Play for the sake of play

I have been meaning to write for some time. But my excuse for procrastination is a trespassing mind seeking clarity.

In my first webinar I went on a learning trail with Marc, Shannon, Gaurav and what they brought to the table got me thinking real hard. Since it was my first experience of a webinar and that too facilitating the discussion with very learned panelists, I had an unconscious script in my head. The discussion around some of the views expressed by the panelists left me reconsidering that script. Introspection and reflection kicked in and that explains my much-delayed blog.

One view that stayed with me and made me closely reexamine and re-explore was,play for the sake of play alone. Children (and adults) need play because it is a sign of life, any benefits that accrue, in terms of development or otherwise, should be incidental and not glorified to being its raison d’être. Play for the sake of learning/development, reduced play as means to achieve those developmental ends and not an end in itself. So play is considered valuable because of the associated benefits and if one is not seeking those benefits or if one is not making developmental gains in the desired developmental domains while playing, then play is not serving its purpose and should be chucked! This view makes play, hardcore functional; almost like work.

Still on the whirlwind tour of deconstructing and reconstructing my understanding of play as a child’s work, I revisited Mihily Csikszentmihaly’s concept of flow that re-emerged as a state within optimal experiences that are an end in themselves. Children have these optimal experiences when they are playing. The natural conclusion was, play should not be children’s work; it should be their play. During this reflective phase, the picture of play was crystal clear and consolidated in the recesses of my grey cells.

Having better understood the picture that emerged, I decided to look at the lens through which this picture emerged, more analytically. This picture stayed when I wore the lenses of an academician/theoretic/researcher/playworker and as a child as they dwell in the present. But the lens was not very comfortable. Seeking comfort, I decided to change the lens to that of regulations-bound caregiver/outcomes-driven teacher/multitasking, time-deficit parents who are more future-centric when it comes to their children. Viewing through this lens, the perception of play changed completely. Now the picture of play for the sake of play alone was like a very expensive, abstract painting, that we know is probably valuable but cannot fathom its meaning or the rationale for its value. This lens fitted me well.

The forces of push and pull in the lives of adult caregiver/teacher/parent, who are largely responsible for the experiences in the lives of young children, inhibits our appreciation of play for the sake of play. These inhibitors can be curriculum overload or enrichment programs; or over-competitive ‘knowledge-based’ world of work. Parents/caregivers/educators have taken a detour from the path of play for the sake of play and now we find ourselves a little lost. For us to acknowledge that the road of play we deviated from was the correct one, we need to see that play works; that it indeed is the right path.

Play for the sake of play will continue to be a fine-sounding abstract concept for such ‘gone-astray’ adults who function like a flesh and blood version of a hard drive. However, if they can be made to see that play is developmental and in natural rhythm with the environment and who we are as living beings, then ‘play for the sake of play’ becomes more tangible concept to understand and aspire for.


    1. Thank you for sharing that Natalie Merchant song/video. This narrative is a part of our folklore in India. _I have seen some postings on your blog and instrigued by your work. Would love to learn more about it and continue to ineract/learn with you.

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