ESI Community News recently sat down with the Institute’s director of pedagogy, Carrie Lobman, to talk about play and its role in learning and development, and about the PLAY ON THE MOVE conference she’s organizing at Rutgers University March 16-19, 2016….
So Carrie: How’s the play world? You probably know it about as well as anyone….
CL: Play is hot; or at least getting hotter. It’s all over the news. You see more and more references to the human need to play. And there’s a reason for this. Over the last 20 years, recess, the arts and even educational play have largely been removed from the school day; so there are fewer opportunities to be creative and imaginative. Now experts have begun to notice that it’s having an impact.
And as a Vygotskian, and coming at play from a social therapeutic perspective, what are you bringing to the conversation?
CL: For the most part, the focus among the play community is on the benefits of play–what it does in helping kids become adapted to and successful in the world. So for example, the attention is on how play is essential for the acquisition of 21st Century Skills, i.e., critical and creative thinking, collaboration, flexibility, initiative, social skills, leadership, productivity. What I bring to the conversation is an emphasis on the revolutionary quality of play — it’s an activity that simultaneously disrupts and transforms what is (including fixed identities and roles) and creates something new. And as well, I am a leader among a growing number of educators who recognize that this transformative power of play and performance is critical in higher education. Many adults come into the college classroom with a persona that they learned to perform in high school–passive and goal oriented, rather than active, engaged and intellectually curious.
You’re organizing a play conference at Rutgers, March 16-19, with the The Association for the Study of Play and the International Play Association / USA. Who are these people?
CL: These two organizations are leaders of the play movement. The Association for the Study of Play (TASP), has been around for 43 years and is an interdisciplinary association made up of anthropologists, historians, sociologists, psychologists, educators, animal biologists, etc. They’re regarded as the premier location for advancing research and theory on play. The second, the International Play Association, is now working in 40-50 countries and sees their role as protecting children’s right to play. They are aligned with UNICEF and the UN and were pivotal in ensuring that the “right to play” was included in the UN Convention on the Rights of the Child. In the U.S., they’ve been in the forefront of opposing efforts to cut playtime and recess from the school curriculum. The conference is being supported by the Rutgers’ Graduate School of Education, where I’m an Associate Professor of Education.
How did you come to be chief organizer?
CL: I have been active with TASP since 2001 and on the Executive Committee since 2009. I’d written my dissertation on the role of improv in early childhood education, and since then, my research at the Institute has been on the relationship between play, performance and human development. I also co-edited with Barbara O’Neill Vol. 11 in the TASP book series, Play and Culture Studies, which looked at the relationship between play and performance. I’ve been a huge advocate for the developmental importance of play across the lifespan. Together with Tony Perrone (University of Washington, Tacoma), I’ve also introduced performance as an under-utilized, under-theorized aspect of play. I think colleagues at TASP have been welcoming of these inputs and of the perspective that we must liberate play from the sole domain of early childhood.
And so you held up your hand to bring the conference to Rutgers?
CL: Yes, indeed. The conference is located at different universities each year. So when the opportunity arose to bring the conference to Rutgers, I volunteered to be the chief organizer, in part to bring together the performance activists from the Institute’s broad performance community with this national network of play advocates, practitioners and researchers.
What’s particularly exciting to you about how the conference is coming together?
CL: The conference theme is “Play on the Move.” We received over 100 proposals, and lots of registrations, which I take to be strong evidence of the growing interest in the importance of play for everyone. There are about 10 proposals that focus on play and performance in the university setting, which I’m particularly excited about. Play in the arts have been so pushed out of K-12 curriculum, that by the time students get to university, they’ve become alienated from their ability to learn — to think, explore and be creative. Sadly, many don’t relate to learning as an intellectually playful activity. They’ve been taught to jump through hoops.
Any headliners you can tell us about?
CL: We’re opening with a keynote by Cathy Salit, which will be a sneak preview of her new book Performance Breakthrough. She told me that she plans to give conference goers some playful tools they can use throughout the three days to get more out of it (and maybe give more to it!) We also have a panel of former students and colleagues of TASP-co-founder and leading play theorist, the late Brian Suttton-Smith that will feature blogger and ‘fun theorist’ Bernie DeKoven and UK playwork expert Fraser Brown. We also have a keynote planned with All Stars Project Co-founder, and Institute faculty, Lenora Fulani. I know that many participants care deeply about inequities among communities and access to play. Dr. Fulani’s talk will address how play is indispensable to the development of children, youth and adults in our poor communities.
Are you talking?
CL: I’ll be opening the conference and introducing the conference theme, Play on the Move. It’s a moment when play is on the minds of policy makers, and we need to step up as play educators, researchers and practitioners to advance a new and deeper appreciation of what play is and what we might create with it.
Thanks Carrie. And good luck with the conference!