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Productive Play through Supervision

The Unknown's picture

           Play is an essential part of life. Through play, people learn empathy, trust, irony, and constructive ways to problem solve. Play can help individuals especially children learn about their talents, how to better regulate their emotions, and develop social skills. Play allows children to engage in all their senses and explore new places. Playing teaches children about how their bodies move and helps them become aware of their surroundings. The lessons and skills that are attained from play are extremely important, especially in child development, but they cannot be fully understood and effective if there is not some level of supervision that enforces structure and prevents harmful and dangerous activities from occurring.

            Supervision provides a level of reflection, safety, regulation, and comfort that is necessary in order for children to learn from play. The Merriam Webster Dictionary gives the definition of supervision: “the action or process of watching and directing what someone does or how something is done” (Merriam Webster 1). Children can learn skills, such as how to regulate their emotions, but only when there is some level of supervision. A person who saw an incident take place can help children work out the issues of that event, help enforce rules, and explain children’s actions and emotions. 

            Staurt Brown in “Play, Spirit, and Character,” explains how children can learn empathy, trust, and a deeper understanding of oneself, but only with some structure: “There is choice in the player’s life and that choice if given opportunities through the environment emerges innately and spontaneously if the individual or animal for that matter that’s capable of playing is safe” (Brown 1). Children learn how to use their bodies in new, more effective ways through different ways of experimenting in play. To move forward, grow, and expand a child’s knowledge, there needs to be a guaranteed level of safety. This level of safety can only be guaranteed if there is some supervision, therefore making the play not completely unstructured.

           Unstructured play can cause physical, emotional, and mental pain because there is no one there to prevent and bring an end to the point when play becomes destructive. Tim Edensor, Bethan Evans, Julian Hooloway, Steve Millington, and Jon Binnie explain how play can turn into violence and emotional damage: “For instance, without the protective gaze of surveillance and supervision, child’s play can often become a zone of affective disorder, whereby playful punches and kicks spillover into unacceptable and transgressive acts of bullying and beyond” (Edensor, Evans, Hooloway, Millington, and Binnie 75). Though it is important to learn the limitations of one’s body, in unstructured, completely free play, children can seriously injure themselves. If parents or some adults are not in close proximity, minor problems can become a lot worse.

            In the posting, “Limitation, Not Bad,” WWU2 explains the importance of supervision in order for productive play to occur. She discusses how children can be susceptible to harm. Completely, unstructured play can even be dangerous, especially at a young age. According to the Child Development Institute, until a child is six or seven-years-old he or she is learning ways to expand his skills through many kinds of playing, how to effectively and productively work with others, and understanding how to lead as well as follow (Child Development Institute 3). Since these skills are still developing, unstructured play can be damaging and destructive, rather than helpful at certain ages. The level of pain that can be inflicted and experienced by children when there is no one there to put an end to a conflict, disagreement or fight can be more damaging than the benefits of learning from that experience.

            Since children are still learning how to problem solve, articulate themselves, and the consequences of their actions, they can play in ways that can be harmful and dangerous to others without realizing it. They are more likely to make drastic statements that offend others because they do not have the foresight to see the ramifications of their actions. Though these issues arise in structured and unstructured play, in unstructured play, there is no advocate for the child- meaning there is no one to help explain the situation or incident from different children’s perspectives. An overseer can help solve the issue by talking to the different children to understand the reasoning behind their actions. This person can also calm the children down so they use their words to express how they feel rather as opposed to violence. This can help resolve the issue and prevent it from reoccurring. Therefore the issue might not be resolved if there is no level of structure or the problem will be resolved through violent words or actions.

            In Lord of the Flies, author William Golding, creates a social experiment to examine how children who have not yet understood the values and importance of some of the principles of society act violently to obtain power, control, and demonstrate their will. On an island, there is no one around to prevent the extreme devastation that a group of young boys create. He proposes that there is either structure or unrest, pain, death, and chaos: "Which is better — to have laws and agree, or to hunt and kill?’ The rock struck Piggy a glancing blow from chin to knee; the conch exploded into a thousand white fragments and ceased to exist" (Golding 155). The conch shell is used throughout the novel to represent structure and order. In the beginning of the novel the children decide that the person who is holding the conch shell has the right to speak. Therefore the shell represents democracy and political legitimacy.

            Towards the end of the novel, the conch shell is destroyed which represents an end to order and the beginning of brutal, barbaric life.  In the climax of the novel one of the boys is killed violently and savagely by the other boys because of a misunderstanding and the some of the boys’ hunger for power and dominance. This demonstrates to the reader the extreme consequences of unsupervised interactions among youth. Indeed the most basic and anti-social instincts take over as each character looks for immediate gratification and power and supremacy at the expense and exploitation of others. 

            The skills learned through play are not all innate, but involve a balance between experimentation and guidance. The guidance can be offered by a host of people, but it can provide a deeper purpose to the play than the kids had understood or experienced previously. Guardians and overseers can help connect actions to reactions and patterns of play. From a young age, children do not understand how powerful their words and actions can impact someone, this understanding and realization is an extremely important part of child development and growth, and it can not be fully comprehended without some level of supervision and structure.

            Supervision can help children perfect their skills based on the rewards provided by learning and following the rules. Often there is an innate structure in games that require one to develop certain abilities in order to win a game. Through developing these skills, children learn about their strengths, limitations, how they interact with others, and their needs. Someone who has an understanding of the game and why the rules of the game exist can reinforce the structure. A person watching the game can explain the purpose of the game so the children understand and realize the greater goal of playing- why they are there.

             Something that can be learned through structured play is teamwork. Learning how to work with others and express one’s needs is extremely important in playing successfully. When there is no supervision, there is no guarantee that children will work together or include everyone. Children might not be heard or feel safe. A person watching the game can enforce the rules so that they apply to everyone equally. This person provides fairness to the play and an equal opportunity for everyone to participate and be able to perform well. He or she can also help children understand the necessity of working together in order for all of the children to be successful on an individual level.

            Play is a vital part of a child’s life, but requires some level of supervision for children to learn about the lessons of play. Play can provide a space for learning about empathy, trust, individual talents and character, and how to effectively interact with peers. These skills can only be fully and most successfully developed when there is some level of supervision to enforce structure, prevent dangerous activities from occurring, and add a level of reflection to the play. Therefore there is no complete freedom in constructive, productive play.

Works Cited

Brown, Staurt. "Stuart Brown - Play, Spirit, and Character." On Being. Web. 7 Oct. 2014. < character/143/audio?embed=1> Golding, William. Lord of the Flies. New York: Coward-McCann, 1962. Print.

"Supervision." Merriam-Webster. Merriam-Webster, 1 Jan. 2014. Web. 11 Oct. 2014.  <>.

Tim Edensor, Bethan Evans, Julian Holloway, Steve Millington and Jon Binnie. Playing in Industrial Ruins: Interrogating Teleological Understandings of Play in Spaces of Material Alterity and Low         SurveillanceUrban Wildscapes. Ed. Anna Jorgensen and Richard Keenan. New York: Routledge, 2011. 65-79.