This book will challenge any preconceptions about the innocence and universal benefit of play. It is based on naturalistic observations of children, where researchers do not interrupt or disturb the play, so the ‘real’ situation can be witnessed.The result is a number of fascinating, and sometimes disturbing, vignettes of play behaviour.
Some of these were very familiar scenes: the teacher who encourages a child to join in with a group playing Cinderella. But the newcomer is chosen by the other children to play “the piece of paper that was in front of the fireplace, collecting the cinders”.
How often do we encourage our children to “play together” and how often do we say “we’re all friends here” – to then go away convinced that its preferable for children to play socially than by themselves? Only to find the children subverting these good intentions for their own purpose. More importantly, how often do we find out that the children have subverted the play? As the authors assert “The Trouble With Play helps identify and recognise injustice that occurs in play”.
The authors, Susan Grieshaber and Felicity McArdle, challenge play in six areas: play is natural; is about development and learning; is normal; is fun; is innocent and is a universal right. Each of the six areas are considered in detail, brought to life by many vignettes. There are reflection points and practical activities throughout the book are excellent starting points for discussions for students as well as staff meetings and training courses.
The penultimate chapter compares curricula from four different countries – Hong Kong, Australia, Sweden and England. This really made me realise how easy it is to become parochial in our use of curricula. Working in England means that I live and breathe the Early Years Foundation Stage (EYFS). But what are children in other countries experiencing? There are some interesting similarities and significant differences.
In Hong Kong, children aged 5 to 6 would be encouraged to play chess, Australia educators are ‘deliberate, purposeful and thoughtful in their decisions and actions’, the Swedish curriculum is fully integrated to age 20.
My only (very small) disappointment was that the myth that the Early Learning Goals in the EYFS “must” be achieved by the end of the year in which children turn 5 years old. This is not the case – at the minute. But who knows with the results of EYFS review still to be announced? Overall a very interesting, thoughtful book.
As Sir Terry Pratchett observes in ‘The Hogfather’ its “nice to hear the voices of little children at play, provided you took care to be far enough away not to hear what they were actually saying”.