"The point of play is that it has no point. I didn’t know whether to laugh or shudder when I read this sentence in a national magazine: “Kids need careful adult guidance and instruction before they are able to play in a productive way.” But I will admit that I, too, sometimes catch myself trying to justify play in terms of its usefulness. The problem is that to insist on its benefits risks violating the spirit, if not the very meaning, of play. In his classic work on the subject, Homo Ludens, the Dutch historian Johan Huizinga described play as “a free activity standing quite consciously outside ordinary life as being ‘not serious’ but at the same absorbing the player intensely and utterly.” One plays because it’s fun to do so, not because of any instrumental advantage it may yield. The point isn’t to perform well or to master a skill, even though those things might end up happening. […]

Such is the context for understanding well-meaning folks (like me) whose lamentations about diminishing opportunities for play tend to include a defensive list of its practical benefits. Play is “children’s work!”  Play teaches academic skills, advances language development, promotes perspective taking, conflict resolution, the capacity for planning, and so on. […]

But what if we had reason to doubt some or all of these advantages? What if, as a couple of researchers have indeed suggested, empirical claims about what children derive from play — at least in terms of academic benefits — turned out to be overstated? Would we then conclude that children shouldn’t be able to play, or should have less time to do so? Or would we insist that play is intrinsically valuable, that it’s not only defined by the absence of external goals for those who do it but that it doesn’t need external benefits in order for children to have the opportunity to do it? Anyone who endorses that position would want to be very careful about defending play based on its alleged payoffs, just as we’d back off from other bargains with the devil, such as arguing that teaching music to children improves their proficiency at math, or that a given progressive innovation raises test scores."

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Source : The Washington Post, 16/11/11