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^a^ B 800,358

Bulletin Number One Price Ten Cents



PLAYTHINGS

Second Edition



Bureau of Educational Experiments
~~ 1919



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PLAYTHINGS



Second Edition



Bureau of Educational Experiments
16 West 8th Street, New York



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PLAYTHINGS



What is play? . .,

The question seems . simple. .Yet the . answers as they, are silently
expressed in the majority of schools and homes are strangely conr
fused and superficial. For the most part they are based on the idea
that play is a waste of time — good padding for the early childhood
years before real things can begin, and later an interlude between
periods of real accomplishment — to be tolerated because children will
get ill if kept too closely to their books and tasks.

But, as is being more fully recognized each day, this negative assess-
ment of the natural activities of little children is not merely inadequate.
It is false. It makes us do wrong things to children. If we really
understood play, we would be stirred by the scope of its educational
possibilities. One vital aspect of play is the child's duplication
or interpretation of the life processes, going on around him. In their
play, children create the world as they see it with the equipment they
have at hand. And to them this created world is real — real as the
artist's! world is to him and in much the same way— realer than the
adult's world which the adult would force upon him. Play, instead
of being a wasted interlude in the learning process, is the process itself.

The kindergarten was founded upon play activities as grown people
conceived them, and it made a distinction between systematized play
and what was termed "free" play. The kindergarten never recognized
the latter as a vital part of the educational process. But in the last few
years, educators have dimly seen and slowly groped their way toward
the fact that play is the child's method of experimenting with his envir-
onment. At the same time they have come to realize that experimenting
is the soul of education; that much sound knowledge is gained by the
trial and error method; that a child will continue to learn by the same
process that he learned to walk — by falling down.

When these great, simple facts are appreciated, the problem of school
and home assumes an entirely new aspect. How can they be made over
into places where children can educate themselves, can learn through
experimenting the meaning of the world they live in, and do it by the
natural means of play? What must be done to furnish a genuine labora-



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tory for children? What are the necessary appliances with which it
should be equipped?

These are searching questions. They send a challenge to nearly
everything which has been thought proper in a small child's school sur-
roundings—the teacher's attitude, the classroom furniture, and the
equipment.

In a little child's laboratory, the teacher becomes an observer of and
specialist In play. She does not impose her personality or her methods
Upon the child. The child's world is his own world. He wishes to
interpret that aild not another's. The work of the teacher is not to
lead hini to see her world through his eyes, but to put before his eyes
a world which he may make his own. For the child, the stimulus to
experiment should come front the observation of the life of the city
streets, or the farm, or the home, or whatever his environment happens
to be. The teacher should put her energies upon the ordering and
simplifying of this larger environment, rather than upon suggestions
as to what the child shall do within his laboratory in experimenting
with or interpreting this environment. Thq child's interpretation of
his environment is play. No child need be taught it.

But if the child himself is to get from this interpretation all that
it has to yield, he must be given the very best appliances to express
this interpretation. And these appliances are technically "free ma-
terials" — colloquially, toys.

This word, like play, is burdened by the weight of years of mis-
understanding and abuse. Toys have not been treated seriously. They
have been regarded as a waste of money or as things to amuse children.
With what consequences? What kinds of things have been given
a<; toys? To begin with, boys have been given one kind, girls another.
The environment of a brother and sister is the same, and yet, under
no condition, has the little girl's interest been allowed to be the same
as the boy's. The fact of their sex has been seized upon and
emphasized until it has built a Great Wall of China across which a
small girl may not venture without fear of being a hoyden, and a
small boy, a "sissy." Moreover, the toys have not been toys with
which children could do things. A set of tools occasionally came into
a small boy's hands and released his pent-up desire to make, to con-
struct. But, for the most part, boy and girl alike were limited to
already finished objects which could merely be moved about or watched
and not in a real sense played with.

The climax of absurdit}?- in playthings is the so-called "mechanical



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stive of play and made for play. They shou



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going so fast you can't see it." Or again, the seven-year-old who
•passed a green crayon lightly over: a sheet of paper and placed at the
bottom a tiny figure who "thinks he is walking in the grass, but he
vxeally is in the bottom of the sea!'*

If a laboratory is to give each child the full freedom for his own
expression, it has to provide not only appliances which he can easily
manipulate to his own ends^^ but physical space and guarantee from
interruption as well. The ability of even well-to-do homes to command
these last essentials is seriously threatened in these days of congested
cities and small apartments. The school's task is no light one. It must
see to it that children have the playthings which are the nucleus of a
significant life-process known to them through their own experiences;
that is, toys which are related and suggestive; that they have at hand
materials with which they themselves can supplement these provided
toys; and then, that they be given time and space in which to work
out their own experiments in their own way. The easiest place for
little children to play is on the floor. Why not a school floor? Why
not let him construct his little scheme on the floor and then use this
scheme to carry out in action whatever miniature dramatic situation he
has created? Could there be a better use of a laboratory floor?

It seems obvious that a child turned loose with appropriate appli-
ances — appropriate to his ends rather than the teacher's — ^will develop
his own method of expression. He will enjoy it, too. For up to the
age of six, a child is an extreme individualist. He does not naturally
do things co-operatively. There comes a time, however, when he steps
from his individualistic into a social world. The school should meet
the requirements of his individualistic period and bridge the gap when
he begins to be a communistic soul. Here again, toys — free materials —
are the school's chief reliance. They adapt themselves to the needs
of a project in which a whole group of children spontaneously develop
joint floor schemes such as a section of a city with its streets full of
autos and carriages, lined with trees, flanked by houses, restaurants with
out-door gardens, railroad station with incoming and outgoing traffic,
river with wharves and shipping, grocery shop, baker's shop, factories
and all the endless array of industrial acrivities which make up our
modern world. This is not a theoretic description. It is the kind of
thing that those who work with free materials and comparatively free
children constantly see. It is what keeps their courage steady !

But it is all important that a child should not be forced too soon
into a social world. He must work his own way gradually from his



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Much of the furnishing of a schoolroom, such as screens, folding
tables, chairs, rugs, etc., is good dramatic material. And so is what-
ever there may be in the way of outdoor apparatus. If children are
encouraged to use materials freely, they fashion almost anything into
their dramatic purposes. It is their natural attack on life.

But even if it be conceded that free play with appropriate play-
things is good for little children, since "it may make them resourceful
and observant and independent, it does not logically follow that it
covers the whole ground — that it is a substitute for "lessons'" — that
it gives the child the "tools of learning." Of course, it is obvious that
play-schemes may be made an excuse for making children swallow
sugar-coated pellets of arithmetic and reading and writing. Devices
of this sort to beguile the unsuspecting child have multiplied like
weeds in recent classrooms. They are largely responsible for the
common suspicion that freedom within a schoolroom must mean either
coaxing or license. They are devices, nothing more. And they are a
bit unworthy of the situation. It is not that the play of children
affords an opportunity to slip in unnoticed something which an adult
values, but which the child would repudiate if he were not duped. It
is that interpretive play, constructive play, depends in its very essence
upon the same relations, whether expressed in human terms or in
books, upon which our real world depends. In order to carry on
organized life, we find it necessary to use symbols. These symbols
have grown up just because they are necessary to facilitate the pro-
cesses of the world. The same necessity will be felt by the children in
any play which reproduces these processes. And the use of symbols
will grow up in the same natural way. Children cannot reproduce an
environment which implies a number sense without having that number
sense; children cannot do exact bench work without measuring; chil-
dren cannot play store without arithmetic. This is less true of reading
and writing.

It remains to be determined whether this means that reading
and writing must be taught formally or that reading and writing are
a later necessity for children. Our own experiment in this field seems
to indicate that both of these contentions will be found true and that
formal reading and writing come as a welcome opportunity at the age
of eight or nine to children who have enjoyed a rich preparatory ex-
perience of constructive and interpretive play.

Such an experience, while it does not supply the necessary technique,
makes definite contributions toward its acquisition and, a fact of greater



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import, ensures the immediate use of any tool acquired for practical,
purposeful ends. Thus the free use of crayons in big sweeps on large
sheets of paper, the blackboard, or the floor, gives preliminary skill and
confidence in manipulation. Early drawing may contribute by clearing
up visual images. Enterprising play and work experiences demand
clear and definite oral expression, ever the basis for clear written ex-
pression. After an extended period of such preliminary experiences
children are ready to put real eflFort into the mechanics involved. In
addition to the acquisition of contributory habits and skills they in-
variably bring to the situation considerable "picked up" knowledge
of technique. Thus equipped they should learn to read through
reading, and find no difficulty in using the tool of writing for thought
expression.

The problem of reading and writing links itself very closely with the
whole problem of the use of books, of stories and verse. The idea of
giving children "free material" with which to experiment and to create
has rarely been extended to language. Books for children have been
like the toys of old — to amuse; or like the lessons of old — to instruct.

The effort to amuse has produced a literature of fairy tales — steeped
in the imaginary romance of an imaginary world — a world which often
confuses a child^s thinking and seldom has any significance in under-
standing the very real romance of the modern world: it has produced
the "story of adventure" — with its basic appeal to excitement, its
familiarity with killing, impossible heroisms and violence of all sorts;
it has produced the "animal story," in which the animal leaves both
his nature and his habits and masquerades in human form, not uncom-
monly in human apparel. The effort to instruct children has produced
a quite different but hardly more happy literature — if indeed it deserves
that name at all. Facts chosen by an adult because of his own interest
in them, presented to a child without being related to the child's
experience, in a form which too often a child cannot perceive — such is
the stuff of most of our informational books for little children. Readers
— which constitute most children's introduction to "literature" — are
pieced together from these two types of stories — the amusing and the
instructive — and cast in a language intended to facilitate the technique
of reading and the technique of writing regardless of the effect upon
the art of reading or the art of writing. Care for a child's sensitiveness
to sound, care for a child's natural play use of words, care for a child's
interest in his own experiences and for his method of reaching the
remote and the unfamiliar thru the immediate and the personal, care

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for a child's creative power in language— these are not the things that
have guided most of the adults who have written the books for little
children.

We need a new literature for ch^dren. We; need stories which
recognize the art — the play spirit in words and which are cast in patterns
which a child is equipped to see and enjoy. We need stories which will
start with a child's own experiences and environment and thru following
the line of his own inquiries, lead out from his immediate limited sur-
roundings to richer, wider environments. We need parents and schools
who will test the stories and verse which they give to their children
not by what a child takes in but by what he gives out in stories and verse
of his own creating. For create he will, if he is not diverted from his
natural bent by some adult conception of what he should enjoy or
should know. There is no telling how far the dramatic appeal of a
story might carry a child into genuine scientific habits of thinking.
There is no telling thru what new forms of play expression, of "litera-
ture," he might express himself, if language were to him "free material"
suitable for play purposes. Not till we have this new literature will
we have anything like a well-etjuipped laboratory for our little children.
Committee on Toys and School Equipment.



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SUGGESTED READING
For convenience it has seemed well to divide the following list
into two parts — ^the first devoted to the discussion of theory, the other
offering concrete suggestions.

PART I.
BoBBiTT, Franklin

''The Curriculum" Houghton Mifflin, 1918.

Chap. I, "Two Levels of Educational Experience."

Chap. II, "Educational Experience Upon the Play Level."
Chap. XVII, "The Function of Play in Human Life."
Chamberlain, A. E.

"The Child: A Study in the Evolution of Man," Scribner, 1917.
Chap. I, "The Meaning of the Helplessness of Infancy."
Chap, il, "The Meaning of Youth and Play."
Chap. IV, "The Periods of Childhood."
Dewey^ John

"Democracy and Education," Macmillan, 1916.

Chap. XV, "Play and Work in the Curriculum."
"How We Think/' D. C. Heath and Co.

Chap. XVII, "Play, Work, and Allied Forms of Activity."
Chap. XVI, "Process and Product."
"Interest and Effort in Education/' Houghton, Mifflin Co., 1913.

Chap. IV, "The Psychology of Occupations."
"The School and Society/' University of Chicago Press, 1916.
Chap. IV, "The Psychology of Occupations."
Chap. VII, "The Development of Attention."
"Cyclopedia of Education/' Edited by Paul Monroe, Macmillan
Co.
Articles on "Infancy," "Play."
Dopp^ Katherine E.

"The Place of Industries in Elementary Education/' University of
Chicago Press, 1915.
Groos, Karl

"The Play of Man/' Appleton, 1916.
Hall^ G. Stanley

"Educational Problems/' Appleton, 1911.

Chap. I, "The Pedagogy of the Kindergarten."
"Youth: Its Regimen and Hygiene," Appleton, 1916.
Chap. VI, "Play, Sports and Games."

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KiLPATRicK, William Heard

^'The Montessori System Examined/' Houghton Mifflin, 1914.

^^FroebeVs Kindergarten Principles Critically Examined/* Mac-
^rnillan, 1916.
Lee, Joseph

"Play in Education/* Macmillan, 1915.
Wood, Walter

"Children s Play and Its Place in Education/' Duffield, 1913.



PART n.

Arnold, Dr. E. H.

"Some Inexpensive Playground Apparatus/' Bulletin No. 27, Play-
ground Association, of America and Playground Extension Com-
mittee of The Russell Sage Foundation.
Chambers, Will Grant, and others

"Report of the Experimental Work in the School of Childhood/*
University of Pittsburgh Bulletin, 1916.
Cook, H. Caldwell

"The Play Way/' Stokes Co., 1917.
CoRBiN, Alice M.

"How to Equip a Playroom : the Pittsburgh Plan," Bulletin No.
118, Playground arid Recreation Association of America, 1913.

Deming, Hunt, and others

"The Play School," Bulletin No. HI.

"The Children's School, The Teachers College Playground, The

Gregory School," Bulletin No. IV.
"A Catalogue of Play Equipment," Bulletin No. VIH.
Bureau of Educational Experiments publications, 1917-18.
Dewey, John and Evelyn

"Schools of To-morrow/' Dutton, 1915.
Chap. V, "Play."
Hall^ G. Stanley

"Aspects of Child Life/' Ginn, 1914.
"The Story of a Sand Pile."

Hetherington, Clark W.

"The Demonstration Play School of 1913/' University of Cali-
fornia Bulletin, 1914.

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