Webpage Supplement to

Chapter26: The Art of Play

Adam Blatner

Revised, April 9, 2007

Notes, An anecdote about transition to adulthood; References, Quotations further down.

There are many aspects of play:
Theoretically, There are sports and games, and Bernie DeKoven in the book notes how even more or less structured games may have dramatic elements. The Art of Play emphasizes more imaginative, make-believe play.

http://www.csuchico.edu/kine/tasp/index.html The Association for the Study of Play (TASP) is an important resource. Innumerable others on the web. If you find some particularly useful ones, let me know.

(Some are more about games– that would link to Bernie DeKoven’s chapter and website.)

(Some are more about “warm-ups.” as noted in the Appendix.)

   - - -
The function of play has been explored by those studying comparative animal behavior, “ethology,” noting how many animals also engage in play-like or “ludic” activity. (Latin: ludus, a play, game).

Anthropologists and cultural historians have also noted the prevalence of the play element in culture, in military and religious ceremonies, in games and even wars. (Increasingly, there has been a tendency to break rules, involve non-game-players, “civilians,” and so forth; but in the past, war was paradoxically more “civilized,” a struggle engaged in by gentlemen, like a duel, with rules and courtesies.) Religious ritual also has a play element, in the sense of flexibility, though not frivolity–with the exception of fool’s day reversal celebrations.

Another field is that of humor studies, with organizations that explore and promote the use of humor as a way to reduce stress and increase effectiveness in business and organizations, in life, and so forth.

Increasingly, the role of imaginative play is being promoted in the child development literature. Of course it has been a core element in psychotherapy with children, and to a small degree, some have even applied these methods with adults!

Many of the elements of imaginative play are expressed in the methods described in the other chapters in the book: drama in education, drama therapy, drama with the elderly, etc.

Those considering the nature of leisure and recreation–and there are professionals and societies addressing these–google leisure studies, recreation, recreational therapy, etc.–also deal not only with playground design, but must address the imaginative play that is enacted in such play structures.

Another related field looks at the nature of creativity itself and what can be done to promote more creativity in the world. This is a relatively new field, in a world that has only in the last few centuries come to value innovation rather than be inclined to suppress it. (That is part of the transition from a traditionalist culture that relied and over-valued the “old ways, tried and true,” and towards modernity, progress, and a sense that new ideas and inventions are often more relevant and valuable than the old.) In the present global economic system, competition that requires innovative work becomes a major way of adapting and surviving! (See Daniel Pink’s book, A Whole New Mind.)

Related to creativity is its root dynamic process, spontaneity. This is the opposite of mere obedience, mindless bureaucracy, routine, habit, automatic reaction patterns. (Those could be viewed as different ways of being robot-like, or what Yablonsky called “robopathy”–the pathological state of responding to pre-programmed orders rather than the needs of the immediate circumstances. Spontaneity requires a sharp openness to input from not only the environment, but also from all inner resources–thinking, feeling, imagination, intuition, sensation, and so forth. Imaginative play sensitizes the mind to these more subtle inputs, and therefore develops spontaneity as a skill set.

In that sense, play and spontaneity, improvisation and imagination all are integral parts of many therapists and educators who use the creative arts. Admittedly, there are still teachers of the various arts modalities that operate in a more traditionalist, rote-memory-oriented approach; but increasingly, teachers are shifting to bringing out the creative potentials in the creative subconscious of their students or clients. Music, dance, poetry, sculpture, art, and other forms may be mixed or developed, along with drama. Kids often mix these media anyway–they don’t in real life operate in separate compartments or academic departments.

Another related field has emerged called “performance studies,” and it examines a number of inter-related aspects of play, self-conscious and unconscious performance, ceremony, drama, sociology and cultural history, anthropology, ritual studies, etc. Other fields that have been looking more at the nature and role of play, informal dynamics, etc., include linguistics, sociology, social psychology, and history.

Fred Donaldson is a play artist who does amazing things:
Donaldson, O. Fred. (1993). Playing By Heart: The Vision & Practice of Belonging; Nevada City. CA: In-Joy Publications, 1993. soft cover, 244 pages. It's only available from me at this point. Price is $18.00 + $2.00 postage in USA.Web site is www.originalplay.com Email: Ofreddybear@aol.com

In November, 2005, Fred Donaldson wrote: This year I've played with dolphins in Hawaii & Bimini, Beluga whales in Churchill, and wolves in New Mexico. Besides playing with children around the world. One of the mysteries that continues to delight me is the ability of street kids to play right away with no signs of aggression. I had experienced it three times in South Africa and this year again in the Philippines. In all 4 of these cases the kids had no idea who I was, no instruction about what to do or how to be; they were from 6 to 19 years old; in groups of 10 to 60. Boys that come immediately from violence into play with no attacks, no revenge against me, each other, or the women I brought into the play. Today, an autistic boy who has seen me now for 5 months hugged me when I said goodby. What a wonderful gift.

Brian Sutton Smith to Blatner, November, 2004: I did get your book and it is very good. I like your approach. But I am heavily invested in trying to finish my current book and that's about all I can handle at the moment. Have you seen the book PLAYWORK by Fraser Brown, Oxford U Press 2003. It gives an idea of what the British play workers ( it is now a profession) are doing. The government finances their care of kids when both parents are working so it’s a mad house of viewpoints.



The sensibility of the Art of Play is poetically expressed at the end of the 1980 Muppets Movie, when the muppets sing the following variation of the initial song, The Rainbow Connection:

“Why are there so many songs about rainbows? That’s part of what rainbows do.
Rainbows are memories, sweet dream reminders–/ What is it you’d like to do?
All of us watching and hoping you find it, we know that you’re watching too.
Someday you’ll find it, the Rainbow Connection, the lovers, the dreamers and you.”

"...Most of us suspect we are unworthy of the greatest freedom we have been granted, the freedom to invent ourselves..."
     Dave Marsh, ELVIS

"What makes the biological machinery of man so powerful is that it modifies his actions through his imagination. It makes him able to symbolize, to project himself into the consequences of his acts, to conceptualise his plans, and to weigh them, one against another, as a system of values. We as men are unique. We are the social solitaries. We are the creatures who have to create values in order to elucidate our own conduct, so that we learn from it and can direct it into the future. -- Jacob Bronowski, The Visionary Eye

 "The prejudice against child art is part of the larger prejudice against the mind of the child. Each adult can recall his own schooling, when he was made aware of his inadequate (though potentially adequate) physical and mental capacities. In later years, it is difficult for him to respect the activities or art products of any child." -- Rhoda Kellogg, Analyzing Children's Art

 "Long experience has taught me not to know anything in advance and not to know better, but to let the unconscious take precedence."– Carl G. Jung, Mandala Symbolism

 "Our lives have become increasingly programmed and our experiences packaged. Participation in any of the arts is, therefore, more needed today than at any other period in our history. Drama, of all the arts, demands of the practitioner a total involvement. By offering an opportunity for participation in drama, we are helping to reserve something of the play impulse in all of its joy, freedom, and order."–  Nellie McCaslin Creative Drama in the Classroom, (4th Ed.)

 "Flexibility is a valuable trait for anyone who hopes to survive in our present-day culture. The extreme conformist has as hard a time as the rebel." – Elsa Barnouw and Arthur Swan
    Adventures With Children In Nursery School and Kindergarten

"...the self is as strong as it is active...Ours is only that to which we are genuinely related by our creative activity...only those qualities that result from our spontaneous activity give strength to the self and thereby form the basis of its integrity. The inability to act spontaneously, to express what one genuinely feels and thinks...[is] the root of the feeling of inferiority and weakness. Whether or not we are aware of it, there is nothing which we are more ashamed of than of not being ourselves, and there is nothing that gives us greater pride and happiness than to think, to feel, and to say what is ours. This implies that what matters is the activity as such, the process and not the result...

If the individual realizes his self by spontaneous activity and thus relates himself to the world, he ceases to be an isolated atom; he and the world become part of one structuralized whole. He is aware of himself as an active and creative individual and recognizes that there is only one meaning of life: the act of living itself...Positive freedom as the realization of the self implies the full affirmation of the uniqueness of the individual." – Erich Fromm, Escape From Freedom, (pp.261-263) New York: Rinehart & Co., 1941

Depth psychology is another field that seeks this esoteric goal; its challenge is to clarify the nature of consciousness itself. Psychoanalysis, in the broadest sense of the term, and including all of its modifications and offshoots, has pursued this search beyond the therapeutic context and across interdisciplinary lines. In contemplating the complexities and internal resonances of literature, history, and sociology, as well as clinical case material, psychoanalysis has come up with a startling discovery:"...The outcome of psychoanalysis is the discovery that magic and madness are everywhere and dreams is what we are made of. The goal cannot be the eliminating of magical thinking or madness; the goal can only be conscious magic, or conscious madness; conscious mastery of the fires. And dreaming while awake." – Norman O. Brown, Love's Body,, p.254. (New York: Random House/ Vintage Books, 1966)

(Adam Blatner's commentary on Brown's quote, above:)
These passionate (and, I think, intemperate) words can be rephrased and yet their intrinsic meaning is valid. Non-rational forms of thought need not be labeled either madness or magic, they can also be play and meditative trance, and they can be integrated with reason and applied to the service of creativity (2). However, what psychoanalysis has discovered is the pervasiveness not of pattern so much as "anti-pattern," phenomena that not only resist definition, but defy it, flaunt it, and celebrate its own non-rational inter-connections.

The vehicle of dramatic play offers a method for bringing consciousness and social validation to the forces of imagery. Play, which in the adult becomes freely exploratory inquiry, among other things, allows us to experiment with the desires of the flesh and heart, sublimating them into constructive expressions, yet retaining their color and excitement.

General References: Play (In childhood development, etc.)

Christie, J.F. (Ed.).Play and early literacy development. Albany, NY: SUNY Press, 1991.

Dimidjian, V. J. (Ed.) Play's place in public education for young children. Washington, DC: National Education Association, 1992.

Goldstein, J. H. (Ed.) Toys, play and child development. Cambridge, England: Cambridge University Press, 1994.

Isenberg, J. P. & Jalongo, M. R. Creative expression and play in the early childhood curriculum. New York: Macmillan, 1993. (Chapter on creative drama, pp. 134-170.)

Moyles, J. R. Just playing? The role and status of play in early childhood education. Philadelphia: Open University Press, 1989.

Singer, D. G. & Singer, J. L. The house of make believe: Play and the developing imagination. Cambridge, MA: Harvard University Press, 1990.

Slade, A. & Wolf, D. P. (Eds.). Children at play: Clinical and developmental approaches to meaning and representation. New York: Oxford University Press, 1994. Many scholarly references.

Slade, P. Child play: Its importance for human development. London & Bristol, PA: Jessica Kingsley, 1995.

Sutton-Smith, Brian

Further References on Techniques for Dramatic Play, Spontaneity Training, & Theatre Games:see apxb and apxb website supp...

Hodgson, J. & Richards, E. Impro. 1966, but add: Also, London: Methuen, 1974.

Johnstone, Keith. Impro: Improvisation for the theatre. 1979. ny: theatre arts books. but add, as above: Also, London: Methuen, 1981.

Spolin, V. Theater games for rehearsal: A director's handbook. Evanston, IL: Northwestern University Press, 1985.See Website supplement for Appendix B in the Book.

Sustaining Child-Like-ness.

Jeff Miranda, a journalism student from Northeastern University in Boston, wrote the following article about college students and their transition to adulthood:

 In teams of four, they don brightly colored gym shorts, sweat bands and tube socks that reach to their calves.  Every few weeks, they meet in the Cambridge YMCA gymnasium for a couple hours with red, rubber balls and a stereo in tow. Four square is their game of choice. (See Bernie DeKoven's Supplementary Website and chapter on Games in the book.)

The four square grids are carefully marked with masking tape, roughly five feet wide in perfectly divided squares. The sound of squeaking sneakers hitting the waxed floor echo across the room. Cheers of encouragement are heard if a player hits the ball particularly well. With every nimble and graceful movement, there are an equal number of flubs. The skill level among the players varies, but no one notices.

Although the environment is a familiar scene on elementary school playgrounds and parks across the country, these players haven’t been privy to the youthful indiscretions of childhood for years. But four square games, along with a number of other perceived child-like activities are increasing in popularity with the college student demographic.

In 2003, Somerville resident Sean Effel co-founded SquareFour, Boston’s first and only organized four square league, with two-time Four Square World Champion Dana Ostberg. He says he’s seen college students come and go through the years who are nostalgic for their youth.

“A lot of guys played a lot when they were kids,” Effel says. “And they want to go back to relive that, because of its novelty. It’s more accessible [than other recreational sports] and it doesn’t require a large background of skills. [They] just come and dive right in.”

On the brink of adulthood, college students are faced with the prospect of a plethora of endless choices: graduate school, job opportunities and even marriage. As a means to adapt, students resort back to a time where they felt most flexible and safe, and childhood represents that, says Christopher Noxon, author of the book, Rejuvenile: Kickball, Cartoons, Cupcakes and the Reinvention of the American Grown-up, in which he takes an in-depth look into the adult psyche pining for child-like methods of thinking. Though his book is about post-college adults, he says his theory can easily be applied to students as they prepare to leave the carefree days of adolescence behind.

“The whole notion of adulthood [for college students] is becoming such a prominent problem to solve,” he says. “In your late teens and early 20s, the idea that you’re out here on your own, that’s where the prospect of adulthood becomes much more imminent and [students] resort back to things from their youth. They want to differentiate themselves from the adults they become.”

Justin Keogh, a senior electrical engineering and philosophy major at the University of Pittsburgh, started his school’s first four league with a friend two years ago. Though they both played recreationally, after interest from their friends, they decided to approach the university to form a school-sponsored organization. The club began with 10 members and a constitution, but Keogh says now it boasts 600 students and is the largest non-governmental club on campus.

Phil Thomas, the four square club’s reservations officer and a sophomore information science major, who regularly sees a stress therapist to help cope with school, says four square becomes a form of escapist fun that distracts him from his heavy workload.

“[When you come to college,] you don’t have anyone that asks you if you did your homework,” he says. “You don’t have parents to make sure you don’t get distracted. A lot of students don’t realize that until they’re here, suddenly they’re like ‘oh wow, I’m out here I’m on my own,’ and they start panicking. It’s an escape, when you’re playing fours square you’re not thinking about your classes.

Harry and the Potters

Twenty seven-year-old Tufts University graduate Paul DeGeorge sits patiently on one of the bright, red leather sofas at the June Bug Café on Centre Street in Jamaica Plain. The other patrons’ chatter creates a soft buzz as they sit at chrome tables sipping lattes and chai tea. Though he hasn’t attended a college lecture for nearly five years, DeGeorge’s face still exhibits a youthful exuberance. With his gray hoodie, brown corduroy pants and worn-out Pumas, his presence strolling through a campus quad would be seamless.

DeGeorge is one-half of the Boston-based punk-rock outfit, Harry and the Potters, a band whose origins lie within the pages of the J.K. Rowling’s famous book series. DeGeorge plays guitar while his younger brother, 19-year-old Joe, tackles the keyboard. Both musicians serve as vocalists. Since their eponymous LP was released in 2003, they’ve recorded three other albums; their last was “Power of Love,” which was released this past June. The elder DeGeorge embodies Potter during his seventh year at Hogwarts School of Witchcraft and Wizardry, (the school in which the book’s characters attend) and the younger DeGeorge is Potter during year four.

While leisurely easing into the arms of the soft leather, DeGeorge says his brother was one who first introduced him to the novels, since he thought they were just “kids stuff.” Since then, the series has become a global phenomenon, attracting both young and old readers. The DeGeorge brothers sparked a following of their own, coining a new musical genre – “wizard rock” – with more than 150 bands around the world.

“These books have really positively changed so many people’s lives,” DeGeorge says. “Maybe we can ride those coattails and as well as open people’s perceptions of music.”

Although the series was initially hailed as children’s literature, some of the series’ most avid followers are college students. With Frostburg State University in Maryland and Pennsylvania State University, among others, offering Harry Potter classes for course credit, its popularity isn’t waning, according to CBS.com. DeGeorge says the boy wizard has been able to identify with a generation because of the threads of real life in the novels.

“I think a lot of the beams from Harry Potter can sort of tie over into reality,” he says. “One of the most powerful themes from the book is the power for love to triumph over evil. And I think if there were more love in the world then I think we wouldn’t have all problems we face today.”

Additionally, Noxon says Harry Potter’s popularity rests with its innate ability to simplify a complex world.  Because many of the motifs, themes and characters are connected to reality, students can color gray their black and white world.

“I think [Harry Potter] absolutely satisfies that need for definite answers, clear delineations for good and evil,” he says. “I think there is something else in Harry Potter, all the gadgets and the candy and the sweetness, those are qualities that are abound in the J.K. Rowling world, but those are in very short supply in the cubicle and the lecture hall world of adults.”

DeGeorge says he hopes his band will galvanize a generation of young people into understanding that successful musicians don’t need a million-dollar record contract or an expensive tour bus to be successful. He says it was the Harry Potter series that inspires him, and he sees the same independent spirit fostered in Rowling’s novels.

“Harry is just an everyday kid,” he says. “That’s why so many people can relate to him. Everyday people are capable of great things.”

Noxon says its college students miss the imagination and creativity lost during their childhood.

“I don’t think [college students who read Harry Potter] are very childish, I think they are human,” he says. “There’s a great tradition of magical realism, and there’s a basic human need to believe in the supernatural.”

Transisting into Adulthood

Constance Flanagan, a Pennsylvania State University professor with a Ph.D in developmental psychology, is one the principal investigators on The Research Network on Transitions to Adulthood, a MacArthur Foundation-funded research initiative that examines the changing environment of young people, and the social and cultural shifts that affect them.

Flanagan attributes the growing trend to a changing social landscape. Because college degrees are more common than in past generations, students are pressured to achieve even more. A bachelor’s degree is often not enough in a competitive job market, says Flanagan. She says students build their anxiety because of the financial uncertainty of life after college. “Although lifetime earnings are much better, college students understand a college degree doesn’t guarantee stability or security,” she says. “This wasn’t true in earlier generations, when there was a steel industry and an auto industry – those were good-paying jobs where a college degree wasn’t necessary.”

Noxon says because it’s common for young people to change career paths as often as they change their majors, there’s no longer a company hierarchy to climb. “Now that economy is changed so much, you just can’t have one skill anymore. You have to be able to be adaptable, the idea that you’re going to get a job right after college and get the gold watch after 40 years, it’s insane,” he says.

Adam Blatner, author of the book, The Art of Play: Helping Adults Reclaim Imagination and Spontaneity, which examines adult resistive-ness to playfulness, says the emphasis on work during college is wrong. There should be a well-rounded mixture of having responsibilities, while also making time for play. “You can make a game out of things, you can pretend to be someone else when you do the dishes,” Blatner says. “Part of the problem is that our culture has artificially distorted the game of leisure. They say, ‘when you’re at work, you can’t have fun,’ but there’s a lot of time for fun.”

Flanagan says universities have failed in fostering that ideal. Much of her research is devoted to the belief that higher education should be enabling students to think beyond just getting a job upon graduation, and more about having a balanced lifestyle. “We set people up for failure,” she says. “There are other things that give purpose and meaning to life in addition to training for jobs; that to invest all of your identity into work is a very shortsighted preparation for adulthood, ultimately it’s going to be elusive; people are rarely going to find jobs that they will enjoy for a lifetime.” Becoming a well-rounded individual is important, she says. “There’s something to be said for people having variety in their life,” she says. “A big thing about the college years is exploring who you are, and if Harry Potter is a way to do that, then presumably that’s what people are supposed to be doing anyways [in college], discovering who you are.”


 Ten burly members of Wheaton College’s “Wheaton Ballers” huddle around each other and throw their hands in the middle of the tight circle. “Team Ballers!” they shout unanimously before jogging to one side of the court.

There was a line of small orange cones and yellow dodgeballs dividing the “Ballers” from their opponents, “The Land Sharks.” When the whistle blew, the teams sprinted to the line, aggressively fighting for the coveted spheres of rubber. The players who reached them first immediately thrust the balls to the opposing team, in a single smooth movement. Fits of agony and distress are heard when the balls hit flesh, and cheers erupted when it becomes two “Land Sharks” vs. four “Ballers.”

Tonight marks the first game of the season for the Big Kids Dodgeball Tournament, the largest and most comprehensive dodgeball league in Boston. Sixteen teams of 150 people meet in Basketball City at the TD Banknorth Garden every few weeks to play. Paul Nadaff, director and founder of the organization, says “it gives people an opportunity to blow off some steam.” 

“It’s pretty therapeutic in a way when they let go of that ball, you hear them kind of release just a little bit,” he says. “I was a psychology major in college, so I kind of look at it that way – we provide them with a good service.”

Like the rest of his team, “Dance Party Vietnam,” John Tyler, a sophomore media arts and animation major at The Art Institute of Washington in Arlington, VA, wears a pair of gym shorts and a headband. They often travel to compete in dodgeball tournaments, though they also frequently get together with friends to play just for fun.

“Playing relieves a lot of stress,” he says. “For the first time all day I don’t have to worry about school or work.”

Although integrating imagination and play with a strong work ethic is paramount to a healthy lifestyle, Noxon warns that it’s important to strike a balance between partaking in child-like activities and becoming immature.

“It’s very easy to fall into kind of childishness,” he says. “When you fall into some ‘kiddie’ fascination, now you’re sort of acting like a 9-year-old brat. Childishness is no virtue, and you should pick through what is and what isn’t.”

One reason ‘the Rejuvenile” has been allowed to grow and thrive on college campuses is due to students' closer ties with their families, Noxon says. Parents are becoming more accessible and much less “authoritative” than in past generations. Now, it’s common for students to become “best friends with their moms,” and parents foster a belief system that makes it OK to integrate fun into their lives.

It’s a shift, that Noxon says is important as students reach the cliff of maturity and wonder whether to make the jump or turn around.

“I want to maintain our social conscious and our responsibilities and our long view, but in developing those skill sets we lose some of the great joys of being alive,” he says. “I think there’s a way to create a new kind of adulthood. It’s my hope that we can find a way to become grown-ups that are just as playful and spontaneous and flexible as kids are.”