Would you like to come and play?

Summer times
August 15, 2018

«Would you like to come and play?»
«I’m working.»
«How about stopping work?»
«I never stop working.»
«Oh :-( »

This dialogue is taken from a scene in “Mr. Magorium and the Shop of Miracles”, an American film of 2007 directed by Zach Helm, in which a person – at the very natural and spontaneous request of a child such as that of asking someone to come and play – manages to elude saying yes with the justification that he must always keep working.

Modern society give little value to playing, because it is believed that it does not produce anything. Today, it is infancy that suffers the most, as it has less time for free play than in the past. Children are involved in many after-school activities. Almost every afternoon they attend class to learn a sport, how to play an instrument or a foreign language, or to acquire creative and artistic abilities. Every stretch of free time is organised with the aim of offering numerous possibilities for experimentation and growth: on the one hand, this desire is a sign of diffuse attention to and care of the harmonious development of the potential of every child; on the other, it is important to remember to leave spaces of time and moments of freedom to children, so that they can experiment with their own inclinations and become acquainted with themselves as persons also by means of games that give space to the imagination.
Today, not only children but also adults have less time to dedicate to play, busy as they are with work that is always more pervasive because of the digital instruments that accompany them everywhere, and provide at intervals a sensation of ubiquity that weakens the sense of actually being together.

It has not always been like this. Ever since ancient times, the play dimension has declined in people’s participation in rites, cults, celebrations, as well as in all those collective social dimensions that have given origin - during the history of man - to the birth of civilisation. In his “Homo ludens” Johan Huizinga, a Dutch historian and one of the major researchers on the relationship between culture and play, maintains: “In games and with games, social life takes on super-biological forms that confer greater value on it. With these games, the general public expresses its interpretation of life and of the world. This does not mean that play transforms or is converted into culture, but rather that culture in its original phases bears the character of a game.”

Today, adults have set aside this fundamental dimension for its own well-being, as well as for that of persons who live nearby, by requesting specialists outside the family context to organise game activities.

Starting to play games again can be tiring, above all with one’s own children, but it is worthwhile because it is an opportunity to re- activate a bent for games, for experimentation, for exploration, i.e. things that we have had to put aside in order to become adults.
Play is a language of its own, a way of remaining in connection that enables us to remain together by experimenting moments of well-being and of growth from cognitive, emotional and relational points of view, both for us and for our children.

Maria Cristina Debenedetti

Architetto, educatrice e cultrice della materia in Pedagogia del gioco
presso il Dipartimento di Scienze Umane per la Formazione dell'Università di Milano-Bicocca.

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