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The Play's the Thing: Styles of Playfulness

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How did you play as a child? Ask this question in a group of adults and most can talk with pleasure about neighborhood games, outdoor adventures, and cozy hiding places. Ask, "What did you learn by playing?" and the answers are remarkably thoughtful, encompassing creative imagination, moral judgment, negotiation, physical skills, and courage.

Once when I asked these questions of a teaching staff, one teacher insisted that she didn't play as a child. There were knowing nods among her colleagues; a notorious workaholic and perfectionist, she was an inflexible thinker unable to compromise on program issues. "I'll bet there's a connection," one of them said thoughtfully. I'll bet there is, too.

The spontaneous play of young children is their highest achievement. In their play, children invent the world for themselves and create a place for themselves in it. They are re-creating their pasts and imagining their futures, while grounding themselves in the reality and fantasy of their lives here-and-now. (Jones and Reynolds, 1992, p. 129)

Children at play are constructing their individual identities as well as their knowledge of the world. The choosing child is saying, in effect, "This is who I am. This ...

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