In social play (play involving more than one player), one player may emerge for a period as the leader, but only at the will of all the others. Every rule a leader proposes must be approved, at least tacitly, by all of the other players. The ultimate freedom in play is the freedom to quit. Because the players want to keep the game going, and because they know that other players will quit and the game will end if they are not happy, play is a powerful vehicle for learning how to please others while also pleasing oneself.
The prominent educational philosopher Nel Noddings has long argued that care is essential to education. Children must feel safe and cared for in order to devote themselves fully to exploring and learning, and children learn best from those with whom they have caring, trusting relationships.
Because the child at play is not worrying about his or her future, and because the child at play suffers no real-world consequence for failing, the child at play is not afraid of failure.
Much of the joy of play lies in the challenges. A playful activity that becomes too easy loses its attraction and ceases to be play. The player then modifies the activity to make it harder or moves on to something different.
In our culture today, parents and other adults overprotect children from possible dangers in play. We seriously underestimate children’s ability to take care of themselves and make good judgments.
…play is intrinsically motivated (motivated by the activity itself), not extrinsically motivated (motivated by some reward that is separate from the activity itself).
In the name of education, we have increasingly deprived children of the time and freedom they need to educate themselves through their own means.
Adults sometimes become confused by the seriousness of children’s play and by children’s refusal, while playing, to say that they are playing. They worry needlessly that children don’t distinguish fantasy from reality.
Play is, first and foremost, an expression of freedom. It is what one wants to do as opposed to what one is obliged to do. That is perhaps the most basic ingredient of most people’s commonsense understanding of play.
…another value of free age mixing is that it can bring together people who are similar in ability. It allows a person who is ahead of or behind his or her age-mates in some realm to find equal partners among older or younger children.
By forcing all schoolchildren through the same standard curriculum, we reduce their opportunities to follow alternative pathways. The school curriculum represents a tiny subset of the skills and knowledge that are important to our society. In this day and age, nobody can learn more than a sliver of all there is to know. Why force everyone to learn the same sliver?
The mental state of play is what some researchers call “flow.” Attention is attuned to the activity itself, and there is reduced consciousness of self and time. The mind is wrapped up in the ideas, rules, and actions of the game and relatively impervious to outside distractions.