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Big Box Creativity | What is Play?
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What is Play?

Play is a verb

We make a clear distinction between play and a game. In contrast to play, a game has a fixed structure, a fixed course, and a well-defined end point. Play on the other hand offers surprise and freedom, it is more than playing games alone. Nevertheless we note that the structure of a game brings out certain behaviour that we also find in play.

Play is freedom

Play is done in the child’s free time, the time that the child does not spend at school or working. Play is a self-chosen activity, without an external purpose, and with a voluntary character. If we are to be consistent, we also have to consider fun mathematical puzzles as play.

Play is action

Doing and experiencing things is central. Action and dynamics are an important characteristic of play.

Play is involvement

Children must be involved in the activity, but involvement alone is insufficient to be able to talk of play. Just because a child participates well in a chemistry lesson does not mean that we can describe it as play. When, however, he comes home and begins to experiment, then we do indeed call it play.

Play is not real

A characteristic that we often encounter, but not always, is that of quasi-reality. The world of play seems to be a world between fantasy and reality, where children mould aspects of reality for themselves. They thus learn that the world can be recreated. When, for example, children play at cops and robbers, they do not use real weapons, but the hold-up can seem surprisingly real. A banana is the weapon, and sitting behind one another is perceived as a wild car chase.

Play is creativity

Changing things, moulding situations, thinking of solutions, etc., the freedom of a play context can foster the creativity of children to a great extent. Thus a bucket becomes a hat and a hole in the ground an underground camp.

Play is clearly a pleasure

The fun radiates from the children when they are playing, although we sometimes note serious and deep concentration. If a camp is built, then you clearly see that the ‘chief’ of the camp plays his role seriously.

Play is playful

Playful is diametrically opposite to dull, strict, serious. Play is fun, unpredictable and dynamic.


A contribution by VDS commissioned by The Youth and Sports Department of the Flemish Community

Kris De Visscher, Jo Claeys, Koen Crul, Ief Vercruysse

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