Energy, discipline, time and space

What is characteristic of play as an activity is not the energy the child puts into it but the direction of that energy.

In 1946, Chateau sees the term play, as described by both Huizinga and Buydendijk, as something very important and serious in the world of the child. Chateau presents play in the form of a complete and comprehensive theory about how children see play and the importance play can have in childhood under certain preconditions, because what characterises play is not the energy the child puts into it but the direction of that energy.

Chateau splits the theory into three areas:

  • energies in play
  • play discipline
  • play in time and space

Each area will be described in the following:

Where energies in play are concerned, he differentiates between children’s and adult’s ways of playing, the different ways in which they use energies in play. He also describes the different games played at different levels through childhood. At the different levels on which play occurs, play itself is filled with energies which the child during childhood has to try to master through preparatory and developmental practice (play). By practising, on the strength of astonishing perseverance, the child learns self-discipline, ethics and orderliness.

There are rules for the process and the work involved in the energies in play and these are observed and controlled during the play process by other participants and, in the case of solitary play - by the child himself.

The child feels he owns and is responsible for the energies in play and that he alone is responsible for the order and rules of play. The burden of responsibility can, however, mean that the child is vulnerable, lonely and prone to inferiority complexes if his parents, older siblings or other children make clever or slating remarks about the child’s way of playing or the characteristics or process of the activity.

In addition, the child develops his own personal power over the game and can often give the impression that he has overweening ambitions for forcing his rules of order and discipline in the game on others.

At the same time, the child’s demonstrating his power is an expression of his belief that he can get by on his own (where even the most demanding aspects of play or an activity are concerned). However, this demonstration of power also expresses experimentation, trying out different degrees of difficulty in order to find fresh solutions to new and difficult problems.

A game or activity can, therefore, also be a serious, incredibly challenging and difficult task which can only be accomplished by missing out on other things in everyday life. Order, rules, discipline and a sense of proportion are necessary if the child is to succeed.

The discipline which occurs as part of play consists of the child experimenting and practising - very seriously and with deep concentration - bringing order, rules and system into play. The child is often in doubt about the relative values of systems of order and rules, their meaning and quality. He will therefore often change tactics during the play process which explains why order and rules sometimes seem to work only sporadically. Order and rules are regulated in relation to the other persons in the game and in relation to the toys used in the game. The child also persists in his attempts to build up his own personal discipline and world picture which ensures that he develops his own sense of proportion and power over the play process.

However, the child inevitably runs into a large number of obstacles in the process. These are challenging, disruptive (irritating) and contradictory.

Among all the obstacles he encounters, the child’s own egocentricity is the most important. However, problems associated with being more or less dependent on others (friends, siblings, as well as parents) and with being subject to the norms and rules which govern his surroundings are also significant.

Furthermore, the child encounters obstacles related to correlating his personal needs and experiences gained in his own play with the traditions and ceremonies of everyday life which are self-perpetuating and which demand that the child imitates them in a disciplined learning process (e.g. personal hygiene, maintaining silence on taboo subjects, showing consideration for others and keeping to agreements, etc.) - and which are not play.

In play, children give each other a mutual value and significance and are also each other’s guarantee for maintaining order and discipline and adhering to the rules. They confirm this during the game by describing their own and others’ actions in (sometimes very long) dialogues (or songs), thus legitimising the rules.

As mentioned, children are participants, controllers and audience and are therefore well aware of the honesty and dishonesty in each other’s actions. Honesty and dishonesty are two sides of the same story, formalised in play by mutual confirmation, repeated time and time again and they often end up being ritualised.

Co-operation between the persons-at-play is only successful if the participants are willing to renounce sovereignty, i.e. willing to give up their own personal attitude to order and discipline. At the end of the game, they will all say that it was a good game even though they cannot precisely remember what they played.

According to Chateau, play in time and space has several dimensions. Chateau accounts for how the energy rhythms in play are subject to changing factors in life and existence and to how play is determined by time and space. Children have their own cultural environment (which is often not visible to the adult eye), their own sociology and (child) culture which thrives on its own and which is subject to its own independent limits, rules and order.

The limits for special improvisations and games are extended on special occasions, on social/family occasions, festivals, celebrations and seasonal ceremonies, when the adults can accept wantonness of a kind they are unwilling to accept in everyday life where different sets of rituals must be respected.

The limits for games in everyday life are subject to the different norms, rules and rituals in everyday life, in the same way as time and place (spaces) affect the quality and processes in play. The limits of play also alter in relation to Nature, the changing seasons, ecological conditions and changing circumstances, including the physical and psychological circumstances.

Chateau classifies play as either individual play or social play and according to the degree of realism it contains (Chateau:349-350). Individual play is split into three main groups:

  • play without rules
  • play which concretises intelligence
  • self-active play

Social play is divided into two main groups:

  • play with rules
  • co-operativeplay

which - in fact - is limited to being:

  • figurative: (“let’s pretend” play)
  • objective (objective in relation to the possibility for sustaining the process through to a result)
  • abstract(indiscriminate and arbitrary).

Within each of these main groups, Chateau gives examples of different play, which, as mentioned above, can be played on several different levels, depending on the child’s individual stage of development.

Chateau attributes certain energies, characteristics, qualities and values to play in advance. The child takes up each of these, uses them and cannot do without them if he is to develop into a social individual in his particular society.

To sum up, these can be listed:

  • renunciation, asceticism
  • seriousness
  • perseverance
  • inclination
  • activity
  • immediacy
  • competition (testing, seeking, limiting)

Chateau describes the child’s attempts, through perseverance and renunciation, to gain opportunities for testing out his own strength in the energies within play, the complex problems in different situations, using a variety of useful objects.

Chateau’s attempts to formulate a comprehensive theory of play in which he draws attention to the factors which characterise play as an activity (i.e. not just as energy put to use but the direction the energy “travels” within the limitations of environment and the game) is an extension of Caillois’ descriptions of the different forms of play.



Table of Contents