Nowadays children aren’t able to play. We believe that we encourage them to learn to play by playing all of us together - Dad, Mum and children. It might be a good idea if the schools taught parents how to play with their children because we believe that children would then be better at understanding themselves and better at learning.

(Quote from a parent)



According to one dictionary of the Danish language, “play” is an activity undertaken as a pastime, for fun, for (mutual) entertainment with no real use or serious purpose but which follows certain rules, often a liberal imitation of purposeful adult activities.

This definition is both erroneous and problematic! However, in its defence, we ought to mention that the definition was prepared in an era where knowledge and insight about play as a phenomenon was still limited.

It was proven many years ago (Pellegrini, Klein, Goldstein) that a lack of opportunities for children to play with others (social play) and to play with interesting things and objects leads, in adulthood, to failure to adapt to a social group and to develop constructive co-operative processes in which there is an exchange and pooling of implements and knowledge. This in itself is enough to make the above dictionary definition almost embarrassing!

Solitary play is just as important as social play. Solitary play involves the need for a varied supply of different toys while social play involves a need for a varied supply of different games and toys with which several children can play together at the same time.

Any game contains a “text” - which in this book will be called the “play text” or “the text of play with a toy”.

In the context of this book, text is to be understood as:

An action in which participants communicate with each other legitimately and honestly about the different expressions, content and consequent relations of the toy or game, where systematically correlated communication forms relevant messages and therefore creates contact, is honest and interesting for the persons-at-play.” 

The text of a game will not be interpreted in the same way by everyone, even though the expression, content, relations, system and the way in which these are correlated is understood in the same way.

Behind these concepts, there is a hidden, subtle level of multiplicity and permutations which possibly not even the persons-at-play are aware of or ready to channel and communicate.

Every game has a “context” - in this book, context is to be understood as (see also model in Chapter 9, The Play Phenomenon):

That which determines that the content (play text) is limited relative to other things which are to be found in the immediate environment.

The context of a game is not understood in the same way by everyone. The context or framework is however always understood as the limitations on children’s play and on the development of the game placed by the stipulations of the immediate environment. It would be wrong, however, to view the context as a “limiting framework” for play. The context ought rather to be seen as an invisible limited circle which children in their creative and most imaginative play jump in and out of, as if they were hopping in an out of a circle. Because in play everything is permitted. Put in another way: the only barrier is fantasy and in play, events are experienced which have yet to take place.

Hopping in and out of play can be described in the following five ways:

1. Contextualisation: when the child (on the basis of the following tenets) learns that:



2. Decontextualisation occurs when the child learns “his own game”* within his own closed world, despite the tenets.



3. Recontextualisation: when the children at play bring the text and context into balance at an intense metacommunicative



4. Co-contextualisation: where the child learns the connection between several different contexts:

    • by bringing about consistency between the various tenets with the same meaning.

    • The child can also co-contextualise to a false understanding - an unreal reality!

5. Context dissolution is when the child (through giving up on or rejecting the tenets) learns that:



The child dissolves his own framework for understanding what is reality and what is fantasy (play).

Will it ever be possible to transfer our stereotype search for mechanical explanations for why children play with toys and instead concentrate on the unique forms of creativity and fantasy involved in toys and play with toys? The following four chapters suggest some of the possibilities.



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