Imagination & Play 07Ages and stages of playTheme:imagination, playSummaryDiscussionTranscriptRelated Insights
Why can a child conceive any and all possibilities equally valid is because they have a neural structure which is absolutely open-ended infinite. They could respond to any and all possible models and build a corresponding structure of knowledge about it according to the nature of the models. If they're not given the models for those possibilities, nothing happens, and age 11, they'll be left with only the neural feelers that have been stabilized and activated and put to use and we'll find an 80% reduction in the brain's capacity at that point.Coming
Now let's look at play. We want to move on briefly into other forms of play. What about play in the 7 to 11 year period? The interesting thing about play is you find it changes continually. The nature of play changes. The 4 year old is playing quite differently than the earlier child. And the 7 to 11 year old is going to play entirely differently yet again. But let's pretend play that opens at 7 becomes far more fantastic, the child back here is playing at being the adult and they play all these roles out, but here it's magical play.
At this point Piaget, and I think he was quite right about this, speaking of this magical thinking that seizes the child and he speaks of the child being able to conceive any and all possibilities as equally valid, any and all possibilities as equally valid. Limited only by the nature of the models that present those possibilities to him.
Why can a child conceive any and all possibilities equally valid is because they have a neural structure which is absolutely open-ended infinite. They could respond to any and all possible models and build a corresponding structure of knowledge about it according to the nature of the models. If they're not given the models for those possibilities, nothing happens, and age 11, they'll be left with only the neural feelers that have been stabilized and activated and put to use and we'll find an 80% reduction in the brain's capacity at that point.
That means about a huge loss from the failure of our model structures. It's the only thing I can figure, now you can come up with your own idea. The brain is always redundant. Nature is always redundant, she always produces far more than she needs and then has periods of cutback, we know that, but not this extensive as happens at age 11. What is child's play at this period? It's playing at lets pretend, of being every incredible thing you can imagine. Dungeons and dragons, all those sorts of things begin to crop up and become intense during this time. Although, as we look at child's play they get together now in groups, they like playing groups, much more than the earlier child. The early child doesn't need groups much. You don't find interaction in child play in those early years. They might occupy the same stage but, they're playing totally different, according to totally different scripts.
Now they'll begin to join in their scripts and a lot of this imaginative play, a lot of it is let's pretend and a lot of it is group playing, playing together. But you will find during this period that highly structured winning games are really inappropriate to the child. I think of that little 9 year old when some adult was trying to inaugurate him into some game, they said, "is this a fun game or one of those winning games?" you see. They want to play fun games.
Bruno Bettelheim, who knew a lot, said that during this period the child doesn't need structured games at all and above all they can't deal with rules and regulations about games. Their games are free and wide open. They make up the rules and regulations as they go along, and they'll make them up and change them constantly so they always win. The child in this period cannot comprehend not winning. When any and all possibilities are equally valid I should win all the time. That's the most equal of all things. That's the most valid. And so Bruno Bettelheim pointed out that if you set up a very rigid rules and regulations kind of occupation, they'll cheat up a storm. Why should they not cheat when any and all propositions are equally valid. It's as valid to cheat as not, the rule is made only to break or get around somehow. Now if they carry that over into the formal operational stages later on, you're in trouble, but it's certainly is the case from 7 to about age 11.
There are all sorts of other things about this period from 7 to 11, as my daughter said when we told her we were going to have to, we were going to have to send her to school some day because we'd traveled every year of her life and she'd never had a chance to go to school. She was 7 years old, when she didn't get into school she wasn't almost 9 and we said, "you're going to have to go to school some day" and she said, "that's fine, if they'll let me do what has to be done." And we said, "what is that?" And she said, "make things and sing" and that's the perfect expression of the 7 to 11 period. And play to a child is making things. Making things is a critical point of play.
Carol Gilligan speaks of the 11 year old girl as coming into a period of utter clarity and tremendous security within herself. Surety of her own powers. And a great sense of justice. A great sense of righteousness. Terra Gilligan doesn't know that exactly the same thing happens for little boys at around about age 11. A great sense of justice and rightness and the clarity of how things are and how they should be, a perceiving of injustice, a terrible pain. My daughter currently expresses great pain that anyone would be cruel to someone else. That would be cruel to animals. That we would hurt the earth in any way. This sense of righteousness, this sense of justice and order and all that comes in at age 11. Why? Because we've cleaned house. We've removed all the alternate possibilities down to those structures of knowledge that we have received models for that we have built in our brain system. This house cleaning, this tidying up, bringing of the house to order, a radical change of behavior takes place in the child.
Around age 11 we often want group play and under stringent rules and regulations that we make ourselves and you don't break those once they're made. This is when in boys the passion for sandlot, football, and baseball and all takes place. We live to get out there and play those ball games over and over. Now we spent the first hour of this critically precious time we had, it seemed we spent the first hour in dividing up sides because they had to be divided up fairly. They had to be equal. Who gets Pearce the shrimp you know became a big issue. It really was. I felt it too. We had to divide up so that things would be equal and fair and then the hammering out of the rules and regulations of how we would play. And then we would start playing and immediately there would be an interruption and great heated passionate arguments over infringement of the rules. "You were out." "I was not out, I touched.." "You did not." And the whole group gathering in and spending long precious hours of our play period doing what? Arguing over the rules. An adult would come along and say why don't you kids play and stop arguing all the time, but they don't realize, we were giving up our unrestricted freedom of the magical years and learning to undergo strict self-restraint, self-discipline, on behalf of a larger group organized activity. This was the first real major socialization we were undergoing.
When we were learning to give up personal freedom on behalf of the freedom of a larger group. Personal magical thinking on behalf of the needs of the larger group. And we were willing to do it provided we could set up the rules and regulations and passionately their infringements. And so we spent half our time in arguing, half the time in what an adult would consider play, and through that we hammer out the self-restraint needed to enter into society as a supporting member of that society. That really is what's going on during that period.
Now one of the things we did that happened again after World War II might have started in a very minor area but it took on full steam during that watershed period of post-WWII, was the adult supervised child play. All of the sudden streets were filled with speeding automobiles, there are no longer sidewalks in planned communities, and we planned and built these areas for children to play in. And in order to keep them from hurting themselves we had college trained adult supervisors, play supervisors, of the children at those times. And along with that an adult always making the decisions, always overseeing the whole operation, along with that came things like little league and the other organized child sports. And little league began to move into childhood itself, earlier and earlier and earlier. No longer were we out on the sandlot slugging it out in these passionate arguments, we were marching out dutifully in our beautiful uniforms with their advertisements of companies on the back, under the supervision of adults who had organized it all, and with our parents lining the sidelines, screaming "kill them, get them," "win at all costs."
The poor child grimly facing the enemy and the adults making every decision, calling the strikes, calling the balls, and it was a closed issue. Now believe me, this seriously undermines the natural native capacity for adopting social restriction from about 11 through 15, pre-parent or to becoming a parent, to entering the society, becoming a functioning part of that society.
Now I say these have been, all of these things have been inroads of an adult intellect in the naturally unfolding intelligence of the child. Does that make any sense? Is it just the carping and complaint of an old man? Perhaps? But, I only want to say that in our day when a nickel was huge sum of money, and we would work all week, when I was 7 and 8 years and 9 years old we would work all week trying to earn the 10 cents to go to the Saturday afternoon movies. Then 10 cents was a huge sum of money. And we had to earn it. Money was extremely scarce. The standard of living was very low but the quality of life was very high. We had hope. We might have been in a temporary depression but just wait till we, the next generation, got out there on the stage, we would change everything because we felt absolutely that we could control the whole situation, that we would have dominion over the world, we'd make that change. A lot of that took place in our play itself and how we played. And all of the sudden we speak now of the disappearance of childhood in America. Lots of books have been written about it. It's not just a figure of speech.
And if some of this sounds like carping criticism, I just ask you and invite you to look at it carefully and see what we have done with intellectual interference, with the natural intelligence of the system, we're back to that simple factor.