How else might children describe their play? Key to thinking this way is observation. In my post of November 16, Ways of seeing: play types speculation from children’s perspectives, I explained the IMEE model of reflection (intuition, memory of own childhood, experience of work with children in adulthood, and evidence of the playwork literature). They’re all relevant, but this week I’ve been considering my recent observations of children at play. How might they describe their play?
It should be remembered, and emphasised (for those landing on this page via search engines and looking for the sixteen currently recognised play types according to Bob Hughes) that my speculations aren’t his play types. That is, my thinking is drawn from Hughes’ work, but the speculations below aren’t his work. All being well, let’s move on.
Play types from a child’s perspective: further speculations (unfinished)
My recent observations have led me to thinking on playful behaviours which are, initially, roughly linked with children’s creativity. Of course, I couldn’t just think of such creativity: play has a way of tumbling out of such boxes we put it in. Creativity spilled out into further language play and into linguistic and physical play repetition. This set of speculations isn’t listed alphabetically (as the last set were), because there’s a chain of thinking taking place in my observations.
When a child finds a box of shiny paper, card, cardboard tubes, glitter, glue, etc., and if you have the opportunity to ask what they’re doing, you may very well get the answer that they’re ‘making’. It isn’t always specified what they’re making (sometimes the child doesn’t seem to know themselves: not until it all comes together into something that fits whatever they’re thinking as they ‘make’). Adults have a tendency to try to pin down, exactly, whatever is in the process of being made: that is, to label it. ‘Making play’ is, I suggest, all about the ‘product’ (the robot, the alien, the house, etc.), but it’s a fluid process in ending up at that product.
By contrast, ‘sticking play’ is all about the process. A child with access to glue sticks, shiny stickers, things to glue onto other things, etc., will quite often just enjoy the moment of the stickiness. I’ve seen stickiness take place just for the sake of stickiness. Sometimes it might turn into ‘making’, but often it’s just the act of rendering ‘something that was dry’ as sticky, or ‘something not stuck-with’ as now stuck-to, that is the desire of the moment.
This came about by thinking about what can happen at the end of sticking play (and sometimes making play too). I was thinking about the destruction of the materials used (the card, the paper, the glue stick even — relentlessly rubbed down to its raw plastic!) This is another adult agitation: those things cost money, you know! The child only cares what the thing used becomes, or what it feels like to rip or rub away the former useful thing. ‘Destructive’ isn’t a child word though. What is? What word might I, or other children, have used? I came to ‘angry play’. It’s another one of those words (like ‘fighting’) that seems to have different connotations to adults and some children. Angry, in this context, doesn’t mean angry as we adults know it to mean. Angry, here, means ‘with furious intent’; or better still, it means ‘relentless, quick, Godzilla-like!’
Where do we go from ‘angry’ (relentless)? Recent observations of children at play have highlighted something that I’ve always known: that that power exertion of angry play has a contrast in the non-power play of just falling around. It’s silly play in child-speak (or whatever word is better in any given other local dialect). From adult perspectives, it’s just as pointless as destructive play (which some would say isn’t play at all, because it’s not ‘productive’). Silly play is futile; yet, it’s a different kind of pointlessness and futility. Silly play has a quality, to the child, that adults often find unable to grasp. I don’t know what the point of silly play is (I’ll have to think more on it!), but I know it involves a lot of flopping around.
Children have some curious expressions. I met a friend’s daughter when she was five, a long time ago. Back then we’d have long conversations, myself and this five year old, in which — invariably — I’d be stopped at some point with some phrase along the lines of: ‘Ah, but in real life . . .’ Real life, in this context, related to the very real context of this five year old’s play life. ‘Real play’, I suggest, is removed from silly play because there is a point to the play (although the child may not be able to articulate exactly what this is, or even want to). Real play covers a multitude of possible actions, but whatever is played, it’s very important that it is played.
I found myself thinking about the repetitive play actions of very young children. This is, perhaps, an offshoot of silly play. It is, perhaps, also an offshoot of real play. If the repetition isn’t cycled through, there seems to be a small breakdown in quality for the child (abstract quality in the possibilities of the physical environment, in play objects, in the relationships with other children and other adults, in trust). It might not seem like much, but there’s much more wrapped up in repetitive play than immediately meets the eye.
Of course, this form of playing is nothing new to animal behaviourists. I refer, for example, to studies on monkeys at play (chase/flee interactions, which children also undertake). I include it here in my child-word speculations though because this playful behaviour follows on well from silly/real/again play. It’s not the actual game itself I’m referring to (i.e. tag, tig, it, or whatever regional variation of the game you know — they are all, essentially, the same game anyway). In fact, I’m not even writing here about a ‘game with rules’ at all. I’m writing about the verb that is ‘to chase’. Chasing play is in because I’m thinking here about child verbs and not child nouns or adjectives.
My list is paused again. To be continued further at a later date.