Object transformation

Einsiedler was inspired by both Garvey and Schwartzman. On the basis of his research into the complexity of toys and the influence on fantasy play in particular, his theory of object transformation promotes the bond between toys and play. Furthermore, he uses almost the same semiotic principles as earlier described in this book in the section on the value and evaluation of the play object. With reference to Einsiedler (1990), play can be seen either from an ecological or from a cultural perspective.

From both perspectives, toys, the conditions for play (text/context) and the age of the children involved significantly affect e.g. the outlook, abilities or attitudes which the person-at-play is able to gain from play.

Einsiedler (1986) states that play is dependent on the level at which metacommunication between the persons-at-play takes place because it maintains, develops and brings order and system into the game and adjusts the internal roles and relative positions of the participants. In addition, Einsiedler describes the significance of toys for the game which is dependent upon their design and complexity, i.e. :

  • the degree of reality- how realistic a toy is (high or low degree of realism, similar/dissimilar to the real thing) and
  • the degree of complexity- how complex or “technical” it is relative to the age of the child (high or low degree of complexity, very complex/technical or not).

He also describes the situation - i.e. this connection between the metacommunication and the degree of realism and complexity of the toy - also as a factor which determines the intensity of play between persons-at-play. All of this he terms object transformation.

Object transformation can either be positive or negative, depending on the genre, relationships and play themes, the ages and stage of development of the persons-at-play, the design of the toys and the way in which the toys are used in play.

Object transformation is part of the play process in the following model:

  • Metacommunication

The persons-at-play talk about the game and its content and bring order into the relationship, maintain and develop and adjust their mutual roles and positions.

  • Verbal representations and fantasyactions

One of the persons-at-play creates imaginary situations or contributes creative ideas and images which the participants discuss verbally, reject, copy, improve and carry out or exemplify in play.

  • Roles

The persons-at-play select, assign and accept roles and positions and seek to correlate these with the roles and positions of the other participants.

  • Object imitation:

The persons-at-play pretend to be something, e.g. an animal or an object (if that is their role) or signal changes (e.g. “There is now coffee in my cup.”)

  • Object transformation

The persons-at-play evaluate an object (or toy) and stipulate conditions for its use. Any object which is to represent something else (e.g. a stone or an aeroplane) will be employed in the game and referred to by the name of the thing it represents.

Following this, the fixed and agreed principles of the play’s text, the roles and positions of the persons-at-play and the toy’s or toys’ position and stability within the play process are investigated, researched and tested - a balance between metacommunication and object transformation. Depending on the capabilities of the persons-at-play and the complexity of the toy(s), this will take some time, after which the game will proceed:

  • possibly less imaginatively and including motor activity in order to testand gain knowledge and experience
  • as observation and conversation
  • not introducing new things and elements into the process but merely maintaining and repeating and finally bringing the process to a conclusion.

Einsiedler (1990) divides play into four main groups:

  • psychomotoric play which develops the person-at play physically and psychologically at both the individual and the social level, dependent on the play or game’s constructionand the extent to which certain props and implements are indispensable.
  • fantasy and role play where, from the age of 4-5 years, the toys become especially significant for the children.
  • building and constructionplay which places special demands on the toys and where, furthermore, object transformation is dependent on the type of toy or how it has been manufactured.
  • play with rules, which, in many cases either is not or is only slightly dependent on the toys, implementsor props 

According to Einsiedler’s results, children’s fantasy play and development are affected more by the realism of the toy than by the degree of complexity, technicality or complexity of its design. Toys which are highly realistic and highly complex promote more imitation in play which can be interpreted such that this type of toy more than other types of toy texts the child through play. Some types of fantasy play, especially socially developmental types, occur more frequently when they are texted (where text = the content or story of play) by toys whose design and structure are less realistic and less complex. From the age of 4-5 years in particular, children show a greater interest in toys so that the object transformation is, in many cases, decisive for the play process.

Einsiedler’s four categories and his results suggest that play has special characteristics and significance within a certain area which is very interesting for the fields of pedagogy and psychology. It is especially useful in connection with this investigation because certain life form and life style segments select or reject certain forms of play.



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