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Play free, mentally

ally's picture

All of the three articles we read recently focused on how play can enhance social skills and evoke imagination; how play should be free and unlimited. As I was reading the post of WhoAmI, Glass Doll And All1, on serendip, the writer’s childhood experience of playing with white glass dolls reminds me of some different ways in which play can influence children. Beside all the benefits of play that mentioned in the articles, there could be some negative aspects of play and play is actually somehow limited in real life.

In the passage, Taking Play Seriously2, it said “one popular view is the play-as-preparation hypothesis” and play is a “good preparation for adulthood”. In the passage, the author referred to the fact that playing in a secure environment is “pleasurable way – of getting into muscle memory the generalized movements of survival: chasing, running, probing, and tussling”. Obviously, play would be a physical preparation, but it’s also a mental preparation: play has a great effect on children’s growth; it could significantly affect how the children perceive the world and how they get along with other people when they grow up.

The article just touched upon the good physical preparation of play, but there are also both positive and negative effects of play on mental. Beyond all doubt, playing with friends can teach children things like kindness, sympathy and empathy that get children well-prepared mentally. However, when I read the post, I found that these aren’t the only influences; there’re also mournfully psychological effects of play on children.

As WhoAmI said, she was “one of those children who enjoyed getting dirty while playing”, so when her uncles and aunties gave her fragile French glass dolls and her mother bought her rough plastic black dolls, she would play freely with the black ones and neatly collect all the white ones behind the glass. With the thought that she could do anything with the black dolls and just simply appreciate the well-dressed white dolls rooted in her heart, inevitably, it will influence the way she befriends with people from different races.

This could also be proved by the famous historic "doll test" conducted by Dr. Kenneth Clark, in which black children are first asked to choose black or white dolls that they would want to play with and then asked ‘which doll they identify with’. It turned out that the children were so upset when they have to choose which doll they identify with. In another short story I have read before, Bumping into Mr. Ravioli3, a little girl who live in busy New York city conceived an imaginary friend, Mr. Ravioli, who is too busy to play with her. From this passage, we could get the point that the way children play can both be a reflection of their thoughts and the surrounding environment. Thus, there must be a huge impact of difference between black dolls and white dolls on the naïve kids which will continuously influence the way identify themselves and perceive the world.

It’s hard to accept that the concept of racism crept into the mind of an innocent little girl. But that is the tough truth; actually, it is the stereotypes of the society that forced these kinds of concepts into children mind: The black dolls that are rough and the white dolls that are fragile; the Barbie for girls and Lego for boys.

Moreover, it’s hard for parents not to limit or influence children on play. According to the post, her dad’s relatives who are French bought her glass dolls while her mother’s relatives who are African bought her black dolls. It’s human nature for parents to pass on their ideas to children. Usually, beside the biological traits, children also inherit their parents’ thoughts, even bias.

In Playing in industrial ruins4, the writer said that the industrial ruin is a perfect place for free play. One of the reasons mentioned in the text is “Lack of overt regulation”. I think there should be more to create a free environment for play – the lack of stereotype. Stereotype is an invisible but powerful cause that limited and impaired children’s free spirit of play. Furthermore, from my perspective, the keyword of play is ‘free’. The passage defined free play as: “destructive play, hedonistic play, artistic play and adventurous and expressive play”, mostly referring to the physical aspects of free. It’s more important to create a mentally free environment for play, a place with no fixed stereotypes or bias.

In conclusion, other than the physical benefits and the opened imagination that play could offer, negative psychological and mental impact on children could also result from limited or biased play. In order to avoid this kind of negative influence of play, the first thing we need is a ‘real’ and ‘mentally’ free place for play.


Work cited:

  1. Glass Dolls and All, WhoAmI, webby post
  2. Taking Play Seriously, Robin Henig,  New York Times (Feb. 17, 2008)
  3. Bumping into Mr. Ravioli, Adam Gopnik. New York Journal (Sep. 30, 2002)
  4. Playing in Industrial Ruins: Interrogating Teleological Understandings of Play in Spaces of Material Alterity and Low Surveillance, Edensor, Tim, Bethan Evans, Julian Holloway, Steve Millington and Jon Binnie. New York: Routledge