Theories of Play


®   Excess Energy (Spencer, 1873)

®   Child plays to discharge excess energy in “brain centers”

®   Preparation for Adulthood (Groos, 1896)

®   Recapitulation Theory (Hall, 1904)

®   In play child relives the history of the species

®   Recreation Theory (Lazarus, 1900)

®   Play restores energy expended in work


Psychoanalytic Theory


®  Play helps to relieve various forms of anxiety

®  Types of Anxiety

®  Objective – Fear of the External World

®  Instinctual – Fear of your own instincts

®  Superego – Anxiety of Conscience


Objective Anxiety

®   “During (infancy) the individual is still too weak to oppose the outside world actively, to defend himself against it by means of physical force or to modify it in accordance with his own will.”

®   “The ego endeavors in all kinds of ways to defend itself against the objective unpleasure and dangers which menace it.” (Anna Freud, 1936)


Ego Defends Itself by Denial

®  Denial in Fantasy:

®  Child denies reality by means of fantasy

®  Transforms reality to suit his or her own purposes and fulfill his or her own wishes

®  Only then can the child accept reality

®  Denial in Word or Act

®  Child acts in a way that denies reality


Denial in Word or Act

®  “A small handbag or tiny umbrella is intended to help a little girl to pretend to be a “grown-up lady”.  Toy weapons of various sorts enable a little boy to ape manhood.  Even dolls create the fiction of motherhood, while trains, cars, or blocks produce in the minds of children the agreeable fantasy that they can control the world”.  (Freud, 1936)


Jean Piaget’s Cognitive Theory of Play

®  Play provides a relaxed atmosphere in which learning can easily occur.

®  Play is NOT the same as learning; cognitive development requires both assimilation and adaptation, while play is assimilation without accommodation

®  There are four types of play


Piaget’s Four Types of Play

®  Sensory-motor, or physical, play

®  Child repeats a physical activity, such as swinging its feet or throwing its head back, for the sheer enjoyment of doing it

®  Symbolic Play

®  Child mentally represents realities that are not present


Piaget on Symbolic Play

®   “It is primarily affective conflicts that appear in symbolic play.  If there is a scene at lunch, for example, one can be sure that an hour or two afterward it will be recreated with dolls and will be brought to a happier solution.  If the child has been frightened by a dog, in a symbolic game things will be arranged so that dogs will no longer be mean or children will become brave”.


Piaget’s Four Types of Play

®   Games of Construction

®   Involve accidental learning emerging from symbolic play

®   “initially imbued with play symbolism but tend later to constitute genuine adaptations or solutions to problems and intelligent creations” Piaget, 1962

®   Games With Rules

®   Involve two or more players

®   Rules may be completely arbitrary

®   Board Games

®   Card Games

®   Sports