bossy’ children into the peer culture of classrooms.
Later in my career, I turned my attention to organized youth baseball and to the problem of so many volunteer youth baseball coaches not knowing how to explain complex motor skills (e.g., hitting a baseball) to children and not knowing how to instill a love of the game in children. The result was a book written with the help of members of the Tufts Varsity Baseball team — on coaching youth baseball.
Here are a couple of examples of my writing about children’s play, short articles written for the Tufts Magazine. You can read them by clicking on the following links:
What’s So Funny? http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/spring2008/columns/kids.html
Make Peace With War Play http://emerald.tufts.edu/alumni/magazine/winter2007/columns/kids.html