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Gerardo Castillo Ceballos, Professor Emeritus of the School of Education and Psychology

Requiem for the lynx and homo ludens

Thu, 11 Aug 2016 11:03:00 +0000 Published in Diari de Tarragona, La voz de Extremadura and Diario de Navarra

Children are playing less and less. Traditional free play is being supplanted by dependence on technological entertainment. Only in authentic play can the child decide for himself its plot, rules, beginning and end.

Play is a universal phenomenon. All children of all times have played. For example, in some recent archaeological discoveries in Palestine at the time of Jesus, wooden toys (spinning tops, hoops and marbles) have been found. The idea that the Child God played in this way is very plausible and reinforces the value attributed to play. To be contemplative in today's prosaic world financial aid much to observe the attitude with which a child plays, learning from its simplicity and withdrawal.

The progressive disappearance of the game is a cultural catastrophe that people do not want to see, even though it is already having serious consequences. There are frequent reports on the endangered status of the precious Iberian lynx. Its fur is highly prized, so anyone who wants to see it should no longer go to the forests, but to the fur shops. There is a lot of talk about the lynx, and I think that's fine, but hardly anyone is alarmed about the danger of extinction of an essential dimension of the human being: that of homo ludens. At this rate we will soon be left with only the pragmatic homo faber, for whom the good is good only insofar as it is useful.

What is the game for?

 Play is for learning. The child learns by playing. Through play, they explore, develop curiosity and increase their experience.

Claparede, emphasized the function of play in the development of the personality. To the question "what is childhood for" he answered: "childhood is for playing". In his work "The tailor-made school" (1921) he proposes that the Education should be adapted to the interests and needs of the child.

Huizinga published in 1938 "Homo ludens" (Man who plays). It is a essay on the social function of play. He argues that the act of playing is consubstantial to human culture: without a playful attitude no culture would be possible.

Play is the child's work and toys are his tools. This explains why he takes it so seriously and does not lose concentration. That play-work stimulates physical and mental growth, imagination, creativity, social bonds and the will to persist. This last quality is exercised because the child does not usually give up a game until he reaches goal proposal ; he never gives up.

Why do children nowadays play less and less?

A first cause is lack of time. Many of today's parents exaggeratedly encourage extracurricular activities, as shown in a cartoon depicting the dialogue between the child and his father:

Dad: Monday English, Tuesday computer science, Wednesday piano, Thursday English again and Friday class Chinese. Will I be able to go outside and play one day?

-Play? Don't be childish.

These parents are often obsessed with their children's professional future, so any preparation would be too little. They require them not to waste time (e.g., playing) and use it to accumulate knowledge through multiple extracurricular activities. They ignore the fact that playing develops many job skills and prepares them for life more than many of the activities that are in vogue. They are also unaware that this overwhelming life plan generates stressed children.

Another cause is that from the earliest years, many children nowadays are already dependent on the little machines. They are thus introduced to sedentary and individualistic entertainment that generates addiction (especially video games) and promotes isolation and obesity.

When Steve Jobs was director at Apple, he greatly limited the time his three children spent with iPads and iPhones, to avoid harming them. He preferred to let them enjoy reading.

What is the future of children who do not play?

If childhood is for playing, children who did not do so are left with psycho-social deficiencies that hinder their integration in later stages.

 In the adolescent and juvenile phase, they shy away from physical exercise and socializing; they give up acting with imagination, initiative and decision making; they are unable to abide by rules; they are bored in their free time because they do not know how to have fun without the crutch of technological gadgets.

When they enter the world of work they will be required to develop some of the emotional competencies that are initially developed through free play, such as self-control, self-motivation, work teamwork, communication and empathy. Play could be their first Master's Degree...