The Classical Roots of Play

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PostPosted: Thu Nov 08, 2007 9:16 pm
PostPost subject: The Classical Roots of Play
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How far down into the earth do the roots of play extend? Let's see, the first enlightened pronouncement on play came from Playto (sorry, that's Plato) in the Republic c. 300 BC. Even ancient Greece had sense enough to know that bullying, stress, and learning by force was a very bad idea; especially in a society that valued freedom.

What follows is taken from the first page of the TPRS training manual for teachers:

From TPRS in a year!


This text has been developed for teachers who wish to sharpen their skills in teaching with TPRS –Teaching Proficiency Through Reading and Storytelling®.

TPRS requires work. It requires an emotional as well as an intellectual commitment. Breaking old habits is never easy. It takes courage. Yet the rewards for those who make the effort are considerable. Teaching well with TPRS makes teaching the rewarding experience is meant to be.

TPRS brings a sense of play into the classroom. Chris Mercogliano, writing in “paths of Learning” (Issue # 17, p. 12, 2004) states that there is considerable evidence for “a classical link between education and play.” He points out that the ancient Greek words education/ culture (paideia), play (paidia), and children (paides) all have the same root.

Chris asks us to consider the following remarkable conversation in Plato’s Republic between Socrates and Plato’s brother, Glaucon.

“Well, then,” Socrates begins, “the study of calculation and geometry, and all the preparatory education required for dialectic, must be put before them as children and the instruction must not be given the aspect of compulsion to learn.”

“Why not?” asks Glaucon?

“Because free men ought not to learn any study slavishly. Forced labors performed by the body don’t make the body any worse, but no forced study abides in the soul.”


“Therefore the best of men, don’t use force in training the children in the subjects, but rather play. In that way you can better discern toward what each is naturally directed.”

Some teachers don’t see themselves as playful. Yet TPRS is so strong and supple that it easily accommodates individual teacher preferences. It can be adapted to anyone and anything, even the textbook. The waters of TPRS are so deep that individuals will always “land the fish” they want. When applied to traditional methods, TPRS always strengths them.

The ideas herein represent TPRS as perceived by the author. They are not intended to be exhaustive. Yet every effort was made to articulate and stay within the currently accepted TPRS ideas at the time of this writing (2007). The goal of this book is to help get TPRS working as fast as possible for anyone new to the method.

Ok, so let's ask this question. If we're so advanced in our thinking here in the year 2007, why on earth do we herd kids mindlessly. I mean if Plato can decipher the code and see the common thread linking Children, Play, and Learning--not just for early childhood but for “the study of calculation and geometry, and all the preparatory education required for dialectic," then why are we in the academic gulag construction business?

How did Plato arrive at this conclusion? Perhaps control of children was not important in Greek culture. Maybe the Greeks truly cherished Freedom.

It is so clear now that our brains do not respond well to coercion, but we seem to be paralyzed, unable to break through.

Fortunately, play still pokes its head through the walls we have built, that is, when we are not trying to organize and control it.

Soon we will see more of play entering classrooms, and when that begins to happen, the political and cultural choke hold we have brought upon ourselves will be broken.

Thanks to Gary Lee Shafer for sending the above passage to our attention. And thanks to TPRS. More on TPRS to come.
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Location: Virginia, USA

PostPosted: Mon Mar 17, 2008 4:46 pm
PostPost subject: Play is in the Air
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In the last 4 weeks, Play has bust forth like Spring. Play in in the air and everywhere. Except in the schools.

First, there was the New York Times Magazine cover feature on play. Just about every Ph.D. is attempting to get his name associated with play these days. In the early 90s, play could not be found even in the most comprehensive psychology encyclopedias. The article seemed to argue mostly about the benefits of play, but it did not go deep into its impact on the learning culture or explore whether there was even a practical way for impact to be made. Play is a popular topic, and this is good for warming up the public to the concept of play.

Then came 2 features on NPR's Morning Editon with Alix Spiegel reporting on play.

1. Old-Fashioned Play Builds Serious Skills
2. Creative Play Makes for Kids in Control

Like the Times Magazine article, Play certainly got some air time, but nothing was mentioned about play's potential for use from preK to high school. It was all academic.

Then came another NPR story. Massachusetts Makes Strides in Math Curriculum. Listen to it and see if you can pick out the 2 P words that matter. Here were teachers working in the play zone, one with Mr. Mix Up and another, without puppet, in middle school, playing with kids rather than teaching them. Little did the feature know that there is a scientific basis for all the success these teachers are having. You are left with a cliff-hanger story: the teachers are being creative but there is no way to replicate their success. Another story surfaces and disappears until another one comes along to air and then be archived.

What sticks, people?

The learning culture is now nearly impervious to the idea of play. Suggest to an educator that play is a superconductor for learning, socialization, and cognition, and you will likely generate mild interest, if not a shrug. Most teachers at every level resist being playful with students; the impulse, if there was one, has been uprooted like a weed in the garden. But weeds keep growing. And teachers who are brave enough to play discover a new world. As for parents, most simply want their kids to do well and fit in. Parents don’t know what to make of play in a teach & test world.

You can tout play all you want in the media, and even install participatory elements for parents to ask questions to authorities who presume to know all about play, but have no firsthand knowledge or pioneering experience with play in places like classrooms.

The unfortunate fact remains that the American cultural land of learning has been claimed and institutionalized by all who have been allowed, over the years, to co-opt, usurp, buy, access, and dominate the children, teachers, and families who inhabit our schools—I’m talking about a weak local and national PTA, the politicians, lawmakers, the corporate CEOs, the test makers, publishers, food service and fast food providers, the so-called professional education organizations, and, of course, the PhDs with their recommendations—all those who dictate who our teachers will be, how they relate to our children, what can and cannot be used in teaching, and what and how children will learn. They all dominate and adulterate, in every sense of the word, our learning culture and make it what it is: a cultural bunker where young minds are taught and kept in line...

We have locked the kids of this country into a learning culture that is foreign to their heritage and spirit. We have given free reign to political and economic interests—sorry, far too weak a word—dictators who define and confine the education of our children. If we value the idea of organic food, then we damn sure ought to begin paying attention to the prostitution of the learning culture and the nature of the knowledge and input that we feed kids’ brains. The Chinese bound feet but stopped; we bind the mind moving forward..

If we don’t make it possible for kids to learn freely, this country will lock itself in forever. If we don’t find ways to empower children, they will be powerless to change their world or to find solutions in a world moving headlong into the maelstrom of hunger, resource scarcity, and climate degradation. Instead of empowering the young, schools exercise control and power over the young, They marginalize the young, use labels and drugs and policies that promote competition, division, bullying, social dysfunction, and set kids up to become targets of economic exploitation and carriers of rampant consumerism.

Understanding that kids’ minds thrive on play--that play provides the glue for learning--has far-reaching political and social implications, but it means that pathways must be found that reach kids minds rather than teach kids’ minds. It means that the culture must be opened to give teachers and kids the power to share in the building of relationships and a kind of working knowledge they come to embrace and own so that knowledge ultimately does not come to own them.

If we agree that knowledge is power, then our systems of education must learn to use knowledge not as an academic obstacle course or a gateway to success for specific children, but as a vehicle that engages the mind, body, and spirit of every child. Every child loves to play. Play is the right and proper place to start in education because the evolutionary purpose of play (insofar as the young are concerned) is to engage the mind, body, and spirit of the child. If education can establish itself on the pathway of play, it will be on its way to helping kids to become self-starting and self-propelled contributors to society and the planet. Start from the pure joy and power that resides instinctively in children, and you can’t go wrong.
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