Sunday, July 2, 2017


Do not…keep children to their studies by compulsion but by play.

Greek philosopher
427–347 BC

Reflect upon the above quote, Let its meaning sink in and at the same time, just ponder a bit. If the name of the person was not mentioned below the quote, does it look like a quote taken from the era of ‘BC’?

This quote is apt even today, and Plato’s foresightedness is commendable. But the words in the quote ‘do not’ and ‘but by play’ has been erased off from the lives of children today. At the same time, while I was reading the quote, I felt what were the circumstances that made Plato give such a quote. This made me realise that, the words ‘do not’ and ‘but by play’, was not only erased off from the lives of children today, but earlier also. So, let’s see whether the  17th century philosophers were able to wave their magic wands and explain the significance of play. So without much ado, let’s travel back in time.

Review of literature suggests that, the 17th century philosophers also felt play as a necessity and also a mode by which learning happens. This thought is in tune with Plato’s  belief on the positive  influence of play on children. In the previous blog I had mentioned that there are no supportive literature available about child’s play, but Cohen (1993), reported that the archaeological survey revealed that the Greek children made ‘balls out of pig bladders’ and Roman children played with toy soldiers. It’s said that children’s play, reflected the culture, society they were part of, and in the case of Greek and Roman children, physical activities were prominently seen, which  was a reflection of the adults practices then. However, as discussed earlier, play was not considered worthy enough to be documented.

It was also observed that the 13th century medieval art depicted children involved in play only on the borders of the canvass and was never in the center. By 16th century, children’s play became the central interest in artistic representations and then slowly, child’s play made its way into literature during the 17th century due to contributions made by John Locke, Rousseau, Pestalozzi and Frobel. All this does not look as easy as it sounds.

These philosophers started a revolution around 17th century and compelled people to change their perceptions towards the concept and importance of play. Until 17th century, children were considered as ‘miniature adults’, and there was no scope for considering childhood as a separate stage of development. The paintings and photos of these medieval times shows children dressed adult-like, very clearly showing children being treated as adults, hence leaving little scope for play. “I remember a scene in the movie ‘Titanic’, where the heroine sadly looks on at a girl barely 10 years old, being taught by her mother etiquette on table”. In fact, movies that were made with the medieval concept depicted the same showing time and again that children from a very young age were trained for adult life and little scope was given for play.

John Locke, a British philosopher, was the first person to acknowledge children and childhood as a separate and important stage. Locke also saw play as a necessary part of childhood and considered children as ‘born players’. Of course Locke may have not written about the connections between play and learning, but felt that play was vital for health and spirit. Locke was also one of the first to advocate the importance of toys for children, but felt adult supervision of play as a necessary aspect.

The dawn of 18th century came in the Romantic Movement, where the concept of play came into full force and was also valued. Confucius says “it’s better to play than do nothing”. Let’s see in my next blog why Confucious says so and did our 18th century philosophers also think on the same lines. 

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