All human activity might be classified under three heads,--play, work,

and drudgery,--but just what activities belong under each head and just

what each of the terms means are questions of dispute. That the

boundaries between the three are hazy and undefined, and that they shade

gradually into each other, are without doubt true, but after all play is

different from work, and work from drudgery. Much of the disagreement as

/> to the value of play is due to this lack of definition. Even to-day when

the worth of play is so universally recognized, we still hear the

criticism's of "soft pedagogy" and "sugar coating" used in connection

with the application of the principle of play in education.

Although what we call play has its roots in original equipment, still

there is no such thing as the play instinct, in the sense that there is

a hunting instinct or a fighting instinct. nstead of being a definite

instinct, which means a definite response to a definite situation, it is

rather a tendency characteristic of all instincts and capacities. t is

an outgrowth of the general characteristic of all original nature

towards activity of some kind. This tendency is so broad and so complex,

the machinery governing it is so delicate, that it produces responses

that vary tremendously with subtle changes in the individual, and with

slight modifications of the situation. What we call play, then, is

nothing more than the manifestations of the various instincts and

capacities as they appear at times when they are not immediately useful.

The connections in the nervous system are ripe and all other factors

have operated to put them in a state of readiness: a situation occurs

which stimulates these connections and the child plays. These

connections called into activity may result in responses which are

primarily physical, intellectual, or emotional--all are manifestations

of this tendency towards activity. All habits of all kinds grow out of

this same activity: habits which we call work and those which we call

play. Man has not two original natures, one defined in terms of the play

instinct, and the other in terms of work. Most of the original

tendencies involved in play are not peculiar to it, but also are the

source of work. Manifestation results in making "mud pies and apple

pies"; physical activity results in the kicking, squirming, and

wriggling of the infant and the monotonous wielding of the hammer of the

road mender. The conditions under which an activity occurs, its

concomitants, and the attitude of the individual performing it determine

whether it is play or work--not its source or root.

Much, then, of what we call play is simply the manifestation of

instincts and capacities not immediately useful to the child. f they

were immediately useful, they would probably be put under the head of

work, not play. Many of the activities which seem playful to us and not

of immediate service do so because of the conditions of civilized life.

Were the infants living under primitive conditions, "in such a community

as a human settlement seems likely to have been twenty-five thousand

years ago, their restless examination of small objects would perhaps

seem as utilitarian as their fathers' hunting."[13] Certainly the

tendency of little children to chase a small object going away from

them, and to run from a large object approaching slowly, their tendency

to collect and hoard, their tendency to outdo another engaged in any

instinctive pursuit, would under primitive conditions have a distinct

utilitarian value, and yet all such tendencies are ranked as play when

manifested by the civilized child.

Other tendencies become playful rather than useful because of the

complexity of the environment and of the nervous system responding to

it. n actual life we don't find activity following a neatly arranged

situation--response system. On the contrary, a situation seldom

stimulates one response, and a response seldom occurs in the typical

form required by theory. t is this mingling of responses brought about

by varying elements in the situation that gives the playful effect. n a

less complex environment this complexity would be lessened. Also

experience, habit, tends to pin one type of response to a given

situation and the minor connections gradually become eliminated. For

example, if a boy of nine, alone in the woods, was approached by another

with threatening gestures and scowls, the fighting response would be

called out, and we would not call it play, because it served as

protection. f the same boy in his own garden, with a group of

companions, was approached by another with scowls, a perfectly

good-natured tussle might take place and we would call it play. The

difference between the two would be in minor elements of the situation.

Some of these differences are absence or presence of companions, the

strangeness or familiarity of the surroundings, the suddenness of the

appearance of the other boy, and so on.

Most of the older theories of play did not take into account these three

facts, _i.e.,_ the identity in original nature of the roots of play and

work; the fact that man's original nature fits him for primitive not

civilized society; the complexity of the situation--response connection

and its necessary variation with minor elements in the external

situation and in the individual. Earlier writers, therefore, felt the

need of special theories of play. The best known of these theories are,

first, the Schiller-Spencer surplus energy theory; second, the Groos

preparation for life theory; third, the G. Stanley Hall atavistic

theory; fourth, the Appleton biological theory. Each of the theories has

some element of truth in it, for play is complex enough to include them

all, but each, save perhaps the last, falls short of an adequate


Two facts growing out of the theory of play accepted by the last few

paragraphs need further discussion. First, the order of development in

play. The play activities must follow along the line of the developing

instincts and capacities. As the nerve tracts governing certain

responses become ready to act, these responses become the controlling

ones in play. So it is that for a time play is controlled largely by the

instinct of manipulation, at another time physical activity combined

with competition is most prominent, at another period imagination

controls, still later the puzzle-solving tendency comes to the point

followed by all the games involving an intellectual factor. This being

true, it is not surprising to find certain types of play characterizing

certain ages and to find that though the particular games may vary,

there is a strong resemblance between plays of children of the same age

all over the world. t must not be forgotten, however, that the

readiness of nerve tracts to function, and therefore the play responses,

depends on other factors as well as maturity. The readiness of other

tracts to function; past experience and habits; the stimulus provided by

the present situation; absence of competing stimuli; sex, health,

fatigue, tradition--all these and many more factors modify the order of

development of the play tendencies. Still, having these facts in mind,

it is possible to indicate roughly the type of play most prominent at

different ages.

Children from four to seven play primarily in terms of sensory

responses, imagination, imitation, and curiosity of the cruder sort.

Love of rhythm also is strong at this period. From seven to ten

individual competition or rivalry becomes very strong and influences

physical games, the collecting tendency, and manipulation, all of which

tendencies are prominent at this time. Ten to twelve or thirteen is

characterized by the "gang" spirit which shows itself in connection with

all outdoor games and adventures; memory is a large factor in some of

the plays of this period, and independent thinking in connection with

situations engendered by manipulation and the gang spirit becomes

stronger. At this period the differences between girls and boys become

more marked. The girls choose quieter indoor games, chumming becomes

prominent, and interest in books, especially of the semi-religious and

romantic type, comes to the front. n the early adolescent period the

emotional factor is strong and characterizes many of the playful

activities; the intellectual element takes precedence over the physical;

the group interest widens, although the interest in leadership and

independent action still remains strong; teasing and bullying are also

present. This summary is by no means complete, but it indicates in a

very general way the prominent tendencies at the periods indicated.

The second fact needing further elaboration is that of the complexity of

the play activity. Take, for instance, a four-year-old playing with a

doll. She fondles, cuddles, trundles it, and takes it to bed with her.

t is jumped up and down and dragged about. t is put through many of

the experiences that the child is having, especially the unpleasant

ones. ts eyes and hair, its arms and legs, are examined. Questions are

asked such as, "Where did it come from?" "Who made it?" "Has it a

stomach?" "Will it die?" n many instances it is personified. The child

is often perfectly content to play with it alone, without the presence

of other children. This activity shows the presence of the nursing

instinct, the tendency towards manipulation, physical activity,

imitation and curiosity of the empirical type. The imagination is active

but still undifferentiated from perception. The contentment in playing

alone, or with an adult, shows the stage of development of the

gregarious instinct. A girl of nine no longer cuddles or handles her

doll just for the pleasure she gets out of that, nor is the doll put

through such violent physical exercises. The child has passed beyond the

aimless manipulation and physical activity that characterized the

younger child. nstead she makes things for it, clothes, furniture, or

jewelry, still manipulation, and still the nursing instincts, but

modified and directed towards more practical ends. mitation now shows

itself in activities that are organized. The child plays Sunday, or

calling, or traveling, or market day, in which the doll takes her part

in a series of related activities. But in these activities constructive

imagination appears as an element. Situations are not absolutely

duplicated, occurrences are changed to suit the fancy of the player, as

demanded by the dramatic interest. A fairy prince, or a godmother, may

be participants, but at this age the constructive imagination is likely

to work along more practical lines. Curiosity is also present, but now

the questions asked are such as, "What makes her eyes work?" "Why can't

she stand up?" or they often pertain to the things that are being made

for the doll. They have to do with "How" or "Why" instead of the "What."

The doll may still be talked to and even be supposed to talk back, but

the child knows it is all play; it is no longer personified as in the

earlier period. For the child fully to enjoy her play, she must now have

companions of her own age, the older person no longer suffices.

The outdoor games of boys show the same kind of complexity,--for

instance, take any of the running games. With little boys they are

unorganized manifestations of mere physical activity. The running is

more or less at random, arms and vocal organs are used as much as the

legs and trunk. mitation comes in-what one does others are likely to

do. The mere "follow" instinct is strong, and they run after each other.

The beginnings of the fighting instinct appear in the more or less

friendly tussles they have. The stage of the gregarious instinct is

shown by the fact that they all play together. Later with boys of nine

or ten the play has become a game, with rules governing it. The general

physical activity has been replaced by a specialized form. mitation is

less of a factor. The hunting instinct often appears unexpectedly, and

in the midst of the play the elements of the chase interfere with the

proper conduct of the game. The fighting instinct is strong, and is very

easily aroused. The boys now play in gangs or groups, and the tendency

towards leadership manifests itself within the group. The intellectual

element appears again and again, in planning the game, in judging of the

possibility of succeeding at different stages, or in settling disputes

that are sure to arise. So it is with all the plays of children: they

are complexes of the various tendencies present, and the controlling

elements change as the inner development continues.

All activities when indulged in playfully have certain common

characteristics. First, the activity is enjoyed for its own sake. The

process is satisfying in itself. Results may come naturally, but they

are not separated from the process; the reason for the enjoyment is not

primarily the result, but rather the whole activity. Second, the

activity is indulged in by the player because it satisfies some inner

need, and only by indulging in it can the need be satisfied. t uses

neurone tracts that were "ready." Growing out of these two major

characteristics are several others. The attention is free and immediate;

much energy is used with comparatively little fatigue; self-activity and

initiative are freely displayed.

At the other extreme of activity is drudgery. ts characteristics are

just the opposite of these. First, the activity is engaged in merely for

the result--the process counting for nothing and the result being the

only thing of value. Second, the process, instead of satisfying some

need, is rather felt to be in violation of the nature of the one

engaged. t uses neurone tracts that are not "ready" and at the same

time prevents the action of tracts that are "ready." t becomes a task.

The attention necessarily must be of the forced, derived type, in which

fatigue comes quickly as a result of divided attention, results are

poor, and there is no chance for initiative.

Between these two extremes lies work. t differs from play in that the

results are usually of more value and in that the attention is therefore

often of the derived type. t differs from drudgery in that there is not

the sharp distinction between the process and the result and in that the

attention may often be of the free spontaneous type. t was emphasized

at the beginning of this chapter that the boundaries between the three

were hazy and ill defined. This is especially true of work; it may be

indistinguishable from play as it partakes of its characteristics, or it

may swing to the other extreme and be almost drudgery. The difference

between the three activities is a subjective matter--a difference

largely in mood, in attitude of the person concerned, due to the

readiness or unreadiness of the neurone tracts exercised. The same

activity may be play for one person, work for another, and drudgery for

still another. Further, for the same person the same activity may be

play, work, or drudgery, at different times, even within the same day.

Which of the three is the most valuable for educational purposes?

Certainly not drudgery. t is deadening, uneducative, undevelopmental.

Any phase of education, though it may be a seemingly necessary one, that

has the characteristics of drudgery is valueless in itself. As a means

to an end it may serve--but with the antagonistic attitude, the

annoyance aroused by drudgery, it seems a very questionable means.

Education that can obtain the results required by a civilized community

and yet use the play spirit is the ideal.

But to have children engaged in play, in the sense of free play, cannot

be the only measure. There must be supervision and direction. The spirit

that characterizes the activities which are not immediately useful must

be incorporated into those that are useful by means of the shifting of

association bonds. Nor can all parts of the process seem worth while to

the learner. Sometimes the process or parts of it must become a means to

an end, for the end is remote. But all this is true to some extent in

free play--digging the worms in order to go fishing, finding the

scissors and thread in order to make the doll's dress, making

arrangements with the other team to play ball, finding the right pieces

of wood for the hut, and so on, may not be satisfactory in and of

themselves, but may be almost drudgery. They are _not_ drudgery because

they become fused in the whole process, they take over and are lost in

the joy of the undertaking as a whole; they become a legitimate means to

an end, and in so far take over in derived form the interest that is

roused by the whole. t is this fusion of work and play that is

desirable in education. This is the great lesson of play--it shows the

value and encourages the logical combination of the two activities.

Children learn to work as they play. They learn the meaning and value of

work. Work becomes a means to an end, and that end not something remote

and disconnected from the activity itself, but as part and parcel of it.

Thus the activity as a whole imbued with the play spirit becomes


The play spirit is the spirit of art. No great result was achieved in

any line of human activity without much work, and yet no great result

was ever gained unless the play spirit controlled. t is to this

interaction of work and play that each owes much of its value. Work in

and of itself apart from play lacks educative power; it is only as it

leads to and increases the power of play that it is of greatest value.

ts logical place in education is as a means to an end, not as an end in

itself. Play, on the other hand, that does not necessitate some work,

that does not need work in order that it may function more fully, has

lost most of its educational value. To work in play and to play while

working is the ideal combination. Either by itself is dangerous.

Two misconceptions should be mentioned. First, the play spirit advocated

as one of the greatest educational factors must not be limited to the

merely physical activities, nor should it be considered synonymous with

what is easy. This characterization of play as being the aimless trivial

physical activities of a little child is a misconception of the whole

play tendency. t has already been pointed out that any activity which

in itself satisfies, whether that be physical, emotional, or

intellectual, is play, and all these phases of human activity show

themselves in play first. Also the fact that play does not mean ease of

accomplishment has been noted. t is only in the play spirit that the

full resources of child or adult are tested. t is only when the

activity fully satisfies some need that the individual throws himself

whole-souled into it. t is only under the stimulus of the play spirit

that all one's energy is spent, and great results, clear, accurate, and

far reaching, are obtained. Ease of performance often results in

drudgery. To be play, the activity must be suited to the child's

capacity, but leave chance for initiative and change and development.

The second misconception is that because present-day educators advocate

play in education, they believe that the child should do nothing that he

doesn't want to. This is wrong on two accounts. First, it is part of the

business of an environment to stimulate--readiness depends partly on

stimulation. The child may never play unless the stimulation is forcibly

and continually applied. Second, after all it is the result we are most

anxious for in education, and that result is an educated adult. By all

means let us obtain this result by the most economical and effective

method, and that is by use of the play spirit. But if the result cannot

be obtained by this means because of the character of civilized ideals,

or the difficulties of group education, or lack of capacity of the

individual--then surely other methods, even that of drudgery, must be

resorted to. The point is, with the goal in mind, adapt the material of

education to the needs of the individual child; in other words, use the

play spirit so far as is possible--after that gain the rest by any means


So far the discussion has been concerned with the characteristics of the

play spirit and its use in connection with the more formal materials of

education. However, the free plays of children are valuable in two

ways--first, as sources of information as to the particular tendencies

ready for exercise at different times, and second, as a means of

education in themselves. A knowledge of just which tendencies are most

prominent in the plays of a group of children, when they change from

"play" to "games," the increase in complexity and organization, the

predominance of the intellectual factors,--all this could be of direct

service to a teacher in the schoolroom. But it means, to some extent,

the observation by the teacher of his particular group of children. Such

observation is extremely fruitful. The more vigorously, the more

wholeheartedly, the more completely a child plays, other things being

equal, the better. A deprivation of opportunity to play, or a loss of

any particular type of play, means a loss of the development of certain

traits or characteristics. An all-round, well-developed adult can grow

only from a child developed in an all-round way because of many-sided

play. Hence the value of public playgrounds and of time to play. Hence

the danger of the isolated, lonely child, for many plays demand the

group. Hence the opportunities and the dangers of supervision of play.

Supervision of play is valuable in so far as it furnishes opportunities

and suggestions which develop the elements most worth while in play and

which keep play at its highest level, and in so far as it concerns the

nature of the individual child, protecting, admonishing, or encouraging,

as the case may require. t is dangerous to the child's best good, in so

far as it results in domination; for domination will mean, usually, the

introduction of plays beyond the child's stage of development and the

destruction of the independence and initiative which are two of the most

valuable characteristics of free play. aluable supervision of play is

art that must be acquired. To influence, while effacing oneself, to

guide, while being one of the players, to have an adult's understanding

of the needs of child nature and yet to be one with the children--these

are the essentials of the supervision of play.


1. Distinguish between the fighting instinct and the instinctive basis

of play.

2. Under what conditions may an activity which we classify as play for a

civilized child be called work for a child living under primitive


3. What kinds of plays are characteristic of different age periods in

the life of children?

4. Trace the development of some game played by the older boys in your

school from its simpler beginnings in the play of little children to its

present complexity.

5. Name the characteristics common to all playful activity.

6. Distinguish between play and drudgery.

7. What is the difference between work and play?

8. To what degree may the activities of the school be made play?

9. Explain why the same activity may be play for one individual, work

for another, and drudgery for a third.

10. Why should we seek to make the play element prominent in school


11. When is one most efficient in individual pursuits--when his activity

is play, when he works, or when he is a drudge?

12. Under what conditions should we compel children to work, or even to

engage in an activity which may involve drudgery?

13. Explain how play may involve the maximum of utilization of the

abilities possessed by the individual, rather than a type of activity

easy of accomplishment.

14. n what does skill in the supervision of play consist?

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