What is play?

Italian educationist Maria Montessori (1870-1952)

This isn’t so much a post, as an invitation to debate…

Pre-amble: One of my close friends and influential thinkers in my life is a Montessorian, both teacher and parenting coach, and generally speaking, there are many aspects of the Montessori perspective on early childhood and early childhood education that speak to me. (And I’m completely enamoured of The Michael Olaf catalogue. I want it all, my thing against stuff, and buying stuff, notwithstanding).

Point: Here’s what throws me every time I dance with Maria Montessori, and that is her “observation-conclusion” that play is what children do when they have nothing better to do.

Counterpoint: Let’s start with Johann Huizinga, author of Homo Ludens–Playing Man, who argued quite passionately and to me convincingly that play is what makes us human, what created civilization…

My children play—I play—not when we have nothing better to do, but when we are free to do the thing we really, really want to do. (In my case, “play” equals—writing, reading, biking around in circles and day-dreaming. In their case, “play” equals… well, everything. From video games to art to building forts out of ice or toilet paper rolls.)

So a big question to the brilliant minds visiting here: what is play? How do you define play (and I suppose by opposition work?) in your life, in your family?

BTW, this is where the Montessorian in my life expounds on her stuff: Full Circle Parenting. It’s, ultimately, a very different approach to life, parenting (and education) than I’ve chosen to chart for my family in the specifics… but the underlying foundation of respect and focus on the bonds between members of the family is the same.

Photo: Maria Montessori (1870-1952) (Photo credit: Wikipedia)