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What is play?

On the first Saturday of every month everyone is welcome to join a Mindboggles session at the School of Education Staffroom in the Neville Alexander Building at UCT. Mindboggles is an opportunity to put into practice the pedagogy of Philosophy with Children: the Community of Enquiry. Also, for people who would like to depend their understanding of the process we read text an hour before the practical session, but that is optional.

This Saturday the session was difficultated by Rose-Anne Reynolds and she used play dough and the making of play dough as the provocation or stimulus. (We take turns in leading a session).

Figure 1. Making play dough

Figure 2. Hands and play dough

The ingredients and the written method for play dough were given to the three groups. They could all make make choices about what they wanted to add in terms of colour and scent. Two groups used tumeric and one group used blue food colouring to colour their dough . Once back in the circle the discussion was initially about colors... and what is colour? Who is the god of colours? and we spoke about concepts - and what makes something a concept - see figure 3 for some of the concepts that the making of play dough evoked for members of the group:

Figure 3: Concepts/ thoughts / ideas

Figure 4. Outstretched fingers

There was time for eating, thinking, chatting in small groups and developing questions in small groups. Developing a philosophical question is a wonderfully difficult process, especially as groups need to develop a question they can all agree on. I asked Karin to suggest ways to think about philosophical questions: one that google cannot answer and with a concept embedded or implied. Rose-Anne asked each group to explain their question to the group, everyone had 2 votes: they could use one vote on their own question, but not 2. These are the three questions the three groups came up with:

We voted using marks on paper...

Our philosophical enquiry developed out of the question


Trust - is a journey... teacher/children and everyone in between.

Classroom management - but what about trust?

Is play the action or the experience?

Homework... home play....

How much of play is creation?

Playing a hockey match, the pressure to have fun - when it is a requirement....

Play is play because there is a real version...

The serious work of education - learn through play

What is not play?

Context - play play

Power and play - CEO's...

Play and choice

Disrupting academic environments with toys

Is play emergent - what will happen...its always art...stakes are low...

What about play between people who hold different power?

Karin: 'We learned that it is impossible to define play, although we learned a lot from playing with each other's ideas. What perhaps is the biggest find is that we cannot assume that what it means 'to learn through play is straightforward and necessarily a good thing.'

​Throughout the philosophical enquiry many members of the group manipulated, rolled, squeezed, smelled, tightened into fists, flattened between fingers, pressed gently and more firmly the play dough they had made.

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