Intelligence and Learning

Some Topics

Wise woman


I enjoy watching children play; they teach me about human tendencies and children are entertaining. Play is perhaps the most important learning experience that children have. Human children play together and practice skills. All learning is mimetic and children copy and practice adult behaviors in play. Happy, healthy adults continue to play, sometimes in more structured contexts with dancing, games, theatre and sports, but sometimes in a delightfully child-like manner – just having fun. Children's play contains a rich mixture of aerobics, theatre, fantasy, competition, cooperation, conflict, resolutions of conflict and talk.

Play conversations are a mix of real language and non-linguistic sounds and gestures. Much of the sound-emitting behavior observed in conversations is old primate behavior. Chimpanzees could trade places with children and feel quite at home.  Children at play, for example, interact with a continuous sequence of sounds as they run, jump, squat, push, pull, and hit. Some sounds they emit are single or double word commands. Brief phrases are uttered, usually shorter that 6 syllables. Shouts, shrieks, laughter and occasional cries or crying complete the cacophony of play. Like primate relatives, children will climb trees, swing from branches and make primate sounds.

There is no game, course or book that can rival spontaneous children's play for educational content. I believe that unstructured play with a minimum of toys is optimal for young children. Children at the beach will entertain themselves for hours, fascinated with sand, water, stones, and pieces of wood. They always want to move sand from one location to another, adding water. They have an instinct for ordering and constructing. Their order may consist of a few stones placed together. Older children will attempt to construct orderly arrays, such as a row of sticks placed from the shortest to the longest or alternating sticks and stones that suggest mathematical sets. Some children are more interested in creating order than others. A three year old, for example, wanted his brother (of about five years) to help him move some wet sand to his great construction higher on the beach, but his brother, wading out to sea, declined grandly, saying: "I don't want to play with you. It's boring."

Play is a social activity and children will explore all the variations for social interaction as they play. Sometimes they are wonderfully cooperative and considerate. At other times, battles break out and the play group explodes with shouts, tears and hostile remarks. Many conflicts are resolved spontaneously but there is always a need for a savy adult custodian to intervene before serious injury or lasting enmities develop.