A World Without Play

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By Ernie Dettore

It is the year 2025. A group is embarking on an excursion with all of the makings of an archaeological dig. They enter guardedly but with determination through a sealed passageway to rediscover a long abandoned practice involving engagement with artifacts only found now in history books or paintings. What this handful of adventurous children and adults are entering is the lost world of play.

The artifacts of which I speak are blocks, sand and dress-up clothes. Tunneling to this place took years—through layers of mounting education standards, prescribed curricula, increased emphasis on direct instruction, inappropriate assessment in the name of accountability and the misguided requirements for children in math and literacy. Long since have words like self-expression, problem solving and creativity been removed from the list of children’s skills to be nurtured. Discovering the time to dig into this lost world was even harder to find.

Children’s schedules were so tightly packed with lessons, organized competitive sports, planned play groups and time spent in front of television and technology screens that play, in its purest and

simplest forms, was all but forgotten. While this may pose a rather bleak view of the future for young children and play, James L. Hymes Jr., child development specialist and author, reminds us that, “Play builds the kind of free-and-easy, try-it-out, do-it-yourself character that our future needs. We must become more self-conscious and more explicit in our praise and reinforcement as children use unstructured play materials: ‘That’s good. You use your own ideas.’ ‘That’s good. You did

it your way.’ ‘That’s good. You thought it all out yourself.’” Play develops curiosity, invention, persistence, problem solving, creativity and aestheticism in children. With this lively, unpressured and naturalistic approach to learning, children will continue to experience:

  • individual and unique perspectives developed through play
  • opportunities to practice new skills and functions simple pleasures that play brings
  • advantages to act on objects and experience events
  • the ability to transform reality into symbolic representations of the world
  • consolidation of previous learning
  • occasions to build the imagination
  • alternatives to violence and despair


In 1964, Paul McCartney wrote a song for Peter and Gordon called “World Without Love.” One line of the song goes, “I don’t care what they say, I won’t stay in a world without love.” Can you imagine a world without play for our children? I can’t.


Ernie Dettore, Jr., Ed.D. is a Keystone

STARS technical assistant consultant and a

PQAS-certified instructor from The University

of Pittsburgh Office of Child Development.

He is the co-editor of the book To Play or

Not to Play: Is It Really a Question, published by ACEI in

2007, and has recently received a planning grant from the

Caplan Foundation to start The Institute on Play. In 2010,

Dr. Dettore received the Chancellor’s Award for Excellence

in Community Service from the University of Pittsburgh.

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