Monday, June 17, 2013

W24: Understanding Children’s Play

When this week’s Biblio-Mat offering fell out, I was excited. It seemed right up my alley. It wasn’t until I arrived back home that I realized I had misread the title of the book and it became much more unappealing.

Battered, like how I felt after plowing through this.
Upon first glance, I had read the title of this book as ‘Understanding Children’s Plays’, which was of great interest as I have a soft spot for theatre of any sort. It’s incredible the difference one letter makes. Having a dull blue dustjacket with faded brown patches of the cover peeking through, Understanding Children’s Play by Ruth E. Hartley, Lawrence K. Frank, and Robert M. Goldenson screamed 355 pages of dryness. After reading it, the conclusion was that the most interesting aspect of the book was the fact that the text was first published in 1952 but this particular printing was the first Indian edition, published in 1967 and sold only in Southeast Asia and the Middle East. How this book made its journey to Toronto would be an infinitely more fascinating read.

I'd hate to see how long it took to make it to the rest of Asia.
Understanding Children’s Play was essentially a text that studied the way children develop through playing with various objects and games and documenting scenarios where a child’s inner nature came out. Having worked at Toys ‘R’ Us for the four years I was at university, I can provide the same information summed up in a nutshell (namely that as a whole, children are mostly evil and not to be trusted) with far better anecdotes and sources.

Can't place all the blame on the kids.
Split into various chapters that covered the different aspects of children’s entertainment in the 50’s, the book began by looking at the state of make believe with the modern child, then moved onto the fascinating world of building blocks, then the benefits of water-play before delving into the virtues of clay and what it can do for a child. It followed up with a section on graphic materials, twenty-eight pages on finger painting, and ended with a study on music and dance. The majority of these pages were filled with case studies where the authors watched children playing from a distance in a manner that felt less like a petri-dish observation than a predator stakeout.

I'm imagining their portable lab to look like this.
It would not have been as bad if the authors linked the scenarios to specific theories but most of the case studies followed the formula of 1) observing children playing 2) documenting the fact that they go crazy at some point 3) watching them go back to playing. The gist of all nine sections appear to be that a busy child is less likely to cause trouble, which one would assume was common sense even in the 50’s. The only truly interesting aspect was the gender studies that actually may not have been deliberate. Reading about the researchers touting the merits of having the girls play the role of homemakers taking care of dolls whenever they play pretend in the presence of boys speaks so much more about society in those days than about the actual children themselves.

The deathtrap of a fort also says a lot about that era.
While the book did present some useful information in choosing which type of toy would suit which type of developing child, the notion of relevancy sticks out as the text dates itself in referencing objects that could be considered antiquities by now. If you are looking to give a child a 50’s upbringing, building blocks and Plasticine would appear to be the toys of choice. If you are looking to give the child a sporting chance at modern life, something requiring batteries would be a better idea. I recommend a DS.

eBuilding blocks - one less thing to step on.
Book rating: 3/10 (Child psychology that goes nowhere)

Random quote: “What is there about blocks that can tame a young hellion like Lonnie? Can it be that they are the only part of his environment which he can control? Are they the only materials that do not evoke memories of punishment, of painful and confused feelings?” (They’re really pushing these building blocks)

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