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Thinking About Children's Play

by David Elkind
May/June 2001
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Article Link: http://exchangepress.com/article/thinking-about-childrens-play/5013927/

The phrase, "Play is the Child's Work" was coined by Maria Montessori, the famed Italian educator. Montessori saw little value in children's play unless it was put to some practical purpose. She suggested, for example, that children might put their imaginations to better use by fantasizing about real foreign countries rather than about fairy tale kingdoms. Although Montessori has made many important and lasting contributions to early childhood education, her identification of work and play in young children was unfortunate. It repudiated a very important distinction and gave rise to a whole genre of so-called "educational toys."

In fact, however, play is not the child's work, nor is work child's play. Both Freud and Piaget made the difference between work and play centerpieces of their developmental theories. In his classic work, The Interpretation of Dreams, Sigmund Freud described two mental processes which he called the primary process and the secondary process. The primary process is at work mainly when we are asleep. It brings together ideas that share a common emotional tone rather than any kind of logical cohesiveness. The primary process condenses, displaces, substitutes and symbolizes people, places and events to create a dream that is unrecognizable to the waking mind. ...

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