Monday, September 27, 2010

10 Characteristics of Real Play

There is a certain kind of playing that makes for a magical childhood. Adults look back on the memories of those times with fond wistfulness.

Not all playing fits into this category; a lot of it is just filler and so is quickly forgotten. Other kinds of fun serve valuable purposes but do not qualify as "real playing" (For example, I think educational and athletic activities are great and have their place, but they do not fully capitalize on the uniqueness of childhood the way that real playing does).


So what IS real playing? I've been mulling over that question for a long time. To a certain extent, it is difficult to define, and you just know it when you see it.


I've been thinking lately though about the conversations my siblings and I have when we get together and noting the memories we return to again and again. As I've thought about it, I think I've been able to distill out certain common characteristics of the playing that made up those memories.


This list is my best stab at identifying real play. Please do leave additional thoughts in the comments section (illustrations, additional characteristics, disagreements, whatever!)



Real Play --


1. Is child directed- an adult might find unobtrusive ways to lend support or occasionally spark a fun idea, but the children have a sense of ownership over the style of play.

2. Makes innovative use of the objects available. Not dependent on expensive toys and props.


3. Is focused- Doesn't flit restlessly from toy to toy or activity to activity.

4. Has longevity- Children will return to the same kind of play over the course of days, weeks or even years. Sometimes there is a feeling of urgency to get back to it.


5. Is sometimes inspired by stories from real life or fiction, but not tied to them. The stories are just the jumping-off points. Real play develops the life of the mind and creates an inner world.


6. Is complex- Real play develops its own history, rules, and private jokes over time.

7. Almost always has a child- given name. "Let's go play Jibber Jumpers!" etc.

8. Is treated by children with a certain seriousness. At some level they feel there is something more important going on that just having fun. Hence the need for secrecy, passwords, sober explanations to those they take into their confidence, etc.

9. Often involves working toward the completion of a lofty goal- building a little house, making a road, digging a swimming pool, etc.

10. Is marked by an absence of self-consciousness. Children are free to giggle and be silly and carefree in a way that they wouldn't be if they felt they had an audience.


Stay tuned for part 3 of this little series - How to encourage real playing at your house and Part 4 - Things we as parents sometimes do to inadvertently discourage it.

9 comments:

sue said...

One thing that might have hindered real play: I probably too often tried to capture it on video or picture. But, it was wonderful to have it recorded on film.

Sue said...

I think those are very insightful characteristics.

Ange said...

Great list! And I think you are right on. I think when they are focused and concentrating that we should try not to bother our children. So much learning and many connections are being made at that time.

Sandi said...

I still joke with my sister about our epic play/game "Monkeys in the Corn." It had parts and lines, and was always played on the trampoline.

Amanda said...

Oh, thank you, thank you for this! As a homeschooling mother, it's important to me that I allow the kids time to play. But lately, I've been feeling the pressure to get more schoolwork-type stuff done. Thank you for reminding me that the ongoing game my girls play is of great value, as well. :) I really needed to be reminded.

Crystal said...

I love this post! It has always amazed me the games that children will invent when left to their own devices. Like you said, they get totally wrapped up in it. It is so wonderful to watch.

Crystal said...

I love this post! It has always amazed me the games that children will invent when left to their own devices. Like you said, they get totally wrapped up in it. It is so wonderful to watch.

sue said...

One thing that might have hindered real play: I probably too often tried to capture it on video or picture. But, it was wonderful to have it recorded on film.

Kim said...

My kiddos play in the past tense, and it drives me bonkers listening to it!
As in: child A... "Did you see this girl walk past you and did you say, 'What are you doing there?'" child B acts out directed actions... "What are you doing there?"
They spend HOURS of every day telling each other what to pretend in the past tense, and then doing it. Half the time, they just talk about what they are going to pretend, debate on the subject, and never actually do any playing.
BTW, we only have open-ended toys in the house, such as blocks, playmobil, legos, lincoln logs, plastic animal figurines, etc.