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Posts Tagged ‘playing’

Playing in the snow, Rhode Island, December 2020.

One of the many downsides of this dratted pandemic is that, for some schools, snow days are a thing of the past. My Massachusetts grandchildren had school online after the blizzard. The Rhode Island ones were told to go out and play. Play matters.

Andreas Wagner writes at Nautilus, “Because thinking minds are different from evolving organisms and self-assembling molecules, we cannot expect them to use the same means … to overcome deep valleys in the landscapes they explore. But they must have some way [and] one of the most important is play.

“I don’t mean the rule-based play of a board game or the competitive play of a soccer match, but rather the kind of freewheeling, unstructured play that children perform with a pile of LEGO blocks or with toy shovels and buckets in a sandbox. I mean playful behavior without immediate goals and benefits, without even the possibility of failure.

“Play is so important that nature invented it long before it invented us. Almost all young mammals play, as do birds like parrots and crows. … The world champion of animal play may be the bottlenose dolphin, with 37 different reported types of play. Captive dolphins will play untiringly with balls and other toys, and wild dolphins play with objects like feathers, sponges, and ‘smoke rings’ of air bubbles that they extrude from their blowholes. …

“Where the benefits of play have been measured, they can make the difference between life and death. The more feral horses from New Zealand play, for example, the better they survive their first year. Likewise, Alaskan brown bear cubs that played more during their first summer not only survived the first winter better, but also had a better chance to survive subsequent winters.

“Some purposes of such play have nothing to do with mental problem solving. When horses play, they strengthen their muscles, and that very strength can help them survive. When lion cubs play-fight, they prepare for the real fights. … In mammals, play goes beyond mere practice of a stereotypical behavior, like that of a pianist rehearsing the same passage over and over again. When mammals stalk, hunt, and escape, they find themselves in ever-new situations and environments. …

Play creates diverse behaviors, regardless of whether that diversity is immediately useful. It prepares the player for the unexpected in an unpredictable world.

“That very flexibility can also help the smartest animals solve difficult problems. A 1978 experiment demonstrated its value for young rats. In this experiment, some rats were separated from their peers for 20 days by a mesh in their cage, which prevented them from playing. After the period of isolation, the researchers taught all the rats to get a food reward by pulling a rubber ball out of the way. They then changed the task to a new one where the ball had to be pushed instead of pulled. Compared to their freely playing peers, the play-deprived rats took much longer to try new ways of getting at the food and solving this problem. …

“One hallmark of play is that it suspends judgment so that we are no longer focused on selecting good ideas and discarding bad ones. That’s what allows us to descend into the valleys of imperfection to later climb the peaks of perfection. But play is only one means to get there.”

Read more, including ideas on the role of dreams and mind-wandering (sometimes called incubation), at Nautilus, here.

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Art: Maurice Sendak
From
Kenny’s Window, Sendak’s first children’s book

Maria Popova recently posted about the importance of play, commencing her review of Diane Ackerman’s book Deep Play with an anecdote from her own life.

“One July morning during a research trip to the small New England island of Nantucket, home to pioneering astronomer Maria Mitchell, I had a most unusual experience.

“Midway through my daily swim in the ocean, my peripheral vision was drawn to what at first appeared to be a snorkel. But as I looked directly at the curious protrusion, I realized it was the long glistening neck of a stately bird, gliding over the nearly waveless surface a few away.

“By some irresistible instinct, I began swimming gently toward the bird, assuming it would fly away whenever my proximity became too uncomfortable.

“But it didn’t. Instead, it allowed my approach — for it was deliberate permission that this majestic bird gave me, first assessing me with a calm but cautious eye, then choosing not to lift off or even change course as this large ungraceful mammal drew near. I came so close that I could see my own reflection in the bird’s eye, now regarding me with what I took to be — or, perhaps, projected to be — a silent benevolence. …

“In this small act ablaze with absolute presence, I felt I had been granted access to something enormous and eternal.

“The experience was so intensely invigorating in part because it was wholly new to me, but it is far from uncommon. It belongs to the spectrum of experience which Diane Ackerman, one of the greatest science storytellers of our time, describes in Deep Play … a bewitching inquiry into those moods colored by ‘a combination of clarity, wild enthusiasm, saturation in the moment, and wonder,’ which render us in a state of ‘waking trance.’ …

The more an animal needs to learn in order to survive, the more it needs to play … What we call intelligence … may not be life’s pinnacle at all, but simply one mode of knowing, one we happen to master and cherish. Play is widespread among animals because it invites problem-solving, allowing a creature to test its limits and develop strategies. In a dangerous world, where dramas change daily, survival belongs to the agile not the idle. We may think of play as optional, a casual activity. But play is fundamental to evolution. Without play, humans and many other animals would perish. …

“It is hardly happenstance,” adds Popova, “that the word ‘play’ was central to how Einstein thought of the secret to his genius — he used the term ‘combinatory play’ to describe how his mind works. Ackerman considers what it is that makes play so psychologically fruitful and alluring to us …

Above all, play requires freedom. One chooses to play. Play’s rules may be enforced, but play is not like life’s other dramas. It happens outside ordinary life, and it requires freedom.

More.

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serious-truck-driver

 

Play is important for all kinds of reasons in childhood, including testing out skills and experiencing the satisfaction of creativity.

John Poole at National Public Radio focused on the socialization aspects of play in a recent report.

He began, “Why do we humans like to play so much? Play sports, play tag, play the stock market, play duck, duck, goose? We love it all. And we’re not the only ones. Dogs, cats, bears, even birds seem to like to play. …

“The scientist who has perhaps done more research on brains at play than any other is a man named Jaak Panksepp. And he has developed a pretty good hypothesis.

“In a nutshell, he, and many others, think play is how we social animals learn the rules of being social.  …

“Play seems so deeply wired by evolution into the brains of highly social animals that it might not be a stretch to say that play is crucial to how we and they learn much of what we know that isn’t instinct. …

“Not surprisingly, Panksepp and others think the lack of play is a serious problem. Especially at younger ages. And particularly in school settings. …

” ‘It’s not just superfluous,’ says Panksepp. ‘It’s a very valuable thing for childhood development. And we as a culture have to learn to use it properly and have to make sure our kids get plenty of it.’ ” More here.

More still from Jon Hamilton, another reporter in the NPR series on play, here.

Photo: David Gilkey/NPR
Deion Jefferson, 10, and Samuel Jefferson, 7, take turns climbing and jumping off a stack of old tires at the Berkeley Adventure Playground in California. The playground is a half-acre park with a junkyard feel where kids are encouraged to “play wild.” 

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At around age 2-1/2, small people begin to be ready for friendship. My almost-three-years grandson plays with his friend now, instead of just in the same space.

They understand each other’s words. They find the same things funny — leaning way, way back on the swing, climbing back up the chute of the double slide, feeding wood chips to mitten puppets, getting ready to kick the ball down the hill when suddenly it decides to go ahead without you.

I spent a little time Saturday morning with my grandson, his friend, and her mother. I told the mother how much I love the learning-language stage. She agreed and gave me an example of how it can be confusing when one word has two meanings.

She said she had told her daughter that the new baby brother had no teeth you could see but that the teeth were in his gums. Sometime later, when her daughter asked what she was chewing and she answered that she was chewing “gum,” the little girl thought her baby brother’s teeth must be in there.

Two and a half is a time so full of strange new things, she probably didn’t think it was any stranger than anything else.

A WordPress blogger in Australia [subsequent correction: not Australia but B.C Canada in the Okanagan] has another cute story, here.

Hungry mitten puppets

get ready to kick

the ball got away

casting light, not shadow

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