How will social games develop?
Play and game promotion
Martin R. Textor
There is no precise, generally accepted definition of the term “game”. The reason for this is that “playing” is used to describe very different activities, which in turn consist of very complex and diverse behaviors. That is why, for example, the philosopher Ludwig Wittgenstein (1889-1951) took the position that the entirety of all games is only connected by "family resemblance". Thus, it is impossible to find a definition that encompasses all types of games.
Adults mostly tend to contrast play and work and see play as a pure leisure activity. With this in mind, they qualify the children's game; it precedes the “seriousness of life” - school, job.
"Play is a voluntary act or activity that is carried out within certain fixed limits of time and space according to voluntarily accepted but absolutely binding rules, has its goal in itself and is accompanied by a feeling of tension and joy and an awareness of ' Different from 'ordinary life'. "
Johan Huizinga (Netherlands, 1872-1945), cultural historian
For toddlers, however, play is the main occupation; it is their calling, their “work”. In play, they develop their abilities, explore the natural, social and cultural worlds, acquire knowledge in various areas of education and develop a variety of skills.
“Everything the child does by himself is his natural preparation for life. In play, the child develops all of his own abilities that he has noticed and that he should use in life. "
Berthold Otto (1859-1933), reform pedagogue
The game is thus the educational path of the toddler: In play it forms itself ("self-education") or in interaction with others ("co-constructive education"). In play, however, it is also formed by adults (see p. 8 ff.). In addition, it is prepared for school learning by playing.
"The game is the children's way to discover the world in which they live!"
Maxim Gorki (1868-1936), writer
The game can thus include a freely chosen activity of the toddler, but also an activity guided by adults. But this is not the only contradiction that one discovers when one takes a closer look at the game. Further ambivalences are shown in Table 1 shown.
|Table 1: Contradictions in the game|
|One side of the game:||The other side of the game:|
|Acting out the "play instinct"||Educational offer (learning game, didactic game)|
|voluntary, purpose-free activity ("free play")||externally set goals / purposes ("bound game")|
|Freedom (freedom of choice in terms of activity), solitaire game||Classification in play group (due to the "social instinct"), social game|
|Self-determination / control||Steering by others or by specifications (rule game)|
|Self-expression / development, expression of the inside||External representation: assumption of social roles and norms, imitation|
|Exploring objects and the respective environment, appropriating the culture, researching and experimenting||Playing in fantasy worlds, compensating for feelings of powerlessness, illusory fulfillment of unfulfillable wishes|
|Culture, research and experimentation||Fulfill unfulfillable wishes|
|Anticipation of future development steps and roles||Processing of unresolved experiences, regression|
|Well-being, mental equilibrium, security||Defense against fear, reacting to aggression (catharsis)|
|Joy, fun, pleasure||mental and physical pain (e.g. grief when losing)|
|pure pleasure in activity and trying out functions (e.g. in movement games)||Competition, rivalry, comparison with others|
|partnership-based interaction, cooperation, friendship||Conflicts, cheating, sabotage (e.g. destroying a tower made of building blocks), enmity|
Due to the complexity of playful activities and the aforementioned contradictions inherent in the game, it makes sense to differentiate between different forms of play. In the last 100 years, very different attempts at classification have been submitted, but their discussion and comparison are not very useful. In this article, a distinction should only be made between movement and functional games ("exploratory" / "sensorimotor" games), symbolic games ("pretend games"), construction and design games, role-playing games and rule games (cf. Textor 2021) .
Each of these forms of play is still practiced by adults - not only in their free time, but also as a job: For example, many people earn their living as professional athletes (e.g. footballplayer), as a showplayer or musicians (e.g. pianoplayer). Olympic Games, World Championshipgames or feastgames can cast a spell over millions of viewers.
"The play of the calf consists in jumping around, the play of humans in symphonies, pictures, poems, novels."
Count Leo Nikolayevich Tolstoy (Russia, 1828-1910), writer
But “playful” elements are also included in many other professional activities: in areas such as science and research, craft and technology, architecture and engineering.
"Through playful experimentation, there were probably just as many perspectives as through the systematic processing of given programs."
Werner Winkler (1964-), author
Given the importance of the game for society, economy and culture, it is not surprising that the game has been the subject of scientific analysis for two and a half millennia: For example, the Greek philosophers Plato (approx. 427-347 BC) and Aristotle (384-322 BC) that children develop the skills they need in play for adult life, strengthen their bodies and do something for their health, while the Roman rhetoric teacher Quintilian (35-96) saw play as the earliest form of teaching.
"You can get to know someone better in an hour while playing than in a year with a conversation."
Plato (Greece, c. 427-347 BC), philosopher
Archaeological, historical, ethnological and sociological research has repeatedly shown "two characteristic features of play in human societies: First, it is evident that play is ubiquitous in people, both children and adults, and that child play in all societies and cultures of adults are supported, most clearly through the production of play materials and toys. Second, play shows that play is a multifaceted phenomenon, with a variety of forms that appear in all societies, but that there are variations in the frequency and shape in which the different forms of play show themselves in different societies ”(Whitehead et al. 2012, p. 8). This statement is supported by the aforementioned authors as follows:
- Archaeologists discovered dice, game boards, balls, playing figures and drawings of people playing while researching prehistoric cultures.
- Historians in all epochs found texts about children's play - but only from the late Middle Ages on a game-based pedagogy (e.g. in Johann Amos Comenius, John Locke, Jean-Jacques Rousseau, Johann Heinrich Pestalozzi and Friedrich Froebel).
- Ethnologists determined that all forms of play (see above) are practiced in all simple as well as in all highly developed cultures - albeit in different variants: depending on the technologies available (from toys that you have carved yourself / tinkered with up to complex video games) According to the sex of the child (with more or less large differences between the toys for boys and girls), depending on the predominant play areas (jungle, natural surroundings, garden, street, playground, apartment, etc.), depending on the length of the ones perceived as normal Childhood (from short to long), depending on the appreciation of play (restricted - accepted - encouraged by society) and depending on the attitudes towards the participation of adults in children's play (more or less).
- When examining children's play, sociologists found differences between individual highly developed countries: for example, children in Scandinavia are allowed to play far more outside (in nature) than in Great Britain or Germany, and the former are less monitored and controlled. When American or Western European parents play with their children, they encourage their independence and independence, while Chinese parents control the game more and pay attention to socially acceptable behavior. In addition, sociologists made the general observation that parents today have less time to play with their children than in the past, that playing in nature has become less common due to urbanization, and that the playing radius of children outside the home is becoming more and more limited due to parental fears. In addition, there is less play in day-care centers, as greater importance is attached to educational offers - especially in the areas of language / literacy, mathematics and natural sciences / technology - and a state-specified curriculum must be followed in many countries. As more and more students attend all-day schools and take advantage of extracurricular educational offers (e.g. from tutoring institutes, music schools or sports clubs), they have less time to play. In addition, there is less play in families with a single parent or with stressed parents, when there is poverty, a lot of media consumption and problematic parenting styles (e.g. neglect).
But biologists and psychologists have also dealt with children's play (Whitehead et al. 2012). In evolutionary research, for example, it was found that the more intelligent a new mammal was, the longer the duration of childhood or dependence - and the more games were played. Mammals and games with objects have been observed in primates, but symbolic games and role-playing games only in humans. That is why anthropologists and psychologists see the way to typical human abilities in the higher forms of play: Here children would repeatedly try out new behaviors, modify behavioral processes, think ahead, solve problems, empathize with other people, control their own emotions, learn to cooperate, etc. For example the Russian psychologist Lev Vygotsky (1896-1934) found out that children use symbolic representations in (as if) play for the first time (e.g. a stick as a comb) - and at the same time learn their first words (language as a system of symbols : certain tones result in a term). A little later in the game, they develop their own language skills (initially through accompanying language utterances, then by shifting speaking inward, i.e. through thinking). Furthermore, while playing, they recognize their own feelings, learn to control behavioral impulses and try out ways of influencing other people (cf. Textor 2000).
"Man only plays where he is in the full meaning of the word man, and he is only fully man where he plays."
Friedrich Schiller (1759-1805), poet
Psychologists and neuroscientists have examined the effects of play on the cognitive, emotional and social development of children, but also on language acquisition and school success. Table 2 shows what happens when children play a lot or little.
|Table 2: Effects of little or a lot of play|
|Negative impacts||Game form||Positive impact|
|insecure / ambivalent attachment, depression, hospitalism||playful interactions parent - baby||Creation of a secure parent-child bond, joy, fun|
|Clumsiness, risk of accidents, obesity, deprivation, lack of experience of nature, isolation, fears||Functional games ("exploratory" / "sensorimotor" games), movement games||Training of physical functions (gross / fine motor skills, senses, cardiovascular system), hand-eye coordination, strength and endurance, exploring the natural and designed environment, building relationships (e.g. when belching), controlling aggressions|
|poor language acquisition, apathy, indifference||As if games, symbolic games||Acquisition of linguistic and cognitive skills (dealing with symbol systems such as words, numbers, letters)|
|little fine motor skills, boredom, few interests||Construction / design games||Training of technical, artistic and manual skills, concentration, perseverance, patience|
|Loneliness, little empathy, narcissism, little ability to cooperate||Role play||Acquisition of social skills and "emotional intelligence", change of perspective, socialization, exploring society, training linguistic skills, emotional control|
|rule-breaking behavior, abnormal behavior||Rule games||Socialization, internalizing norms, fairness, order of coexistence|
It becomes clear that, on the one hand, the individual forms of play have a major influence on child development and, on the other hand, playing together is important for building bonds (with parents) and for developing and maintaining social relationships and friendships. At the same time, communicative skills are strengthened in the game (listening, clear and understandable speaking, telling, negotiating, resolving conflicts), knowledge about the natural, human and social worlds are gained, cause-effect relationships are recognized, numbers and counting are learned , Making estimates and classifications, acquiring cultural skills (e.g. painting, singing, making music), stimulating imagination and creativity. Through play, toddlers acquire knowledge and skills that prepare them for school.
"In order to do valuable work, you have to play, that is, tinker, try, experiment."
Emanuel Lasker (1868-1941), mathematician
Toddlers play more / better when they are securely attached to their parents and feel secure, when they grow up in a stimulating environment, when they have frequent opportunities to play, when they have a variety of toys with different uses, when they play games themselves initiate and largely shape it yourself. On the other hand, they play less / worse when they are anxious and stressed, neglected, abused or not stimulated enough, when their parents are very anxious and overprotective or when their freedom of movement is restricted to a small area (e.g. the children's room).
According to Moss (2012), the area in Great Britain on which children are allowed to move freely and uncontrolled has shrunk by around 90% since the 1970s. The same should also apply to Germany. Accordingly, the pediatrician Renz-Polster and the brain researcher Hüther (2013) demand that children should play outside more and experience nature again: "Nature represents a tailor-made space for children to develop. A world of experience that is tailored precisely to the needs of world explorers. ... In nature they can effective be. Here they can be at eye level self-organizing. Here they can build on their foundations ”(p. 35). Since people lived in nature for 99% of their history, from an evolutionary point of view this is the actual development space. Here children can have concrete experiences with the elements fire, water, air and earth, train their senses, prove themselves physically, become active in discovery, experience themselves as creative, deal creatively with the natural materials found and organize themselves with their playmates. Today the "big outside" is not only the natural area, but also the backyard, the excavation, the garden, the untidy attic ...
"The game is the highest form of research."
Albert Einstein (1879-1955), physicist
Psychologists and educators observed that the different forms of play occur at different points in the child's development. At first, the respective forms of the game form (e.g. the movement game) are still very simple (e.g. as a lower sensorimotor game), gradually become more demanding (e.g. as a relational or functional game), reach a certain level of complexity (e.g. as a circle, ball, dance game) or Singspiel) and finally approach the activities practiced by adults (e.g. as a football, rugby or tennis game). In addition, in early childhood the game becomes more and more social. Table 3 illustrates the development of children's games in toddler age.
Table 3: Development of the children's game
2nd year of life
3rd year of life
4th year of life
5th year of life
In the course of early childhood, the play behavior of girls differs more and more from that of boys: the former tend to play more role-playing games, play in smaller groups, are quieter and quieter, while the latter tend to run around more, tussle and fight with each other (playfully) more often Prefer movement games, occupy yourself a lot with moving toys (e.g. toy cars, tricycles, scooters) and make more noise. The gender-specific differences outlined could be due to the example of older children, the behavior of parents or adults and gender role stereotypes, but they could also be based on hereditary factors: For example, male and female babies prefer different toys from the age of eight months, as determined by eye-tracking studies was - and corresponding preferences were also observed in primates (e.g. Alexander / Hines 2002; Alexander / Wilcox / Woods 2009).
The early educational mission
Since play is not only the main occupation of small children, but also the most important learning situation for them, it should be at the center of the educational work of day-care centers. The free game is neither a “gap filler” between educational offers and everyday activities (such as meals or afternoon nap) nor a period in which the group specialists limit themselves to supervision and only provide educational work when necessary (e.g. mediating disputes) or even leave the room to to make phone calls, to talk to parents, to do office work or to prepare a special offer (e.g. an experiment). Rather, the promotion of play is one of the most important tasks of educators.
"The game, properly recognized and cultivated, opens the child's view into the worlds for which it is to be raised, and develops it for this."
Friedrich Froebel (1782-1852), educator
Especially if the free play has largely given way to a “schooling” of the day-care center, the specialists should first deal with the importance of the game for child development (see pp. 1-6 of this article) until they can compare it to educational offers and evaluate other activities positively and are ready to put them back at the center of the educational work.
"Playing is an inherent principle in humans."
Edmund Burke (Ireland, 1729-1797), philosopher
Then longer periods of time have to be found in the course of the daycare for the free game. Studies have shown that toddlers need at least 45 minutes to develop, for example, more demanding role-playing games or more complex construction activities (e.g. Montie / Claxton / Lockhart 2007). Periods in which children are not disturbed are particularly important - for example, when other children are brought or picked up by their parents. Regardless of whether playmates who arrive later have to be integrated into the respective playgroup or whether children who leave earlier are torn out of it - the play activities are always interrupted and the children first have to find their way back to play. An appreciation of the game is also shown in the fact that it does not have to be ended abruptly (e.g. because a song is to be sung now) and that - if possible - a game arrangement (e.g. a zoo created by children) can be left standing when the children are at the want to continue playing with it the next day.
Small children not only need time for free play, but also rest: Longer and more complex games will hardly develop if several children are constantly walking through the room, making a lot of noise and disturbing the children playing. Furthermore, all children should feel safe and secure, which is the case on the one hand with good teacher-child relationships and on the other hand when possible stress factors are eliminated (e.g. if a child is bullied by others or no one wants to play with him). Sometimes it is necessary to intervene in the event of a conflict so that the children can find their way back to play. The specialists have to watch what is happening in their group again and again and ask themselves the following questions:
- Are all children feeling well right now?
- Can all children play concentrated at the moment?
It is obvious that these conditions are more likely when children play in small groups and these are composed as consistently as possible during the free play time. This can be facilitated by the fact that the individual play areas in the group room are well separated from one another and that an adjoining room or the corridor can also be used by a small group.
The potential of free play can only be fully developed if, on the one hand, the indoor and outdoor spaces of the day-care center are designed to be stimulating and, on the other hand, a large variety of play materials are made available. More important than the amount of toys are their differences and their openness to different uses: the toy should have few predetermined functions so that it can be used creatively - for example, with cardboard boxes, scraps of paper and fabric, items of clothing, objects of everyday life, wooden blocks and Natural materials is the case. The toys should enable intensive occupation (concentration) and encourage social interactions: “Children play longer when there is a large number of toys. Careful selection of toys can induce children to play with others, to cooperate, or to develop special skills. For example, clothes for dressing up, handcarts, a ball and a puppet's stage are more likely to lead to a cooperative social game than puzzles or toys to pull ... ”(Goldstein 2012, p. 38).
"One child's most entertaining toy is another child."
George Bernard Shaw (Ireland, 1856-1950), playwright
An important principle with regard to the selection of game materials is: "less is more". If children are surrounded by too many toys, it is not only difficult to make a choice, but also to concentrate on playing with the object in question, as there are always different toys to be found. So it makes sense if the children only find a few play materials in the group room. This is exchanged again and again as soon as the children have tried all possible uses and are bored.
The “prepared environment” should therefore be redesigned over and over again. When exchanging toys, certain scenarios can also be created (such as a "doctor's office" by laying out white coats or shirts, a doctor's case from the toy store, a real stethoscope and empty medicine boxes). In this way, the children are stimulated to new (role) games. Further suggestions can be given through corresponding picture books, fairy tales and stories or through excursions (e.g. to the doctor's office of a parent). As already mentioned, places close to nature (forest, meadow, park, stream, etc.) offer a particularly large number of play and learning situations, so that - wherever possible - regular excursions into nature should be undertaken.
If children play with the material found in a natural or prepared environment in a concentrated manner (alone or in small groups), professionals should generally hold back and not interfere in the game. For younger toddlers in particular, however, it is important if they occasionally catch a glimpse of their (reference) educator and notice that her thoughts are with you and this shows, for example, by a short smile. A praising speech or a caressing touch, on the other hand, can disturb the children in their play. It is even worse if the professional interferes in an exploratory game, for example, to show a child how to use an object correctly or to improve the respective activity. As a rule, she should only help or give advice if a child so wishes.
"The subtle dialectic of the game shows itself in the fact that, despite its apparently purposeless character, it serves the development of life functions and the more sustainably the less it is goal-oriented or development-oriented."
Hermann Röhrs (1915-2012), educator
A specialist can also take part in the play of an individual child or a small group. On the one hand, such situations promote bonding among children under three or strengthen the teacher-child relationship in older children (Cugmas 2011). On the other hand, there are longer, more complex and more cognitively stimulating games. As a play partner, educators can play various roles:
- You can let yourself be guided by the playing child (or by the small group), i.e. continue the activities they have initiated or take on the roles assigned to them.
- You can repeat familiar play activities with the respective child, which gives him (self) security.
- They can give new impulses to the play of the child or the small group, introduce further variants, sprinkle in “measured discrepancies” or otherwise increase the complexity of the game (and thus the experience and educational value), paying attention to a medium level of stimulation or should intervene in the “zone of the next development” in the sense of Lev Vygotsky.
- You can use the game for language development, for longer joint thought processes (co-constructive education) or for other purposes.
- You can encourage children whose play skills are still underdeveloped or isolated children with poor social skills to play together or integrate them into a play group.
In addition, educators can introduce new (circle, singing, dance, ball) games, whereby they should also consider games from other cultural areas (represented in the day-care center). They can also use educational and computer games, e.g. to impart knowledge or to promote certain skills.
"The greatest art is to make everything that the little ones do or learn to play and pass the time."
John Locke (England, 1632-1704), philosopher
Since toddlers show their interests, abilities, wishes and fears in play and process current (stressful) experiences, specialists can identify special talents, unsatisfied needs, behavioral disorders and psychological problems through targeted observation of children playing. Some abnormalities can also be corrected in play - even if the educators are not trained play therapists.
Parents evenings on the importance of the free game
Parents not only play less with their (small) children than in the past and restrict their range of movement more and more, they also appreciate the value of the game less and less. They increasingly expect educators to reduce free play in favor of educational offers. As a result, conflicts between professionals and (some of the) parents have already arisen in many day-care centers.
"Playing is an activity that cannot be taken seriously enough."
Jacques-Yves Cousteau (France, 1910-1997), marine explorer
This is how parents should be informed about the importance of the free play. This can be done in discussions with parents, in the daycare concept or by displaying the relevant specialist literature in the parents' seating area. Parents' evenings are particularly recommended, where parents can use their own experience to see how children develop skills and acquire knowledge through play:
- Immediately after the greeting, the parents are distributed in small groups to the various play areas in the group and side rooms and try out the materials there. After a predetermined playing time, they reflect on the learning experiences that children have in the respective play area. Then they return to the plenary, where they report on their findings. Together they then arrange the play activities in a table with the competencies to be promoted and the educational areas to be covered according to the education plan of the respective federal state.
- After the greeting and introduction to the topic of the parents' evening, all parents have to reach into a bag. Depending on the object drawn, they then visit an educational offer prepared by the educators or play freely in a group room. The experiences are first discussed in small groups and then in plenary: Where do the children learn more? Where is their development comprehensively promoted? (Possible variants: The groups change after a certain period of time. Instead of attending an educational offer, some parents fill out worksheets in a separate room).
- In open day nurseries, parents can choose freely between the individual function rooms and play areas after greeting them, whereby they should use the children's sign-off system (e.g. only a maximum of six people are allowed into the studio). After 20 minutes of free play you have to clean up. Then they assess the educational content of their activities using a questionnaire.
Of course there are many other alternatives for such parents' evenings. For example, parents can discuss their favorite games during their own childhood, collate the learning experiences they made back then and then draw parallels with the situation of their own children. Or they can analyze short video sequences with play scenes: What do children learn in the respective situation? Which skills are promoted?
A parents' evening about the importance of play can also have the purpose of motivating parents to create many play opportunities for their children in everyday family life and to play more with them (see the chapter “Parents course 'Education in the family'” in Textor 2010 ). Renz-Polster and Hüther (2013) should also add: Whenever possible, your children should be allowed to play in natural spaces - with parents, siblings or friends. If children can play a lot both in their family and in their day-care center, both indoors and outdoors, they will develop positively on all sides ...
There is also a PDF version of this article with an additional illustration.
Alexander, G.M./ Hines, M. (2002): Sex differences in response to children’s toys in nonhuman primates (Cercopithecus aethiopus sabaeus). Evolution and Human Behavior 23, pp. 467-479
Alexander, G. / Wilcox, T. / Woods, R. (2009): Sex differences in infants ’visual interest in toys. Archives of Sexual Behavior 38, pp. 427-433
Cugmas, Z. (2011): Relationship between children’s attachment to kindergarten teachers, personality characteristics and play activities. Early Child Development and Care 181, pp. 1271-1289
Goldstein, J.(2012): Play in children’s development, health and well-being. Brussels: Toy Industries of Europe
Montie, J.E./ Claxton, J. / Lockhart, S.D. (2007): A multinational study supports child-initiated learning. Using the findings in your chassroom. Young Children 62 (6), pp. 22-26
Moss, S. (2012): Natural Childhood. Manvers: National Trust
Renz-Polster, H. / Hüther, G. (2013): How children grow today. Nature as a space for development. A new look at child learning, thinking and feeling. Weinheim, Basel: Beltz
Textor, M.R. (2000): Lev Vygotsky - the co-constructive approach. https://www.kindergartenpaedagogik.de/1586.html
Textor, M.R. (2010): Educational partnership with parents under three. https://www.kindergartenpaedagogik.de/2084.html
Textor, M.R. (2021): Forms of play in toddler age. https://www.ipzf.de/spielformen.html
Whitehead, D. with Basilio, M. / Kuvalya, M. / Verma, M. (2012): The importance of play. A report on the value of children’s play with a series of policy recommendations. Brussels: Toy Industries of Europe
Dr. Martin R. Textor studied education, counseling and social work at the Universities of Würzburg, Albany, N.Y., and Cape Town. He worked for 20 years as a research assistant at the State Institute for Early Education in Munich. From 2006 to 2018 he and his wife headed the Institute for Education and Future Research (IPZF) in Würzburg. He is the author or editor of 45 books and has published 770 specialist articles in magazines and on the Internet.
Autobiography at http://www.martin-textor.de
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