Things, in the form of toys, and that which is elementary for the text and context of play will be outlined in the chapters of this book whilst the concept of time relative to play is tacitly understood.
Time is a dual concept because time, objects and space are all parts (in extremely different ways) of what will be described as the users’ impression of time and environment.
Time is a natural method by which we make certain that everything doesn’t happen all at once. Time sorts actions and episodes, some of which have already occurred and some of which have yet to occur.
Time is understood as something subjective (experienced time) and objective (measurable on a clock face). Time has been part and parcel of our way of thinking since Ancient Greece. The Greeks spoke of kairos, subjectively experienced time, and chronos, objectively measurable time.
Where measurable time is concerned, Albert Einstein’s Theory of Relativity refuted the possibility that time could be measured objectively but this has no influence on the ordinary understanding of time.
According to Boscolo & Bertrando (1993), life unfolds in the subjective time dimension, although we are always conscious of objectively measurable time. Modern man comprehends his existence within three time perspectives: the past, the present and the future. This understanding of ourselves in time is probably not universal as different cultures have different attitudes to time.
The verbs in the language of the Hopi Indians cannot be conjugated into past, present and future - their language has only the one tense! This does not, however, mean that they have no concept of their past.
According to Whitrow (1989), in modern European culture we are placed in the past, the present and the future. Subjectively experienced time always includes this time perspective despite the fact that we are in reality always in the present. It is from a position in the present (as opposed e.g. to a specified period of the past) that we measure the past and the future.
Boscolo & Bertrando (1993) state that St. Augustin described this as early as the 8th Century. St. Augustin wrote that neither the past nor the future exists and that these two tenses are experienced subjectively in the human mind.
St. Augustin expressed the view that there are three subjective dimensions of time:
- A past remembered in the present
- A present experienced in the present and
- A future expected in the present.
Very recent events in the past, intense experiences which have already happened, can be recalled as if they are happening this very moment - even though they are images from the past.
The true image of the past flashes by and interests us in the here and now. But the past can only be captured as an image which is revealed for a brief moment where it is remembered and then disappears, never to be seen again.
We experience in the present. It is in the present that we think about the past, the present and the future. It is in the present that we make decisions and act upon them.
Small children experience things and act in the same way - in the present, literally “in the now of the existing moment”. Children are not conscious of the past and the future until they reach the age of about six and even then these are somewhat fuzzy terms.
Time, seen as the pragmatic way in which we correlate and regulate different periods, can either be circular or linear. In free play and in life, time is both circular and linear, depending on what the children find most practical. Children have a very flexible or accommodating approach to time in their own world in contrast to the adult world’s checking and measuring of periods in modern “digital time”.
The progression of linear time has neither a beginning nor an end. Situations and episodes, situations and ages come and go more or less without warning, happen and then disappear, never to come again.
From time to time circular time situations occur where a feeling of repetition becomes evident. Repeated events or episodes can pile up and die out only to come back again. They are remembered because they are existential and intense and appear in the form of prosperity/adversity, beginnings/endings, hope/despair, love/rejection.
More detached time situations like the end of time, time lapses and time accelerations occur within both circular and linear time. They can be regulated and organised but what most often happens is that they occur spontaneously without prior warning or prediction.
Common time can occur, especially where several people administer a common progression together, which can even be checked. This is why being together in common time is often experienced with frustration because it must normally be regulated in relation to several common times. It can sometimes be experienced as a happy occasion when participants can confirm one another in a form of concurrence.
Time is suspended in concurrence or in the present tense (now). To recognise the present is identical with a pragmatic acceptance of “that’s just the way things are”!
Eternity (time stands still - takes ages!) is the experience of time standing still - which can’t happen as static situations are not static but circular.
Where the various narrative forms and ways by which to account for play are concerned, all the above mentioned definitions of time are used. The narrative of play and play with toys is expressed and interpreted in time or times which - in addition to functioning in the real experiences of the persons-at-play as individuals - can be interpreted in many different ways.
According to Scannell (1988), these stories and functions, e.g. in play, are set in motion and timed in relation to the sequence of their contents. This makes it possible for both “players” and observers to understand the story and the content of the functions collectively, to set the content in relation to individual experience and possibly relate it to everyday events which can be recalled and exchanged with others.
- Everyday time, which is the structure of experiencefor day-to-day life
- Remembered time, which is the individual structure of experience
- Historic time, which is the collective structure of experience.
The imagination and stage of development reached by the child at play are of course decisive factors in determining how recognition of these definitions of time are expressed. But, regardless of what takes place in a progression, it must always be seen in relation to something else.
Generally, however, times are mixed in all imaginable combinations, transitional and overlapping situations and are part of many different situations, both planned and spontaneous. Even so, the child experiences a differentiated approach to time in recognition of values and world pictures.