“In general, play is considered to be the activity that is least useful economically, socially, even ethically. It is associated with laziness and shiftlessness. It is the antonym of ‘work’. At best, it is what one does when one has earned time off from productive work, when nothing more is expected of a person; it is to be discouraged at all other times. In the case of young children, it is sometimes acknowledged to be a necessary evil, and much effort is bent towards improving its quality, or justifying it as a partially excusable preparation for something more substantial.
“Yet, there is something very wrong with this picture. It is, after all, a fact that Nature has arranged matters in such a way that play is the chief, overridingly absorbing, activity of human young. It is an equally indisputable fact that the human species could not have survived these past hundreds of thousands – or millions – of years on earth if the young of the species were not well endowed by Nature with a virtually irresistible drive to acquire the skills necessary for functioning as effective adults. Moreover, it is during the earliest years of development that children learn the most, and learn the fastest; nothing in later life compares with the enormous capacity of infants and young children to master new material, adapt to new environments, and obtain satisfactory solutions to strange and often overwhelming problems.
“According to the natural order of things, then, play – the activity central to people in their most accelerated learning mode – must be the most effective instrument for learning. What is going on? What is play all about? Why did it come to get such a bad rap in Western culture? What attitude should post-Industrial societies adopt towards play? This talk is an attempt to provide some answers to these questions.”